With all the additions, with the returning defensemen, for a while it looked like the only thing really clicking in the opener tonight was something we’d seen before up front: 17-29-26.
They were sending it long and letting Josh Ho-Sang go get it. They were possessing, getting it in deep. They were letting Connor Jones go to work.
“We came in the game with a plan. We talked to each other this whole week and said this is what we’re going to be,” Ho-Sang said. “We’re not going to try to figure it out throughout the season.”
Brent Thompson said he saw the chemistry all week.
“Tonight, they really showed their stuff,” the coach said. “They created offense for us and were good defensively, so for me that was a step in the right direction for that group. … It was a step in the right direction for Josh and DC (Michael Dal Colle), both.”
Ho-Sang ends up a minus-2: Phantoms score when a pass gets fanned on at the end of a long shift in the Lehigh end; Phantoms score seconds after he steps on the ice after a penalty; Phantoms score on a rush after he creates a scoring chance for himself. Mildly snakebitten. But he thought he created, and a first look from upstairs agreed.
“Could’ve got five points. Could’ve scored a couple myself,” Ho-Sang said. “I thought my first period was OK, but as the game went on, I thought I got a lot better and just kept going, and eventually Mikey and I clicked.
“I thought Mike played amazing. I really enjoy our chemistry together. Jonesy up the middle has kind of been a staple for me for the last two years. I know what Jonesy’s doing. It’s impressive. It’s fun to be around.”
They’re trying to get open for each other. It was a decent start for them.
As a team, well, the gamer will mention that it looked at times kind of familiar. Here come the Phantoms on a rush: Bang. Mistake: back of the net.
“I don’t think unlucky is the right word to use,” career goal-a-gamer Kieffer Bellows said when I suggested they had things to clean up but might’ve been unlucky. “That push we had at the end of the game, we need to do that the whole 60 minutes. We need to play harder. I know I personally need to play better as well. I think we’re going to bounce back tomorrow.”
Thompson thought they were snakebitten offensively sometimes — 31 saves for Carter Hart in his pro debut — “but I thought we were a little sloppy defensively. They’re pretty opportunistic, and when we gave up chances, they were Grade-A, big chances. We have to be a lot tighter defensively on rush responses, reading the rush and eliminating those kind of chances. The D can move the puck a little better, be sharper.
“We have some things to improve on, but we didn’t give up,” he added. “There was a great attitude on the bench. I just want to see us improve on some structural pieces.”
Wouldn’t commit to any changes for tomorrow, or if there would be any. There was some juggling at times, mostly a center rotation through the top three lines late in the second period, but for most of the third it all resolved to a simple swap of Chris Bourque and Kieffer Bellows from how they started. We’ll see how they roll tomorrow.
Didn’t seem to be a ton of fourth-line time, just based on the timing of penalties, though Scott Eansor and Ryan Bourque killed penalties together. The PK also included Jones and Ryan Hitchcock, the occasional Steve Bernier appearance, and some Travis St. Denis-Mike Sislo, who nearly turned a Sislo-forced turnover into a short-handed goal (a play which naturally turned into a Phantoms goal moments after the penalty expired). Think every defenseman but Mitch Vande Sompel was on the penalty kill, though I may have missed him, too. Power plays were Unit 1 and Unit 2.
The AHL’s new ironman is Wayne Simpson, 189, per the league.