The rivalry is back and as good as ever.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms (3-2-0-1) and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (4-2-0-0) started the 2018-2019 version of their rivalry at the PPL Center last Friday and then took it north for the second game of the series. The teams split the two games, ironically, with each winning on the other team’s home ice.
In the game at home, Lehigh Valley had a crucial goal waved off on what coach Scott Gordon described as a “Wrong. Wrongfully, too [call].” Pens goalie Tristan Jarry was holding German Rubtsov’s stick when another Penguins player, Zach Trotman, plowed into the back of Rubtsov, pushing him and with Jarry still holding the stick, also moving Jarry out of position. Greg Carey fired a shot on goal that went past Jarry for an apparent goal. As the officials saw it though, Rubtsov had simply pushed Jarry out of the way, resulting in an interference call and taking the goal off the board.
“The thing that’s wrong about that is the goaltender couldn’t make the save, because he chose to take our stick and hold onto it,” said Gordon. “Our guy tried to get his stick. Our guy didn’t do anything wrong.”
The non-goal turned out to be a key call when Wilkes-Barre/Scranton went on to win the game 5-4 when Garrett Wilson scored off of a rebound with just 1:09 left in regulation. The win by the Penguins was their first in the Lehigh Valley since the 2016-2017 season.
Goalie Alex Lyon saved 42 of 45 shots on the night against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
The Phantoms shook off the loss the following night in Wilkes-Barre when Rubtsov got a bit of a payback by scoring two goals in a 6-3 win. The Phantoms had to fight from behind to erase a 2-0 deficit. In addition to Rubtsov’s two tallies, Lehigh Valley got goals from Mark Friedman, Phil Varone, Phil Myers and Chris Conner. Taylor Leier and T.J. Brennan both ended the night with two assists.
The win in Wilkes-Barre was followed by a 4-3 shootout loss Sunday afternoon in Bridgeport (3-3-1-0) as the Phantoms wrapped up their first three-in-three weekend of the season with games Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The final two games opened a six-game road trip for Lehigh Valley, who travel to Hartford (Wednesday), back to Binghamton (Saturday) and to Hershey (Sunday) for their first meeting with their other Pennsylvania rival, the Hershey Bears (2-5-0-1). The trip winds up with another game in Binghamton on November 2nd before returning home against Binghamton the following night.
THE POWER IS BACK ON... In Friday’s loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Phantoms ended an 0-for-14 start to their power play capabilities at home this season. It took until the third period, but they netted two power play goals early in the period. Overall, the Phantoms are 7-of-31 on the power play this season, ranking 12th in the AHL, but have connected on six of their last 10 advantages. Their penalty killing has been a concern as they’ve allowed goals on 9-of-27 penalty kills, ranking last in the AHL in killing penalties.
SCHEDULING QUIRK... The Phantoms and Binghamton will meet three times in four games and the Devils will serve as Lehigh Valley’s opponent in three of their first 12 games. The two teams then will have two months away from each other before they meet for the final time this season on January 11th. Meanwhile, the Phantoms and Penguins played twice in the first five games and won’t meet again until mid-December when the Penguins will be Lehigh Valley’s opponent in three of seven games through the rest of the month. The teams then play once in January, three times in March and play back-to-back games at the PPL Center on April 6 and 7.