Hey, hey, hey, we're four weeks into the season and things are shaping up well for the Phantoms. Things are really starting to click in most aspects of the game and we're starting to see the progress we didn't see last year at this time. Over last weekend we saw the Phantoms bounce back from a tough OT loss to Dubugue, in what was probably their poorest performance of the young season, to record a 6-0 shutout the next night. Two streaks ended over the weekend, the first being Kyle Connor's 5-game scoring streak, started in game 1, ended Friday when he was held off the scoresheet. No matter, he scored twice in less than 0:20 and added a pair of assists later on Saturday. On Saturday, the Phantoms 6 game PP goal scoring streak ended. The Phantoms had also had this streak going since the first game but didn't seem to need the PP since they tallied 6 even-strength goals, showing they aren't just a special teams club. Speaking of special teams, they're still firing on all cylinders, with Youngstown ranked 3rd in powerplay percentage (24.14%) and 2nd in penalty kill percentage (90.91%).
Taking 3 out of 4 points on the road is a good weekend and that should give the team a little momentum coming into a long home stand, 8 games over 4 weeks. We have a good chance to make an early run up the Eastern Conference standings. We can cement ourselves as a real contender in the conference. The first point of order in that is this weekend with a pair of games with the Bloomington Thunder. The Thunder our are big rival this year and we have 6 more games to play against them, three over this home stand. Both teams have identical 4-2-1 records. The Phantoms have won both previous meetings but the second one, our home opener, was the Thunder's lone OT/SO loss. The Phantoms had a 2-0 lead at one point in the game and could be a half game ahead of them if they had closed them out in regulation. These little things add up. For their part, the Thunder are doing well for an expansion team. They play a gritty brand of hockey that should be familiar to Phantoms fans. 5 out of their 7, 3 out of 4 wins, games have been decided by 1 goal. # games, 2 wins and 1 loss (to the Phantoms) have been decided in shootouts. So fans can expect a couple close games. The last meeting the Phantoms won in a SO but it took 7 shooters and some heroics from Josh Melnick to keep us in it and Kiefer Sherwood to win it.
This weekends games feature our first Friday night game at home followed by a Saturday matinee game. Both teams seem to be splitting goaltender duties fairly evenly and I expect both teams to do so this weekend. Bloomington's #1 goalie, David Jacobsen, has a 2-1-1 record and posting a 2.13 GAA and .927 SV%. His backup, Logan Halladay, has posted pretty similar numbers. Halladay, who played for the Janesville Jets (NAHL) has a 2-1 record in his 3 starts and a 2.68 GAA and .912 SV%. For the Phantoms, Collin DeAugustine is coming off a shutout and hasn't lost a game since opening night in Ann Arbor against the USA U18 team. He's won 3 games since then and has a 1.73GAA and a .946 SV%. Chris Birdsall has been dinged a bit in his last two starts, after wining his first one against the USA U17 sqaud, and is posting a 4.00GAA and .870 SV%. With less than 24 hours between games, I expect DeAugustine to start on Friday night and unless he has an exceptional game without a lot of work, I expect Birdsall to start Saturday afternoon.
Offensively and defensively, I expect pretty much the same as the previous two games against the Thunder though I'm hoping the Phantoms are going for a more aggressive offensive perfomance after posting 10 goals last weekend. Obviously, Kyle Connor and Max Letunov are the guys to watch but I'd love to see Ryan Lomberg add a few goals. Lomberg has worked hard out there and this looks like a weekend he could be contributing to the scoring. For Bloomington, scoring is more of a committee affair and Ryan Gault is the only player on the roster with more than a pair of goals so far. I don't think we need to put too much emphasis on shutting him, or anyone else, down. Our defensive pairings should just roll in order. Bloomington's special teams are fairly middle of the road. Their powerplay is 11th overall at 15.15%, still the Phantoms should be mindful of dumb penalties and try to avoid the retaliatory stuff. Their penalty kill is 9th in the league at 86.11% but they're not penalized very much (126 PIMS) so the Phantoms can't bank on getting a lot of chances on the PP.
And Saturday is Phantom Phest/Halloween/Star Wars day. Come early for some events in the parking lot from 12-2pm and wear a costume, perhaps something from Star Wars. I hope to see some more people in the stands this weekend regardless.