GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – When the Phantoms reconvene for practice Monday, Terry Murray will have an easy day.
He’ll gather his team in the locker room, pull down the video board, hit play on the DVD player and simply let the video of Saturday’s 4-0 win against Albany roll.
It was that good of a performance. It was that solid a team effort. They won every level of the game. 5-on-5. Power Play. Penalty kill.
Phantoms. Phantoms. Phantoms.
They scored the first goal of the game for the first time this year. They took a lead into a period for the first time as well, then repeated it a second time, because, well, it felt good to play with the lead.
Who knew, right?
All kidding aside, it was probably the Phantoms (4-5-0, eight points) most complete effort of the season.
“We got to play our game tonight,” said Ben Holmstrom, who scored one of the two Phantoms power play goals and was a demon on the penalty kill. “And we got that first goal of the game that helped us settle in and stick with it for the whole 60 minutes. Obviously there are still ups and downs within the game but that was a big performance for us.”
It was big from the opening shifts to the final horn that sounded the 19th shutout of goalie Scott Munroe’s career.
Murray made a couple changes, bringing Garrett Roe and Tyler Brown back in the lineup and they paid immediate dividends with their forechecking game, pressuring the Albany defense on every shift.
“I was very pleased with how they got on the hunt with the forecheck and were pivotal to the game,” Murray said.
And although they didn’t get on the score sheet – despite several high percentage chances, they did something that was really more critical for the Phantoms than anything else – they set a tempo for a team that was definitely out of sync in recent games.
Because after they went off the ice, it was Harry Zolneirczyk skating hard, Zac Rinaldo forcing turnovers, Rob Bordson winning puck battles, Cullen Eddy getting into fights… it was contagious.
Then the penalty kill, which has been a strong suit of the team, even while they were struggling, blew the doors open.
Brayden Schenn sprang Sean Couturier on a breakaway and Couturier made a brilliant deke to force Keith Kinkaid to flop to the ice before sliding the puck past him for a 1-0 lead.
And with that, you could feel the sigh of relief emanated from the Phantoms bench fill the Glens Falls Civic Center.
“Guys were committed to doing things right,” Murray said. “We want to really go after pucks… Tonight there were several clips that I’m going to reshow our players (from the penalty kill) that will reinforce the positive side of it.”
Holmstrom made it 2-0 when he lunged to poke a loose puck past Kinkaid on the power play, following up a Matt Ford shot, then Erik Gustafsson scored on a 5-on-3 advantage, taking a pass from Couturier and snapping it into the short side.
Couturier finished the game with three points, and was once again the most noticeable player on the ice.
“It makes a big difference scoring that first goal,” Couturier said. “You can tell because we stuck to the game plan after that and we played a pretty good game overall. It starts with the little details and executing them. Today we did a good job of creating turnovers on the forecheck and not turning the puck over.”
Shane Harper added the final goal, going hard to the net and taking a great pass from Couturier, who gain possession of the puck off his own faceoff win, and slipping it past Kinkaid.
Meanwhile, all Munroe did was make 26 saves to record his 19th career AHL shutout.
“It never gets old,” he said. “It’s always the same in those last couple minutes of the game when you’re sitting on the shutout and it’s sure nice to get them.”
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For the Phantoms it’s nice to get a lead. It’s nice to protect the lead. It’s nice to play the way Terry Murray wants them to play.
Now, they need to see if they can carry that momentum into a five-game road trip.
“This win is a huge step for us,” Holmstrom said. “Now we have to follow it up. We haven’t had back-to-back victories yet though. That’s the next thing we have to do and start stringing these together.”