One inch. According to Lehigh Valley Phantoms' Head Coach Scott Gordon, that's all that separated his team from getting at least a point Friday night, as the St. John's IceCaps netted a split of the two game series in Allentown with a 3-2 victory on Friday night.
Whereas the Phantoms controlled Wednesday night's matchup nearly start to finish, this game started out different entirely. Both sides were extremely measured in the first, and both goalies were stopping everything in sight.
The best chance of the first belonged to St. John's. An errant clearing attempt bounced off of a Phantom in the left face off dot and bounced in to the slot, right to the IceCaps' Christian Thomas. Thomas fired a wrist shot, but Anthony Stolarz made the chest save to keep the game scoreless.
The second period was a different matter, as there were 3 goals total in just over nine minutes. Sven Andrighetto, who opened the scoring on Wednesday, did so again Friday, just 30 seconds into the period.
Bud Holloway fired a shot wide of the net from the far point, the puck caromed off of the end boards behind the net, right to Andrighetto in the near faceoff circle. Stolarz lost track of the puck and it was 1-0, just like that.
Charles Hudon made it 2-0 on the power play just 5:30 later. With Danick Martel in the box for a high stick, Holloway collected the puck behind the net and dropped it to Hudon who was at the edge of the crease, Stolarz again lost sight of the puck, and it was an easy goal.
Chris Conner got Lehigh Valley on the board less than 3 minutes later with a gutsy individual effort. He streaked down the far wing and cut to the slot, drilling the puck through the pads of St. John's netminder Zach Fucale. assists on the goal went to Andrew MacDonald and Matt Lashoff.
The Phantoms had glorious chance to to tie the game, and possibly take the lead, midway through the period. Andrighetto got a double minor for charging and roughing, but too much passing from the Phantoms led to no real scoring chances in the four minutes.
Conner struck again at 5:55 on a two on one. Nick Cousins (Pictured above with the Philadelphia Flyers last season)took an elbow to the head in the neutral zone, but got the puck to Martel. Martel sprang with Conner on the break and buried it past Fucale.
Michael McCarron got his fifth of the season, and eventual game-winner at 8:49. Mark Barberio flipped the puck on net, it bounced off Stolarz' chest and to McCarron, who batted it out of the air and into the net. Just one problem, the entire play was offside from the beginning.
However, because linesman Jason Mandroc left the game late in the second due to injury, that left only a referee and a linesman (there was no second referee assigned to this game) on the ice, and the call was missed. The Phantoms protested, but as offsides is not reviewable under AHL replay, the goal was made to stand.
Notes: Cousins, who took the elbow on the second Conner goal, only played one more shift and didn't return. The same can be said for Forward Evan Rankin. Rankin took a slap shot to the face and also didn't return. Danick Martel returned to the lineup after missing three games with an undisclosed injury. Lehigh Valley returns to action Sunday afternoon on the road against the Hershey Bears.
Quotes: Andrew MacDonald on the missed offsides that led to the game-winner: "It was offside, it really did look offside. I know it's tough with a linesman going down, they only had two refs going. I think we felt it was offside. That being said, we have to do a better defending that."
Scott Gordon on the last goal: "I can honestly that it was offside. But, I had it in super slow motion, and it was off by maybe an inch. It's real easy for me to make that call with pause and play, versus the ref not having the ability to do that. He's gotta make a judgment call. He made the call. I can understand from his perspective. That's it, nothing we can do about it."
On Martel's return to the lineup: "He skated with his usual energy, you know. You're gonna get that from him. I thought that there were some small areas he was off on system wise/ Nothing that had an impact on the game, it just would have made his shifts easier. Overall, I thought he had a great effort."
For the second time this week, the Flyers fell to the lowly Buffalo Sabres (see recap), essentially assuring that the Sabres will win at least one season series this year.
We all know of the Flyers' perpetual issues with playing against lesser teams. They've toppled teams such as Chicago and the New York Rangers with ease, yet in a three-game stretch where they've faced the Sabres and New Jersey Devils, they've mustered just one point.
Of course, the Flyers (4-4-2) had a similar issue tonight that did them no favors in Thursday's 4-1 loss to the Devils -- too many penalties. The Flyers could not stay out of the box, and it hampered their ability to generate any offense and scoring chances.
For the Flyers, the five-game road trip that they started on Friday was a chance to regroup and generate positivity, following a pair of largely-unspectacular losses earlier in the week.
Dave Hakstol changed his lines up -- most notably, splitting the top pairing of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Michael Raffl -- in order to develop new chemistry amongst his forwards. This came one day after changing up the entirety of his defensive corps, prior to their 4-1 loss to New Jersey.
These drastic changes were not enough of a spark for the Flyers, as they fell 3-0 to the Buffalo Sabres to kick the road trip off. As was the case on Thursday, the Flyers were plagued by a lack of discipline, and they failed to generate possession and scoring chances.
Following their sluggish 4-1 loss to New Jersey on Thursday, the Flyers (4-3-2) will immediately take the ice again tonight, as they head to Buffalo to close out a three-game-in-four-night stretch.
The Flyers will continue their season series with the Sabres (3-7-0), which began Tuesday night. In a game that saw the Flyers play down to their opponent -- sound familiar? -- the Sabres won 4-3 in overtime, thanks to a Zemgus Girgensons breakaway.