GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – In the movie “The Truman Show,” when a storm rolls in, the sprinklers over Truman’s head also turn on and then follow him around until eventually all the sprinklers are on and he is both glum and wet.
One can only imagine that’s what it feels like in the Phantoms locker room after every first period.
Nineteen times now the Phantoms have retreated to their locker room for the first intermission of an AHL hockey game and only once did they go in there with a lead.
One in 19. It seems like we all had better odds to win the Powerball this past week.
O.K., admittedly that’s an exaggeration. But the frustration for the Phantoms is very real. With one exception, they have not been able to plan to protect a lead after the opening stanzas in any game this season.
Friday night was the same old story. The red hot Binghamton Senators scored four times in the first period, and although the Phantoms fought valiantly to eventually tie the score, they ran out of gas and eventually succumbed to the Sens 7-4.
“Statistically it’s proven,” Phantoms coach Terry Murray said. “Historically teams that come out of the first period with the lead win 80 percent of the time. It’s a big chore [to come back].
“We gave up two goals on faceoffs, one where we were beat one-on-one and a shorthanded goal. You have to dig in big time to get back into it. We did… but at the end of the day we didn’t get the job done.”
Especially Harry Zolnierczyk who scored twice, including the tying goal in the second period on a great individual effort to pot a shorthanded tally.
But just tying the game forced the Phantoms to expend so much energy, that they were spent late in the second period, and fell behind again, this time for good on a flukey goal by Mark Stone that just trickled over the goal line past Cal Heeter, who played well in net in relief of Scott Munroe who had an off night, allowing four goals on seven shots in just 17:02.
“When they take the lead right away, it’s deflating at first,” Zolnierczyk said. “But then you have to put it into an extra gear to get back on top. We did that in the second period, but then we let something break down and gave them an easy one. It was tough.”
To their credit, these Phantoms never do give up the ghost too soon. They scratch and claw right to the bitter end. And while that resolve will pay dividends in the long term, for the short term, they just can’t erase that cartoonish rain cloud from above their heads.
Bingo jumped on top two minutes into the game when Pat Cannone caught Brandon Manning flat-footed and blew past him and beat Munroe on a breakaway.
A few minutes later, an ill-timed whiff on a slap shot by Sean Couturier led to a two-on-none, shorthanded breakaway for the Senators that ended with Andre Benoit tipping a Hugh Jessiman pass past Munroe – and suddenly it was 2-0.
“It’s not the start we want,” Couturier said. “We found a way to battle back and had chances, but we didn’t capitalize and in the end that first period cost us big time.”
It didn’t have to though.
Rob Bordson drew the Phantoms back within the goal when he scored his third goal in four games thanks to a fortunate bounce of the glass right to him in the slot, but Mike Hoffman made it 3-1 Sens with a power play goal, tipping in a blast by Andre Benoit. Hoffman cleanly won a faceoff from Couturier, which allowed the goal to be scored within six seconds from the start of the man advantage. However, Murray was also upset with Erik Gustafsson not tying up Hoffman’s stick in front.
“That assignment is getting missed right there,” Murray said. “Anytime you get a redirection from a forward. It’s the defenseman’s job to tie up sticks right away.
“But you got to at least get a 50/50 battle on the faceoff. You can’t lose clean faceoffs in your own end like that – especially on a power play. Maybe that’s a little youth coming into play there where you are trying to beat a guy clean instead of tying up the stick and allowing your defenseman or a forward come in and find a puck. We have to take another lesson from that one.”
Zolnierczyk’s first goal, a gritty goal in the slot, cut it to one again, but another blast from the point off a draw, this one also by Benoit, beat Munroe, who was screened by his own defenseman, to make it 4-2.
That was it for Munroe, as Heeter came in and stemmed the tide.
The Phantoms responded in the second period, as Marc-Andre Bourdon scored his first goal of the season on the power play taking a great cross-ice pass from Garrett Roe and snapping it past Ottawa goalie Ben Bishop for 4-3.
Then Zolnierczyk tied it with a highlight real dash from one end of the ice to the other coming out of the penalty box.
“Ben Holmstrom was trying to clear it out of the zone and I just happened to be coming from the box and was building up speed,” Zolnierczyk said. “I knew there was only two guys behind me so I was going to take it wide right from the get go (to get around them) and then went to the backhand in front and beat the goalie.”
It was Zolnierczyk’s seventh goal of the season, which is second-most on the Phantoms behind Brayden Schenn .
However, another mistake by Manning, this time in the neutral zone, led to an offensive rush by the Senators and Stone was able to get enough of a tip on a pass from David Dziurzynski to sneak it past Heeter for what would be the game-winner.
The Phantoms were able to fire 17 of their season high 49 shots at Bishop in the third period, but he was equal to all of them, none bigger then on a sliding pad stop on Couturier that would have again tied the game.
Derek Grant iced the game with an empty netter with 1:01 to play, and Jacob Silfverberg made the score look lopsided with goal nine seconds later to close out the game.
The Phantoms (9-10-0, 18 points) dropped their second straight after winning three in a row last week and will look to turn things around Saturday when they close out their six-game homestand against Albany.