GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – At this point, some would call it epidemic.
Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s just hockey. After a 4-1 loss to the defending Calder Cup champions, who now play as the Syracuse Crunch, it’s easier to be fickle in such an assessment. Maybe giving up the first goal of the game in eight straight contests is just a bad run.
Maybe going into 16 consecutive intermissions without a lead is a quirk of the statistics. Maybe getting behind and having to chase the game turns good effort and hard work into misguided energy.
Well, the last maybe is a definite with these Phantoms, who continue to be inconsistent in the first tenth of their season. Whether the rest is true or not remains to be seen, but unless the Phantoms can figure out a way to change those trends, those perceptions could very well become realities.
“We don’t stop working but we don’t work very efficiently,” said Danny Syvret. “The work is coming but the production isn’t there. When you are behind it’s a given that you are going to try harder to score and that usually isn’t the best way to play the game. “Supporting the puck in a close area and then going for long bomb plays don’t usually work and you can easily lose a game playing that way.”
And that’s what the Phantoms have found themselves doing when they get behind – pressing too hard, getting away from their structure and trying low percentage plays in hopes they will work.
“We start to get away from everything we want to see with the structure and the setup,” coach Terry Murray said. “We were freelancing out there and as soon as that happens it snowballs… We got away from everything and our spacing got to be too big. It got further away every shift. I addressed the team about it after the game, we were looking for passes from our goal line to the red line.“We’re on the other side of their defensemen. It’s impossible to make those plays.”
The Crunch scored on their first shot of the game as AHL scoring leader Cory Conacher surprised Marc-Andre Bourdon with his speed, blew past him on the left wing and lifted a backhander past Cal Heeter to make it 1-0 midway through the first period. It was a disappointing incidence for the Phantoms, who had dominated play through the game’s first 10 minutes. However, they didn’t respond poorly.
The continued to have good energy in what was a chippy period and were able to draw even before the end of the frame. Sean Couturier won faceoff cleanly back to Cullen Eddy at the point. He snapped a shot on goal that Harry Zolnierczyk tipped past Syracuse goalie Dustin Tokarski, knotting the score.
It was Zolnierczyk’s third goal of the season, having scored one in each home game. But once the second period began, Syracuse starting dictating their style of game, scored two quick goals 100 seconds apart, and left the Phantoms in chase mode.
“We start the games well but then we slowly fade away from what’s working and that’s hurting us right now,” Zolnierczyk said. “Getting down in every game is frustrating. We talk about scoring that first goal to set ourselves up. But then we get behind and we don’t fade away right off the bat but slowly but surely we start tightening up and deviating away from the gameplan.”
The Phantoms had their chances, but went 0-for-7 on the power play, and really only had sustained pressure in one of those opportunities. “Special teams are critical obviously in the game today,” Murray said. “We relied on it in the game against them last week and today it didn’t come through for us… You have to keep going with it and keep getting the chances. Tonight we had pucks end up on the sticks of players that you want to have it, but some nights they don’t go in for you.”
Murray was specifically referring to a chance Couturier had on the power play early in the third period where he couldn’t lift the puck off the ice and over a sprawling Tokarski. Tye McGinn had a couple of chances around the net, but couldn’t finish and Matt Ford had a snipe effort from in close that Tokarski gloved.
The Phantoms were given another power play chance late in the game, and Murray pulled Heeter for the extra attacker, but the Phantoms couldn’t get set up in the 6-on-4 and Matt Taormina iced the puck into the empty net to round out the scoring for Syracuse.
The goal for the Phantoms (3-5-0, six points) now will be to turn things around against an Albany Devils team who dominated them last week in a game in Albany. “[Tonight was] part of the learning process,” Murray said. “As players they have to take a look at it. We have to talk about it as coaches and we have to bring it back together quickly.”
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