Catasauqua Press

Monday, January 22, 2018

Phantoms off to a great start

Thursday, October 26, 2017 by chuck hixson Special to the Press in Sports

Right now, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms are in one of those grooves that most times a team can only dream about. At 5-1-0-1 on the season, Lehigh Valley is just percentage points behind Providence for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, but they do hold a one-point advantage over the Bruins, albeit with one extra game played than Providence.

Danick Martel is off to a blazing start for Lehigh Valley and has been playing well from the opening faceoff of the season. The 22-year old Canadian product has seven goals and three assists on the season to lead the Phantoms in goals and points (13). He also sits tied atop the league’s goal scorers thus far this season, sharing the top spot with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton rookie Daniel Sprong. The two are also tied for second in points behind Chicago’s Teemu Pukkinen, who has 11.

Martel’s start has helped the line of Martel, Mike Vecchione and Nic Aube-Kubel amass 22 points through seven games, collecting 11 goals and 11 assists. The three have a combined plus-27 rating and have stayed as a consistent line for Phantoms coach Scott Gordon.

“I always play hard,” said Martel of his fast start. “No one can say that I’m coming here for nothing. I come here and I try to work as hard as I can and right now, I’m feeling really good, so confidence is a good part of it, but I’m working hard every day.”

Lehigh Valley has won four straight games and look to stretch that when they face the weakest team in the division, the Springfield Thunderbirds (1-6-0-0) at home Wednesday night and then in Springfield on Friday. They also play at home Saturday against Hartford to wrap up their week on the ice.

The ice at the PPL Center has been kind to the Phantoms this season, with Lehigh Valley going 3-0-0-0 at home, outscoring their opposition 15-6 in those three games.

Last Friday’s home game against Bridgeport gave goalie Dustin Tokarski his first start of the season after watching Alex Lyon start the first five games of the season. Tokarski’s only other action was a week earlier when he spelled Lyon after he was hit for four goals in the first 35-minutes of play.

“It feels great,” said Tokarski about getting his first win as a member of the Phantoms. “It’s been a long month, just getting here and getting in game shape and getting to know the guys. It’s a good organization and a great group of guys and I’m excited to be here.”

One area that needs work is the penalty killing. Lehigh Valley ranks last in the AHL in killing penalties, having allowed a short-handed goal 25-percent of the time that they’ve played with a man in the box.

“The numbers haven’t been there from the team, but from what I’ve seen, they’re playing hard and as long as you block shots and stick to the system and to the basics and stick to the work ethic, it will keep coming around,” said Tokarski.

A CLOSE, COMFORTABLE GAME ... With three weeks of the season in the books, the Phantoms have played in four one-goal games, finishing at 3-0-0-1 in those contests. Toronto is a perfect 3-0-0-0 and San Antonio is 3-1-0-0 in one-goal games, with six other teams having two wins in close games.

IS THAT YOUR PHONE RINGING OR MINE? ... With the injury to Andrew MacDonald, which will keep him out several weeks in Philadelphia, the question is who gets the call to head for Philadelphia to join the Flyers? Sam Morin opened the season on the Philadelphia roster, but didn’t see any ice time before being sent down to Lehigh Valley. He could be the odds-on-favorite at this point to make the trip down the Turnpike.

LUCKY NUMBER FOUR ... While the Phantoms have won four straight games, they also have three players in the midst of four-game scoring streaks. Vecchione, Greg Carey and Phil Varone have all picked up points in four straight games. Varone leads the group with five points – one goal and four assists – while Vecchione and Carey both have four points in the four games.