OK, it's time for the first road trip of the season as the Phantoms (0-2-0-0) load the bus and head to Fargo to take on the Force (0-1-1-0). Both teams looked solid in preseason and both had problems on opening weekend.
Fargo has the talent up front to compete with just about anyone. Garrett Van Whye, Nicholas Cardelli and Logan Jenuwine all looked really strong in preseason. Also someone to keep and eye on is Ryan Savage, a C-ranked skater on the NHL CSS report. On defense, Clayton Philips is highly touted and had a strong showing at the Fall Classic. The 3rd round Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick has great mobility and passing ability, a guy who can run the powerplay from the blueline, creating a lot of space down low for his teammates. Also looking good in preseason was John Shultd, a big defenseman who can play physical as well as having good offensive ability. In net, Ryan Bischel looked good as a backup last season, a 2.21 GAA and a .904 SV% and like a solid starter at the Fall Classic. He got dinged pretty badly last weekend, 7 goals in 96 minutes.
For the Phantoms, Curtis Hall is the obvious offensive threat. Chase Gresock also played well in preseason and opening weekend. I won't comment much else on offense, the lack of consistency between preseason and last weekend has left me scratching my head. On defense, Gianfranco Cassaro looked really good at times during the opening weekend, one of the few players I thought looked like he played as good last weekend as he did in preseason. Andrew Petrillo also looks really good to start, much stronger and faster than last season. In preseason, he was very active on offense as well as defense, often time seen down behind the opponents net. The big question is in net. Neither Ivan Prosvatov nor Wouter Peeters really looked impressive. I'll leave stats out but both had issues. Prosvatov had the first start and missed some routine saves, one in particular where he failed to hold the post on a stuff in from the side had me worried. Peeters seemed technically a lot more sound and his movement seemed a little sharper and faster than what I saw in preseason. However, he seemed to have issues with rebound control and also flubbed a hard around behind his net leading to a turnover and easy warparound goal against. Both looked like with a little more experience they would be very good number two netminders but both looked like the had a ways to go before either was a clear number one.
Fargo's strength in preseason was forechecking and puck management. I don't know what went wrong for them on opening weekend but I'm sure they'll be looking to get back to what worked in preseason. The Phantoms will also need to figure out how to get that mojo back, a fast and physical offense. I think the team that challenges the others defense and can put the offensive pressure on early will have the advantage. The Phantoms looked good to start both of last weekends games but quickly lost momentum then their opponent got a couple goals. I don't think either of our goalies were overly challenged to start the games but we'll probably have to step up things defensively to make sure they have a little extra cushioning early and let them ease into things to build confidence. We'll also have to do without Max Ellis for at least the first game due to a suspension for spearing. Max had played excellent on the line with Hall and Gresock, the only consistent line last weekend. Ellis had also played a good amount on special teams, an area that we probably can't afford to have issues with this weekend.
If we can get a couple solid wins on the road, even OT/SO wins, I think it will go a long way towards getting this team on the right track. If things go like they did last weekend, well it's a long ride back. This could be a real test of the Phantoms coaching staff and bench leadership will be a crucial factor this weekend. Next weekend is an odd pair of games against a couple conference opponents, I'm really hoping we have things back on track by then. In any event, I don't think I'll be doing too many road game reviews this season but you never know. I'll should be back next week for the preview and who knows, maybe there will be some real news to report soon.