The Phantoms have had their struggles this season. To highlight two of these, let's go back to the weekend of November 29-30, a road trip to Wisconsin where we played Green Bay and Madison. This was the last time we won a game we scored first in, and the last time we won consecutive games this season before last night. After meeting the Green Bay Gamblers at home for the first time this season, at least one of those droughts is over.
It wasn't about scoring the first goal, that one goes to the Gamblers. Green Bay's Camden Thiesing, on a 3-on-2, brought the puck into the Phantoms zone and passed to Jarrett Lee who one-timed one through Dominic Basse but rang it off the post. Basse overslid trying to make the save on the shot and was nowhere near the front of the cage when Jake Schmaltz tapped it in at 5:13.
The Gamblers went into intermission up 2-0 after adding a goal by Tyler Paqutte who redirected a shot in the slot from John Prokop off a clean faceoff win in the Phantoms zone. Shots were 11-8 Gamblers after the first period.
Green Bay quickly added to that in the second. Camden Thiesing using his speed again, this time to get around Nikolai Jenson, and walk in on Basse. Basse appeared to make the initial save as Thiesing pulled up but the puck sat in the crease for a split second as Basse tried to block as much of the net as possible. It wasn't enough, and Thiesing tapped it in at 0:59.
Being down a few goals is familiar territory for the Phantoms. A quick pair of penalties led the Phantoms having 0:42 of 5-on-3 powerplay. They did not score on that but :05 after the first penalty, Georgi Merkulov sent a pass from the left wall all the way to Ben Schoen, just below the left faceoff circle, who sent the puck to the top of the crease for Matthew Cassidy to direct home behind Gamblers netminder Gavin Enright at 4:12. The score would still be 3-1 heading into the second intermission, but the Phantoms outshot the Gamblers 13-4, a good sign that their heads were back in the game.
The Gamblers Jesse Tucker took an unsportsmanlike penalty with :13 left in the second. Chad Hillebrand took a roughing call 0:40 into the third with a punch to the face of Cassidy after the whistle. This lead to more 5-on-3 for the Phantoms, and they struck on this one. Ben Schoen snapped a shot from the low right faceoff circle that went off Matthew Cassidy and in at 1:29. The Phantoms got the tie at 13:01, Jan Kern taking a pass from Cassidy in the slot and backhanding a shot, beating Enright. Shots were 9-2 in the third.
Georgi Merkulov became the hero for the evening. Using the Gambled defenseman Dylan Moulton as a screen, Merkulov launched a shot top corner stick side on Enright from the right faceoff circle, ending the game at 3:33 in a big win for the Phantoms. Shots were 3-1 Phantoms in the OT and 33-18 total.
Where to start? The Phantoms came out flat, lifeless, and feckless. Early on, all they seemed to concentrate on was finishing checks, not a bad strategy at face value but they were often times out of position due to making a late hit. There was really no offensive game plan, and there was a lot of dump-and-change or 4 players standing at the blueline while one guy tried to out grind the whole Gamblers line down low. Puke support was pretty non-existent.
They are getting pretty good at making corrections during the game. Cassidy and Merkulov both had really strong games, Merkulov almost single handedly beat all 5 Gamblers a few times during regulation, just one step from completing the play. Basse had a shaky start, but the Phantoms responded defensively and limited the shots on him. After giving up 3 goals on the first 12 shots, the Phantoms only allowed 6 shots on goal and Basse stopped all of those. That included a nice save on Jarrett Lee, who had a lot of room coming off a nice pick in OT.
I didn't think special teams would be a big factor, I was wrong. Our 3 regulation goals were all on the powerplay and we were 33% for the evening, having 9 chances. We managed to get under the Gamblers skin in the second and third and the Gamblers bench was livid at the calls at times. It'll bear watching if we have the same officiating crew the rest of the weekend. If so, Green Bay may get a few calls their way and the Phantoms need to mind their discipline.
So, one of the big questions is, why do we start off so bad? It seems like the Phantoms are never ready to start a game and have to figure out the game as they go. As the season progresses, this seems to be more and more an issue on the bench, and Coach Patterson has to start having the team better prepared when the puck drops and not having to come back after 20:00+ minutes of bad play.
The other, related, big question is what about tonight? Green Bay will make adjustments and come out ready for revenge. Will the Phantoms be ready for that or just try to pick up where they left off last night? I'm sure they will try to play a more disciplined game and I'm sure the Phantoms will continue to play a physical and mental game to get them to repeat last nights parade to the box.
We gave them a point in the standings last night, a small bit of bad news. This leaves us tied in the standings with the Gamblers having the tie-breaker of regulation/OT wins (ROW). They also have 2 games in hand. That makes the rest of this weekend very important.
Last night was a good crowd, 1,880 officially. Let's keep it up Youngstown! We have the "Pucks and Paws" game, I hope we can count pets on the attendance. It's also a youth jersey giveaway, that most definitely will pump up attendance. We'll probably need it to pad the count before tomorrow's matinee game, which aren't usually big drawing games. I'll be back tomorrow, hopefully with more good news. Until then, here's the highlights.
Matthew Cassidy deflects it in!
Jan Kern ties the game!