The Phantoms (27-18-1-4) hit the road for their last 3-in-3 road trip. There is still one more home stand with 3 games in 3 days, but this is the last time we'll have to do it on the road. The main focus of this weekend will be Friday's tilt against Chicago (30-18-2-0), a team we're just 3 points behind for second place in the East, which would get us a first round bye in the playoffs. Saturday and Sunday we get to face the last place team in the East, the Madison Capitols (12-32-4-2).
The Chicago Steel have had our number for the most part, we're 1-3-1-0 against them. With the leagues leading scorer in Nick Abuzzese (23g, 43a) and Robert Mastrosimone (24g, 24a), you would expect them to have a potent offense. We've managed to keep both of those players reasonably in check. Abruzzese had 1 multipoint game against us, and Mastrosimone has only played in 2 of those games.
However, a pair of Steel forwards have managed to pick up the slack - Gunnarwolfe Fontaine (18g, 19a) and Mattieu De St. Phaile (8g, 38a). Fontaine has 5g and 2a against us while De. St. Phaile has 2g and 5a. Also, they have added Josiah Slavin (17g, 22a) to their roster from Lincoln.
On defense, team captain Matteo Pietroniro (16g, 24a) has been one of the better two-way defensemen in his second season of USHL action. Not surprisingly, some of that success has come at our expense and he's added a piar of goals and a pair of assists against us this season. He's also their leader in PIMs and is not afraid to get rough or drop the gloves, like he did with Josh DeLuca in a game in Youngstown. John Spetz (8g, 22a) is another player who has played a good game on both offense and defense and could be a player to keep your eye on this weekend and maybe in the playoffs.
I've made my points on the goaltending situation with having the teams owners son as the top goalie on the team. That said, both goalies have had some success against us. Justin Robbins is 21-12-1-0 in 36gp. He's posted a 3.22GAA and a .878SV% with 2 shutouts. Goaltender Reilly Herbst has hit the ice 18 times with a 9-6-1-0 record, a 3.12GAA and a .878SV%. Both are pretty similar goalies, small and athletic, and their numbers are pretty similar. Niether is really what I would consider to be a good candidate for a starting netminder in this league but I would take either as a decent backup. Most of their success comes from the play of the skaters on the team.
Madison is just plain awful. Sorry, I can't give them much credit. It's hard to even write about them since none of these guys really even register on scouting reports, or even from live viewing them for that matter.They're another team I've documented the nepotism which extends from the ownership to the bench to the ice.
Chase Brand is their leading scorer with 13g and 25a. Brand did play well when Madison played in Youngstown. Kristoff Papp (6g, 19a) was another player who played decent from my limited viewing. Other than Brand, Chaz Smedsrud and Lucas Herrmann are the only other Caps with goals even in the double digits with 10 a piece.
They also added Igor Larionov (8g, 15a) from Muskegon near the trade deadline. He is the son of "The Professor" Igor Larionov, one of the original players who made the break from the Soviet Union. HIs historic career earned him 2 Stanley Cups with Detroit, as well as 2 Olympic Golds and 5 World Championship golds (plus a silver and bronze) with the USSR/Russia. He is in both the NHL and IIHF hall of fame. The yonger Larionov has not dressed since arriving in Madison at the end of February.
On defense, well I'm trying to find something to say here. Coming from Omaha via trade is a Swede named Kalle Eriksson with 4g and 24 assists who looks like he has a good potential. Anthony Stark (6g, 2a) is a servicable blueliner in his second year with Madison. Brandon Suter (3g, 8a) is one of those players who is related to the owner (and coach) and his family is part of USA hockey royalty. He has a +/- of -17 this season and was -13 last season. Still this isn't even near the worst on the roster so I guess I can't say he's only here because of his name.
For what it's worth, I don't think their goaltending is as bad as it sounds. Notice I put that before I give you any stats. In 42gp Joeseph Lamoreux 9-29-1-1 has a 3.48GAA and a .902 SV%. His backup, Garrett Mackay has appeared in 13 games with a 3-2-3-0 record, a 4.11GAA and a .886SV%.
The Phantoms were without Joseph Abate for most of last weekend, he was injured in the first game on Saturday. He will most likely not return for regular season and the playoffs are questionable as well for him.
In his absence, Craig Needham was moved to center with Brett Murray and Jack Malone, and Connor MacEachern took Abate's spot centering Trevor Kuntar and Matthew Barnaby. I expect that to remain as the status quo at least for this weekend.
Chad Veltri has been the starter for the past 6 games and has earned 11 out of 12 possible points. I expect he'll start in Chicago, we'll see how things play out from there. I'd like to see him get a break and Stoever get some ice time but with the playoffs looming and points on the line, who knows what will happen.
Against Chicago, the Phantoms need to make sure they get pucks on net. Goaltending is their weakness and, despite some good performances from their netminders against us this season, this is the one area of them we can exploit for a win.
Against Madison, we need to avoid taking them for granted and not play down to their level. That cost us a game against them earlier in the season in Youngstown. In both games, not getting off to a bad start and playing a full 60 minutes (or more) is something we have to really focus on.
That's a wrap for this week. There is only one game next week and it's Muskegon so don't expect much from the preview. I am working on a new feature for the site, a collaboration with my editor. Look for it, or listen for it as the case may be, in the coming week or so.