Sometimes when a team is struggling in some fashion the best medicine is facing another team with worse problems. That's pretty much what we saw last night when the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders came into town. The Phantoms had lost the last 2 games and the last 4 at home. The Riders are having one of those historically bad seasons. They're getting better as the season progresses, but not by enough to put one in the win column last night.
The first period was more of a feeling out process. Neither team did much and both looked a little tentative. Shots were 7-6 Phantoms, neither side able to score. An early second period powerplay for the Phantoms led to Alex Esposito tapping home a shot from Dominic Dockery that was trickling through Riders goaltender Zack LaRocque at 4:28. The older Esposito had not scored a goal since 10/28 with 13 games in between then and now. The Phantoms would extend the lead when an Andrew Petrillo point shot would find some way through LaRocque, who once again got a piece of the puck but it still managed to find it's way in at 11:21. The 2 goal lead would be short lived, a tenacious neutral zone defense lead to Dalton Messina knocking the puck off a Phantoms defender's stick at the blueline to the stick of Matt Kidney just inside Phantoms zone and he rifled it from the right faceoff circle over the glove of Ivan Kulbakov just 0:25 after the second Phantoms goal. The Riders would tie it at 16:28 when defenseman Jake Johnson would flip a puck from the Phantoms blueline back towards Kulbakov, just trying to keep the puck from clearing the zone but the puck would hit a Phantoms player and take a couple odd bounces in on Kulbakov and somehow found a hole. I was sitting with as good of a view as you can get on it and I just knew that it was going to be trouble for the goalie.
That was about all for the Riders. With just under 1:30, Bobby Hampton managed to spring Grant Loven on a breakaway around a flatfooted Alec Mahalak. Hampton came in cutting from left to right in front of Kulbakov, trying to open up the five-hole. Kulbakov shut that down with ease and Mahalak cleared the puck. Then with play continuing and just 0:13 left, Coale Norris used a Riders defenseman as a screen and put a laser past LaRocque. The Phantoms outshot the Riders 14-6 in the frame. Chase Gresock would add an insurance goal at 6:36 when Curtis Hall would put a shot on net from the halfboards just outside the right faceoff circle and the rebound came into the slot for a crashing Gresock so put neatly into the back of the net. The 4-2 score would hold annd the Phantoms outshot the Riders 7-5 in the frame and 28-17 overall.
A lot of good stuff happened for the Phantoms last night. Alex Esposito got a long overdue goal and on the powerplay, which had struggled a little of late. Kulbakov had started to look a little more human in his past couple outings but he managers to shake off the fluky goal and made a good save that lead to the go ahead and eventual game winning goal. Attendance was low but those there were treated to the first Phantoms home win in over a month. The defense played tight and limited the Riders shots. This was without a top defenseman in Michael Karow, suspended 2 games for head contact in the Muskegon game. This means he'll also be out tonight as well.
We're playing Cedar Rapids again tonight. Mark Carlson, despite the teams bad record this season, is the absolute last coach in the league to let a game like last night repeat itself. Expect the RoughRiders to make some changes and come at us with an improved game plan. I expect we'll see the Riders start Drew DeRidder in net and there's also a good chance we'll see Britt League make his home debut for the Phantoms, pitting two young netminders against each other. Hopefully we'll see a much better crowd too. Anyway, I have a couple highlights this time so enjoy.
Ivan Kulbakov shuts down a breakaway!
Chase Gresock hammers another nail in the coffin.