ALLENTOWN, PA – The Lehigh Valley Phantoms are looking to build off their first playoff appearance in eight seasons and their first since moving to Allentown four seasons ago. They’ll have to plug a few holes here and there to do so.
Head Coach: Scott Gordon – third year as head coach (2015-16 to present) 82-58-12 overall regular-season record.
Captain: Colin McDonald (RW) – third year as captain (2015-16 to present). Also his third year with the Phantoms overall.
Last Season: 48-23-5, 101 points, second in Atlantic Division. Lost in Atlantic Division semifinals to Hershey in five games.
Overview: Lehigh Valley stayed near the top of their division all year last season, using a fifth-ranked overall power play (20.7%) and huge offensive numbers to do so. Greg Carey finished second in power-play goals (17), and TJ Brennan led all defensemen in goals (21) and power play goals (12). Added with the other nine Phantoms in double-digit tallies, the team scored a league-high 260 goals.
Alex Lyon backstopped the team for much of the year with Anthony Stolarz either injured or in Philly, but earned 27 wins which were enough for fifth best in the league in his rookie year.
Lehigh Valley’s youth movement ultimately made the playoffs for the first time in eight years, but fell to the much more experienced Hershey Bears in Game 5 of the Atlantic Division Semis.
#LightingUptheLehighValley: Hard to top leading the league with 260 goals for a season ago, but the Phantoms have always found ways to get pucks to the back of the net.
#TheLyonRoarsAgain? Last year, Alex Lyon was thrown to the wolves during his rookie campaign, and he came out on top. With Stolarz injured to start the season, expect him to see much of the work again.
#BlueLineBackUp: With Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin, and Robert Hagg (three vital defensive pieces a year ago) starting the season in Philadelphia expect to see Philippe Myers and Mark Friedman to be called upon to answer the bell.
Consistency is key: The Phantoms had win streaks of three games or better seven times last season, with their highest being an eight-game streak from November 2nd to November 18th. Oddly enough, Lehigh Valley also only lost back-to-back games three times, with three games being their longest losing streak.
Offense can’t be stopped…mostly: As previously stated, the Phantoms scored a league-high 260 goals last year. Seemingly unstoppable. However, they were shut out three times last year. All came against division rival Wilkes-barre/Scranton, who shut them out in three straight meetings (March 25 4-0, April 1 3-0, April 7 3-0).
Matt Read: Read was placed on waivers at the end of camp by the Flyers, and cleared and was sent to the Phantoms. He had 19 points in 63 games with the Flyers last season, but one has to wonder if his experience will help the young forwards out like Andrew MacDonalds send down helped the defensemen two years ago.
Phil Varone: Varone spent his season last year with the Binghamton Senators, where he had 15 goals and 36 assists for 51 points in 65 games. He’ll fit in quite nicely in the Phantoms potent offense.
Leland Irving: Irving, who has NHL experience, seems to have been brought in to help ease the load off Alex Lyon while Anthony Stolarz rehabs his leg injury. He’ll have to play lights out to take the starters spot away from the second year Lyon.
Blocked and Reported:
Andy Miele: 57 points (13 goals, 44 assists) in 2016-17, has joined the Malmo Redhawks in the Swedish Hockey League.
Mark Zengerle: 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) in 2016-17, has joined Linkopings HC in the Swedish Hockey League.
Martin Ouellette: 3-0, 1.06 GAA, .968 save percentage in 2016-17, has joined the Carolina Hurricanes organization and has been assigned to the Florida Everblades of the ECHL.
If the Phantoms stay healthy, and their new pieces plug into the offense well, expect much of the same as last year, with even a deeper playoff run.