Sunday, March 29, 2015

'Biz Nasty' has himself a day at Phantoms' expense

Thanks to Team Shred
by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

Allentown, PA -- Another signpost that the Phantoms' inaugural season in their third location is slowly sliding towards oblivion, was that a player best known for his social media personality rather than anything ever accomplished on ice suddenly enjoys a flash of success.

Spurned by every single team in the National Hockey League following a sporadic six-year career, Paul Bissonnette recorded a goal, assist and engaged in a second-period fight as the league-best Manchester Monarchs posted a 3-1 decision over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Sunday evening.

Ryan Horvat added a goal and ex-Flyer Josh Gratton picked up an assist, while Patrik Bartosak only needed to stop 19 shots -- but 12 of those in the third period -- for the win.

"Their fourth line outplayed our fourth line. That's the way it is when you get down to the post-All-Star-game push and into the playoffs," said Phantoms head coach Terry Murray. "That's why you need depth in your lineup, need secondary scoring. We got that last night, but it didn't show today."

Scott Laughton provided the Phantoms' lone score, in the first period, his third in as many games after a long dry spell. Rob Zepp played well in defeat with 31 saves but his club has lost five of their last six games and will be playing out the string with 10 contests left and 11 points out of a playoff spot as of the opening faceoff.

"I think it's important to stay focused. That's been the message. Obviously, out of the playoff picture, but to take each game and try to get two points," noted Phantoms defenseman Mark Alt. "That was our goal tonight, to stay focused, stick to the game plan and finish off the season strong with the right mentality. We have enough games left to finish off this season in a positive way."

Bissonnette provided the lone spark of the first half of the second period when he and Oliver Lauridsen decided to drop the gloves in an otherwise unentertaining draw, then finished off his Gordie Howe hat trick at the 10:38 mark by dishing to Horvat for his successful shot from the right circle.

The 30-year-old journeyman only recorded seven goals and 22 points in 202 NHL appearances for the Penguins and Coyotes, but was held without a goal over this season's first 46 games, split between Portland and Manchester. 

Lehigh Valley mustered just three shots in the second period, but turned on the jets in the third, forcing Bartosak into a state of alertness not needed in the first two.

Bartosak appeared to be caught off-guard and had his glove hand low as Petr Straka fired away from the left wing with 8:28 remaining, but smothered the rebound just before Andrew Gordon could take a poke. Earlier in the third, Gordon again cut to the net but after Blair Jones hit him with a centering feed, the puck took a curved route off his stick and missed the left post. 

"They're the first place team in the league for a reason. They're really tough for us...Need to get pucks in deep and use our speed," Straka said at the second intermission, but he and his club didn't heed the warning until it was too late.

Another player who didn't heed a warning was Laughton, who was caught at center ice looking down and away when crushed by a legal hit from Horvat. It was a grim reminder of Laughton's concussion suffered in his Flyers call-up when Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen drilled him with an elbow to the head.

However, Mike Mersch outpaced the field up the left wing and hit the empty net to seal the outcome with 28.7 seconds remaining. That effort ended his weekend at five goals and seven points, while helping his team improve to 32 wins, one loss this season when leading after two periods. 

Keeping up a season-long tradition, the Phantoms picked up the game's first solo penalty but killed it off despite Manchester setting up for just over a minute inside the offensive zone with their expert cycle game.

Though the visitors were thought to be the more tired team, facing the final matchup of another 3-in-3 weekend, it was not the case. They've gone 8-1-1 over their last 10 games and won two of three in the series with 11 total goals. 

Halfway through the opening period, the shots were 9-1 in favor of the Monarchs, but the hosts picked up the game's initial score. Laughton emerged from the left-wing corner after following a blocked shot and was allowed room to weave in close and lift a backhander over Bartosak at 10:48.

"Yeah, a little bit," Laughton said when asked if he was surprised to have that much room to work. "It kinda bounced on my stick. I just wanted to bring it out far enough and it's a tough play to score on the forehand from a bad angle so I had to switch to put it on net."

A surprise name was given credit for the visitors' tying goal as Bissonnette was in front of Zepp and a shot from Horvat apparently got a piece of him en route to the back of the net inside of four minutes left in the period. Former Flyer Josh Gratton picked up the secondary assist.

Bissonnette's tally was his first at the AHL level since April 11, 2009 when he took the ice for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, finishing that campaign with 16 points (9G, 7A) in 46 appearances. 

Game Notes: The clubs split the two-game season series with each team winning on the road ... Lehigh Valley won 3-2 in Manchester back on Nov. 7, the game notorious for being the one where Shayne Gostisbehere suffered his season-ending ACL injury ... Lehigh Valley's Jay Rosehill drew a game misconduct for leaving the bench at the end of the second period The Phantoms killed off both Monarchs' power plays, extending their streak to 21 consecutive short-handed situations killed off ...  Lehigh Valley scratched defenseman Nick Luukko less than 24 hours after he made his professional debut in a 4-1 win over the Baby Penguins ... Zepp faced at least 30 shots for the 26th time this season as a Phantoms goalie.
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