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Phantoms off to rocky start in 2019

Published January 15. 2019 12:09PM

If the Phantoms New Year’s resolution was to come out of the gate hot in 2019, consider their resolution to have been shorter than most of us who resolved to lose weight this year.

Since putting new calendars on the wall, Lehigh Valley is 1-5-0-0 and have lost six of seven games overall.

In those seven games, the Phantoms have been outscored 27-15 and have dropped into a fourth-place tie with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in points.

Most players have rolled out the usual excuses — call-ups, injuries, etc. — but can we talk about the elephant in the room? The turmoil at the top is causing somewhat of a ripple effect as players wonder about their future with the organization and what’s going to happen next.

The Flyers are dreadful, which has led to the hiring of a new GM and the firing of coach Dave Hakstol, who was replaced by Phantoms coach Scott Gordon.

That meant a change behind the Lehigh Valley bench when Kerry Huffman moved up to take over the team’s reins.

It’s only natural for players at the AHL level to wonder about what’s next.

Does the new GM deem them to be part of the organization’s future, and will their turn come sooner rather than later? Or, will they be overlooked in favor of other players who may have moved up the depth chart in the eyes of GM Chuck Fletcher?

Phantoms captain Colin McDonald wasn’t afraid to voice the obvious.

“There’s so much uncertainty outside of our team with the Flyers. As difficult as it may be, you just really can’t get caught up with that. You really just have to focus on ourselves, as individuals and as a team collectively,” he said.

The recent stretch is the worst for a Phantoms team since March of 2016 when they had an eight-game winless streak (0-6-2). Things turned around nicely from that point, though, and they went on to win six of their next seven games.

McDonald is working to keep the team optimistic and working together to break out of the skid, but he’s also realistic and knows that things could ultimately get worse before they get better.

“This might not be rock bottom, I don’t know,” said McDonald. “We have to be professional about this and find a way to get through it. It’s not going to be easy.”

WHAT HOME ICE ADVANTAGE? ... To make things worse, Lehigh Valley is 1-3-0-1 in their last five games at the PPL Center. On the season, they’re 9-9-0-1 at home, good enough for just 19 points, putting them 24th in the AHL in home points. Meanwhile, their 11-6-1-1 record on the road is good for 24 points, tied for fifth best in the league. Even with the home skid, the Phantoms hosted their fourth straight home sellout Saturday night against Hershey.

SHORT LEASH ... With Alex Lyon having started three games in a row, Branden Komm got the start Sunday in Hershey. As it turned out, Lyon only got 6:36 worth of rest when Huffman put him in for Komm when the Phantoms fell behind 3-0. Lyon went on to save 18 of 20 shots that he faced and the Phantoms put up four goals, but the damage was already done and Lehigh Valley fell to the Bears 5-4.

HALFWAY THERE ... The Phantoms have played 38 games on their 76-game schedule and are 20-15-1-2. They’re currently 16 points behind the Charlotte Checkers, who lead the league in points by a healthy nine-point margin over second-place Bridgeport. Springfield stands in third with 44 points, just one ahead of the Phantoms and Penguins. In the conference standings, Lehigh Valley is in seventh place.

TIME TO STEP UP ... The next four games are big for Lehigh Valley as they face Springfield, Hartford, Rochester and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. While the Phantoms are bunched up with Springfield and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the standings, Rochester is currently leading the North Division with 48 points. Hartford has struggled, but they’re just three points behind the Phantoms in the Atlantic Division.

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