GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – Terry Murray tried switching up the lineup. He tried conveying a message of communication, trust, and belief in a system.
As a veteran coach, whose seen highs and lows with a hockey team, he has a pretty good idea of which buttons to push when.
And while he still is keeping the panic button under 24-hour armed guard, a few other pushes still brought no positive results.
A day after getting completely dominated by Albany, the Phantoms played a better brand of hockey for 20 minutes, before losing their cool – and their discipline – allowing the highest scoring power play nine chances with the man advantage.
The end result wasn’t pretty – a 6-2 loss to the Rochester Americans, the Phantoms fourth loss in their last five games.
“We’ve just got to settle down,” Murray said. “There’s got to be more composure from our young players and we have to trust each other. Trust our linemates. Trust other people to do their own job. If we can just grab onto that, we can become a pretty good team. We’ve shown it already by playing some very good games and good responsibility without the puck, but the last two games it’s slipped away.”
And the Phantoms have done so in new ways each time.
Against the Devils, there was a failure to communicate, an inability to win puck battles, and a one-night turnover affliction.
Against the Amerks, a good opening 20 minutes spilled over into a second period based in hesitation and uncertainty, which led to penalties, which mounted frustration, which cost them a game.
“Some of the penalties that we took weren’t disciplined at all and that’s going to cost you, especially against that team,” said goalie Scott Munroe, who had to make 45 saves in the loss. “We were a little leery of their power play, and if you give them that many chances they’re going to put a couple in.”
Which the Americans did, going 2-for-9 with the man advantage.
However, Murray wanted to caution that the spike in penalties, (the Phantoms were the least penalized team in the AHL entering the game) was not the primary reason for the Phantoms loss.
“There’s more to it than that,” Murray said. “We end up chasing the puck too much. Two men going to the puck carrier in our defensive zone opens up the back door – and the first goal we gave up is an example of that.”
It left Rick Schofield wide-open for a goal that gave Rochester an early 1-0 lead.
It also marked the sixth consecutive game to start the season that the Phantoms allowed the first goal.
But Munroe was strong in the period, making 14 saves, keeping the game a one-goal deficit after one period.
It looked like the Phantoms were going to continue to play a solid game when Harry Zolnierczyk out-hustled both T.J. Brennan and Rochester goalie David Leggio to a loose puck in the opening minute of the second period for an easy goal, tying the score 1-1.
But Rochester answered 90 seconds later with a power play goal by captain Kevin Porter, and just like that the Phantoms were back in a hole, and this time, they weren’t climbing out.
“We got out of our rhythm in the second period and that hurt us the rest of the game,” said Phantoms captain Ben Holmstrom. “A lot of the stick penalties are on us because we weren’t moving our feet. If it’s a hard penalty because of a hard hit, you don’t mind killing those off, but the trips and slashes and stuff, that’s just us not digging in.”
By the end of the period, Rochester added a second goal by Schofield and a power play redirection goal by Evan Rankin, to make the second period deficit 4-1.
It was the 12th consecutive intermission that the Phantoms went into their locker room without a lead, which adds a level of unwanted pressure.
It’s strange that this is happening to a team with 10 players with NHL experience playing at the AHL level, and even more so because of how well they played as a team a week ago during a hard-fought split with St. John in Newfoundland.
“I was really encouraged after that trip,” Munroe said. “We played two really good games and we were skating well. We were looking like a team. Then we come back from the trip, we got spanked in Albany and we come out [Saturday] with another one.”
Murray benched five players who played in Albany Friday – Matt Mangene, Garrett Roe, Eric Wellwood, Oliver Lauridsen and Jeff Dimmen – and replaced them with five players who were in business suits Friday – Tyler Brown, Mike Testwuide, Matt Ford, Zack Fitzgerald and Cullen Eddy.
Testwuide, playing his first game of the season, drew the Phantoms within 4-2 with an effort goal when he fought for position in front of the net and slid a loose puck past Leggio for 4-2.
With a power play in the closing minutes, Murray pulled Munroe to try to gain a greater offensive advantage, but a zone clear by Nick Crawford went right into the empty net to seal the victory for Rochester.
“We had a 20 minute effort only,” Murray said. “That’s where the game was at. We came out in the second and looked rattled at times… we paid a price for it.”
NOTES: Tye McGinn won a heavyweight fight with Nick Tarnasky after Tarnasky drilled Danny Syvret from behind into the boards. McGinn cut Tarnasky over the left eye with one of his punches that landed… Sean Couturier picked up an assist, and was probably the Phantoms best skater in the game, however Murray didn’t want to heap any praise on him after a bad loss. “It’s not a night to talk about any one player. That was a team that put up 51 shots on us tonight and everyone is responsible for what is going on… Zac Rinaldo, who had been a bastion of disciplined hockey in the first five games, took three penalties Saturday, including a charging major.
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