And here we are again! Another week of us stat geeks coming together to look at a bunch of numbers. What could be more exciting? Well, lots of things. But for the purposes of this blog, let's all pretend that isn't true. Before getting into this week's updated numbers, I wanted to make a couple points. When you see these times and the way they have played out, please remember that all of these stats are essentially an archive of what has already happened. In the USHL, there is no guarantee of what will happen in a given weekend. Unannounced injuries, suspensions, and slapjack refereeing can have major effects on a weekend series. While it seems that I have made predictions in past blogs, I can promise you that it’s wishful thinking more than anything. When the team you root for is halfway through the season and only has 6 wins, you’ll grasp for any straws within reach, or not within reach. Just blindly grasping for anything resembling a straw…. Sorry, I drifted off there. Anyway, let’s get into it.

 

The game against Muskegon on Saturday marked the 3rd longest time the Phantoms held a lead in a game this season. But unlike the two games in which they held a lead longer, they did not get a win in this one. Yes, they did get a point with a Shootout loss (their only point in 3 games last week) but was yet another frustrating loss among many this season. While the Phantoms played marginally better than they did on Friday, and Muskegon was severely off their game, a win remained elusive for the 7th straight game. 

The Phantoms have a surprise Wednesday game in Dubuque and a weekend pair at home versus Muskegon.Welcome to the new normal. If you are reading this, I managed to get this preview out in short order. The USHL announced Monday that one of the postponed games against Dubuque would be made up on Wednesday, not allowing me much time to get this prepared. So this week we're taking a sudden mid-week trip to Iowa to face the Dubuque Fighting Saints (11-15-2-0), then back home to face the Muskegon Lumberjacks (19-11-1-2)

What to say about the Fighting Saints? I did not have a lot of information prior to the start of the season and after a pair of in-person viewings in January, I still feel like I don't really know enough to give a good preview. Robert Cronin is their leading scorer with 12g, 10a. Last season he was more of a role player, a valuable asset on the PK, but this season he's taken on a more offensive role. Connor Kurth is a rookie to keep an eye on. The '03 forward is described as a "wide framed" (5'11", 214lbs) "down low" player who can really run a defense ragged grinding and fighting for the puck. In his rookie season so far he has 10g, 12a. Just a step behind them is Daniyal Dzhaniyev, a former NTDP player who followed up his 2 season in Plymouth by staying in the USHL, initially to play for the Madison Capitols, and now wears a Saints uniform. The small, skilled forward has great vision and IQ, not to mention excellent skating , and has 11g, 10a this season.

Defense is where I start running into issues, I know the names and have seen a few of them more than twice but I don't really have an opinion on them. Brayden Doyle is a servicable veteran defenseman. He's responsible on defense and can contribute on offense as a playmaker, 3g and 11a on the season. Ian Pierce, Michael Feenstra, and Evan Stella are all experienced Saints blueliners. It's not that I feel Dubuque has a bad defensive core, I just feel they could be a a lot better.

And we're back with another edition of By The Numbers. That's right, I've picked a name and I am sticking with it. This was another tough weekend for the Phantoms. Only 1 out of a possible 6 points were gained. The Phantoms scored first in all three games and added decent amounts of Lead Time to their totals. But as has been the story this season, the ability to close out games has alluded this year's squad. Don't let the scores fool you though. Both games with Muskegon were one goal games at the end, but literal last second empty net goals by Jack Williams both nights stretched the lead. I guess when you're in a goal drought, potting a couple empty netters at 19:59 of the 3rd period helps boost that confidence a little. But I digress...

 

In taking a look at the 2nd part of the Phantoms' season chart, a couple gripes from earlier in the season have been rectified. Not only are they scoring first a lot more often, they are not giving up early goals. There has been more of an emphasis on establishing a tone at the beginning of games, and not sitting back and waiting to see what the other team is going to throw at them. Has this translated to more wins? No, but it's a step in the right direction. At this point in the season, it's the small victories. Like the fact that they have now climbed above 20% in Lead Time. After lingering around 10-12% for a good chunk of the season, playing a more aggressive game in the offensive zone has paid off in a lot of ways. 

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