Okay, here I go trying to get back into the swing of things. I havn't done a preview in so long, I had to manually count to see what week I was on. Fortunately, I had enough fingers and I didn't need to take my shoes off.
Anyway, the Phantoms (25-18-1-4) are still in playoff position. And things are looking more positive as far as how the team looks on the ice. After getting 3 of 4 points at home against a mortal looking Muskegon squad, we look to continue the home success this weekend against Green Bay (15-24-6-3).
The Gamblers aren't likely to make the playoffs. With 14 games left, they are 6 games out of what will likely be the last playoff spot in the East. As a result, they have dealt off a lot of their players for whom they could get a decent return.
Their remaining leading scorer is Jesse Tucker, a '00 born forward with 11g and 22a on the season. Gleb Murtazin is next in line, a Russian '00 who might return next season, with 12g and 13a.
Right behind him is the only name I recognize without looking at a lot of notes, Ryan O'Reilly. O'Reilly played with Madison last season and was picked up by Fargo for this season, and then was traded to Green Bay in a 4 player deal near the trade deadline. He has 13g and 10a on the season and will probably be at the University of Denver next season.
The blueline pretty much mirrors their forwards, there isn't a lot left. Tyler Spott (5g, 18a) and Chris Giroday (8g, 6a) are both on the NHL Scouting reports, though pretty far down the list. Spott is a pretty decent offensive defenseman while Giroday is a more defensive minded player. The latter is one of only two dmen on the team with a +/- rating above 0 (+2.)
The other defenseman in that list is Xan Gurney, who came over from Fargo with O'Reilly. Gurney is someone who should be very familiar to Phantoms fans. He started out with Chicago at the end of the 16-17 season, where he played a few playoff games that saw the Phantoms eliminated in the first round. The next season he hoisted the Clark Cup on our ice with Fargo. This season we're lucky we'll be seeing the last of him for the season this week, and the '00 is scheduled to head to Western Michigan University next season.
They also have a couple affiliate defensemen listed on their roster, it will be interesting to see if they see any action this weekend.
In net is where things get interesting. Like the Phantoms, the Gamblers started the season with totally different netminders. Jake Begly played 12 games before being demoted to Corpus Christi of the NAHL, where he played 1 bad game before being sent to the New Jersy Hitmen of the USPHL (NCDC.)
Evan Fear was the starter for a good part of the season, but he was traded to Waterloo when the Gamblers caught a little bit of a break. Last years standout Russian netminder, Maxim Zhukov, left the OHL and returned to the USHL in January. The Gamblers were more than happy to make extra import room. Zhukov, a 4th round pick of the Las Vegas Golden Knights and now playing in his 3rd season with the Gamblers, has played 13 games with Green Bay with a 2-9-0-2 record. He's posted a 3.53GAA and a .893SV%, along with a shutout. Backing up for the Gamblers since December has been Ryan Ullan who has played in 8 games with a 0-1-2-0 record, a 4.54GAA and a .849 SV%.
For the Phantoms things look pretty good at the moment. The 3M line of Brett Murray, Jack Malone, and Connor MacEachern is one of the most formidable lines in the league. Murray leads the USHL in goals and is second in total points. The line of Joseph Abate, Trevor Kuntar, and Matthew Barnaby adds a lot of grit and can put the puck in the net.
I'm still a little amazed that the son of NHL goon Matthew Barnaby has the has the least PIMs on his line. Now what we need is to see some secondary scoring from the other lines on a more consistent basis. Dalton Messina and Liam Robertson are both players I think could step up in the offensive department and give this team a huge lift going down the stretch.
The defense has shown a lot of improvement despite injuries to key players, namely Steve Holtz and Gianfranco Cassaro. Aiden Gallacher is back in the lineup. I was skeptical about his play early in the season before his injury, but since his return he has been very solid on the blueline.
Likewise, Nicholai Jenson has been a much improved player over the last month or so. With the injuries to Holtz and Cassaro, Liam Dennison has become the top defenseman and has filled the role well, not only defensively, but adding to our offense as well.
The addition of Jeppe Urup has looked like a good move so far. The Danish dman has been consistently responsible on defense, a +/- of +7 in 9 games since coming over from Sioux Falls, and has only 1 minor penalty in that span.
The one player I think needs to show some improvement in John Larkin. Larkin filled in as an affiliate last season, eventually playing 15 games, when injuries and other issues left us shorthanded on defense and he was a valuable asset. This season he has 1 less point in 46 games than in 15 last season, has a team worst +/- of -15 and is a consistent penalty liability.
In net, at least we're not playing round robin anymore. Chad Veltri has had the hot hand lately with 3 shutouts in 4 games. Before coming to the Phantoms, he was 4-2-2-1 in 10gp with a 3.75GAA and .875SV%. Since arriving in Youngstown, he's played 15 games with an 8-5-1-1 record, posting a 2.80GAA and a .904SV%. That's nearly a goal per game improvement and a jump of .029SV%. I guess he likes it here.
Christian Stoever seems to be the number two netminder at the moment with a 3.81GAA and a .863SV%. He's had a few bad games but mostly has played solid. Should Veltri falter or get injured, I am fairly confident that Stoever will be up to the task and should be hungry for some ice time.
The Phantoms need to be consistent. That is one of the biggest issues we face. This weekend, that means playing at the same level we did last week against a top team like Muskegon. Green Bay should not pose us any real problem if we do not play down to their level. We beat them on the road in overtime in early February and we've improved since then while they have started looking to next season. If we can at least keep it together on defense, we should be fine.
We had been doing a lot better on attendance lately. Good promotions and better weather had pushed us out of the basement in that regard. An early Sunday game last week with only 584 people showing up pushed us down to only 1 better than USA for last place. The good news is that Saturday's game is Hockey Fights Cancer night and usually a lot of people show up to kick cancers butt.
The bad news is we have another 5pm Sunday game and that's a little hard to sell in Youngstown. But, we do what we can and hopefully we can push the team on a little and get some points in the standing this weekend before going on the road for a couple weeks.
I hope to have some recaps of this weekend's games along with some highlights, and be a little more consistent in previews. However, I have another stretch of heavy work at my job looming on the horizon, so, I can't promise anything. We'll see how things go and until then, GO PHANTOMS!