Sunday, April 19, 2015

Phantoms conclude inaugural season of third incarnation with loss

Allentown, PA -- Year One of the Phantoms experiment in the Lehigh Valley is complete, and, like the five which preceded up in Glens Falls, ended on the final day of the regular season.

With nothing else to play for but pride, in front of a crowd clearly half of the announced 8,689, they turned in the usual performance in a 5-1 loss to the playoff-bound Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Pens on Sunday evening.

Sean Escobedo recorded a goal and two assists for the Penguins (45-24-7), the second-place club in the East Division who will be moving onto the playoffs to take on Syracuse.

Jean-Sebastien Dea, Tom Kuhnhackl, Bobby Farnham and Jayson Megna also tallied while Jeff Zatkoff was good on 32-of-33 shots to end his season with 18 wins and three shutouts.

Oliver Lauridsen recorded the lone marker for the Phantoms (33-35-8), who ended up fourth in the East and third-to-last in the conference. Even with the long-term call-up of Scott Laughton and the look Nick Cousins got in the last few weeks in Philadelphia, they finished the season scoring two goals or fewer in 41 of 76 outings.

Rob Zepp surrendered all five goals on 35 shots for the hosts, who completed the year on a 2-6-1 tear which included a pair of three-game win streaks.

That didn't prevent head coach Terry Murray from a positive spin on this first year in a new location: "I would call it a success," he said when pressed on the development aspect. "When you look at the goal of teams at this level is to make sure players are ready to play in the NHL, we've done that."

Already down by two, Brett Hextall began the third period in the penalty box and his teammates couldn't prevent another power-play goal, as Carter Rowney found some space in close to slip a pass across for a successful redirection by Escobedo less than 90 seconds in for a 4-1 game.

Megna's shot just under the crossbar for his team-best 26th goal of the campaign sent most of the paying customers to the exits at 5-1 with a hair under 11 minutes left in the contest.

The evening's nonsense competition kicked in from there, with two separate line scrums standing in a as the final calling cards this season. For starters, both Zack Stortini and Alex Boak were given the gate after fisticuffs erupted with 8:25 on the clock. To conclude, Hextall, Farnham and Dominik Uher were sent packing with 5.6 seconds showing in the wake of more pushing and shoving.

All of that led to the Phantoms finishing atop one AHL list -- total penalty minutes  -- with 1,834. Stortini ended up with a misconduct, giving him 184 penalty minutes on the year, good enough for second on the club. Jay Rosehill remained atop the list at 219 PIM.

One player who is looking ahead is defenseman Brandon Manning, who finished tops among team defensemen in goals (11), assists (32) and points (43).

"I'm just going to keep training. Every summer coming up is your biggest Summer. The plan is to make the Flyers, that's my goal for next season," Manning admitted. "I'm going to try and get a little bit stronger and a little bit quicker. come into camp ready and pick up a spot there."

The most penalized team in the American Hockey League, and one which provided their foes with 122 power-play chances in 11 previous meetings, promptly gave up two infractions in a 22-second span early in the contest.

The Baby Pens had 1:38 of 5-on-3 to work with, and after a timeout mid-advantage, clicked with 23 seconds left on the two-man edge when Dea beat Zepp from the left side at 3:20.

Though the Phantoms killed off the remaining 5-on-4, the hosts fell behind by two as Kuhnhackl won a battle on the right-wing boards, cut towards the net and beat Zepp high to the glove side from the inner arc of the circle at 4:09.

Farnham decided to stir things up inside of a minute left in the first period, lining up Rosehill for a hit along the benches. Those plans were foiled when the latter caught on and dumped the former into his own bench, drawing a crowd and also giving the Baby Pens yet another power play.

Lehigh Valley killed off that carryover situation, but Farnham got his revenge as well as some groans from the crowd when he scored on a backhander to make it 3-0 less than three minutes into the second period. 

Lauridsen put the Phantoms on the board at the 9:27 mark, on a move reminiscent of Michael Del Zotto. He rushed up the left wing, cut in at the top of the circle and put a low shot on net which squeaked through Zatkoff, who didn't secure 100 percent of his padding.

"For the most part I'm pretty happy with the way I finished up the season. You can't really take anything for granted here, so just have to see how your meetings go and take the off-season one day at a time," Lauridsen said.

The large Dane is off to represent his native Denmark in the Worlds which take place next month.

Notes: Escobedo, a Boston University graduate, also suited up for Hartford in the AHL and spent the majority of the year playing with Greenville of the ECHL totaling 19 points (3G, 16A) in 61 appearances ... Lehigh Valley finished its season series with WBS at 5-6-1 and completed its home slate at 17-15-6 ... The Phantoms averaged 8,163 fans and placed fourth in the AHL, totaling 310,199 for all 38 home dates in their new locale ...Phantoms assistant captain Andrew Gordon left the game in the first period and did not return due to a knee injury ... The Bridgeport Sound Tigers ended up second in the league at 1,726 PIMs ... Former Flyers and Phantoms product, defenseman Danny Syvret, ended up with an assist and a minus-1 with two shots on goal. 

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