Phantoms Upend First-Place Penguins 3-0 on Sunday
Wilkes-Barre, PA – Veteran goalie Jason LaBarbera recorded his 38th career professional shutout with a scintillating 35-stop performance at first-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to guide the Lehigh Valley Phantoms to a 3-0 win on Sunday evening. The veteran goalie had to be on his game right from the beginning with 11 saves in the first 10 minutes. After the initial onslaught of shots it was a hard-working defense that battled their way along against a determined and talented Penguins’ squad that helped LaBarbera secure the first shutout of the season for the Phantoms.
Andrew MacDonald (4th), Petr Straka (16th) and Colin McDonald (2nd) provided the offense as all found the back of the net for Lehigh Valley. MacDonald also received an assist in his two-point performance and Nick Cousins registered a pair of helpers in the win. For Straka, his power-play goal in the second period propelled the third-year pro from the Czech Republic into sole possession of the league leadership in lamplighters. Straka had been in a three-way tie with Scott Wilson of Wilkes-Barre (currently up with Pittsburgh) and Devin Shore of Texas.
While LaBarbera was making one fine stop after another in an overall strong performance, it was also up to guys like Cole Bardreau and Jesper Pettersson to inhibit the attack and deflect passes and shots. Others who made some big plays for the Phantoms in some of the Penguins’ extended possessions included Mark Alt and Samuel Morin and Kevin Goumas among others.
It was a gritty team effort for a squad currently hampered by a seemingly endless stretch of injuries. With Brandon Alderson missing the game due to illness, the Phantoms played this contest one man short and listed 10 players among the injured scratches.
The Phantoms began a difficult five-game road-swing in eight days through four different cities in impressive fashion with the triumph at the Atlantic Division front-runners. The result spoiled the home-bench debut for new Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Clark Donatelli who was brought up from Wheeling of the ECHL over the weekend to supplant interim head coach Jay Leach who moved in the role of Associate Coach.
Lehigh Valley was out shot in the game 35-19 but was able to make the most of their offensive chances whereas the frustrated Penguins simply could not figure out a way to break LaBarbera.
It is correct to observe that some shutouts for goaltenders are easier than others; Some are situations where the goaltender really doesn’t even handle the puck too much and the saves are all relatively routine. But this blank-sheet for the 35-year-old LaBarbera was certainly not of that ilk.
Andrew MacDonald started the scoring for Lehigh Valley with his powerful blast from the high slot off the right iron past the glove of Penguins goalie Brian Foster. Nick Cousiuns and Aaron Palushaj helped work the puck over to the 29-year-old veteran blueliner to receive assists on a goal that came on one of Lehigh Valley’s few early offensive-zone entries. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton had the Phantoms hemmed into their own end for an extended stretch and were peppering away with drives on LaBarbera. Brian Rust and Jean-Sebastian Dea had multiple speedy entries that had the Phantoms skaters backpedaling in scramble mode.
But with LaBarbera holding off the initial Penguins’ surge, Lehigh Valley found the opportunity to strike and A-Mac’s powerful slapper from the high slot propelled the Phantoms to the initial advantage.
After that it would be back-to-back power plays for the Penguins late in the first period which included a few seconds of 5-on-3 time. But the Phantoms penalty kill continued on their perfect weekend with consecutive denials and were now able to limit the Penguins chances and protect their goaltender a bit more.
Wilkes-Barre kept up the charge in the second period and appeared on the verge of evening the score on several occasions but the Phantoms stayed in bend-not-break mode and continued with their focus and compete-level in a number of hard battles along the boards and behind the net.
When Kael Mouillierat contact Jason LaBarbera for a goaltenders’ interference penalty the Phantoms were able to take advantage. Andrew MacDonald poked a puck away on a Penguins’ shorthanded push and connected with Nick Cousins driving up the left wing who found Straka in the slot. Straka’s shot appeared to go off the skate of a Wilkes-Barre defender providing a surprising redirection which was enough to elude Foster’s possession and sneak in five-hole.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton continued with their determined effort in the third period looking to overcome their 2-0 deficit but LaBarbara needed to save some of his best stuff for last. Several of his top denials of the evening came in the opening minutes of the final frame including a tremendous glove-stop on Jean-Sebastian Dea’s laser with 13:33 remaining that was recorded as his 30th save of the game.
Once again, the Phantoms would survive a longer stretch of Penguins offensive zone time and use the momentum to turn the tables for a quick strike back the other way. This time it was Colin McDonald speeding up to the right dot to beat Foster high-glove for his second career Phantoms goal with both coming in the last three games.
From there, it was still a grind to the finish line especially with the added goal of ensuring the first road-shutout in the history of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Wilkes-Barre pulled their goalie with under two minutes remaining in their efforts to get on the scoreboard but the visitors kept at it and provided LaBarbera with his 32nd shutout all-time in the American Hockey League.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins boast a 12-3-1 record on home ice this season but two of those losses in northeast Pennsylvania have come to the hands of the Phantoms who also succeeded here on December 4 in Wilkes-Barre’s first home loss of the 2015-16 campaign.
The contest was the fifth out of 12 on the 2015-16 slate for the Keystone State rivals. The Penguins make a return visit to PPL Center on Friday, January 8th in their next scheduled encounter which is also the next home game for Lehigh Valley.
The Phantoms road-trip continues on Tuesday night at the Binghamton Senators at 7:05 and on Thursday night with a New Years’ Eve clash at the Hershey Bears at 5:05. Catch all action on Fox Sports 1470-AM in the Lehigh Valley or online at FOX1470.com or the iHeartRadio app.
The Phantoms are then back at PPL Center on Friday, January 8 when they welcome the Penguins back to downtown Allentown for a 7:05 p.m. showdown. Lehigh Valley will also host the Binghamton Senators on Sunday, January 10th at 5:05 p.m. on Star Wars Night featuring several characters in costume. Tickets for Phantoms home games are currently available by logging on to pplcenter.com, by calling 610-347-TIXX  or by visiting the Mealey’s Furniture Box Office at PPL Center [701 Hamilton Street].
Lehigh Valley Phantoms 3 at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 0 – Status: Final
Sunday, December 27, 2015 – Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza
Lehigh Valley 1 1 1 – 3
W-B/Scranton 0 0 0 – 0
1st Period-1, Lehigh Valley, MacDonald 4 (Cousins, Palushaj), 9:46. Penalties-Brent Lv (holding the stick), 14:07; Rehkamp Lv (tripping), 15:54.
2nd Period-2, Lehigh Valley, Straka 16 (Cousins, MacDonald), 18:37 (PP). Penalties-MacDonald Lv (slashing), 1:00; Mouillierat Wbs (goaltender interference), 17:58.
3rd Period-3, Lehigh Valley, McDonald 2 (Hagg), 8:47. Penalties-Drewiske Lv (cross-checking), 13:34; Erixon Wbs (tripping), 15:43.
Shots on Goal-Lehigh Valley 7-5-7-19. W-B/Scranton 13-8-14-35.
Power Play Opportunities-Lehigh Valley 1 / 2; W-B/Scranton 0 / 4.
Goalies-Lehigh Valley, LaBarbera 2-7-0 (35 shots-35 saves). W-B/Scranton, Foster 1-2-1 (19 shots-16 saves).
Referees-Evgeny Romasko (39), Cameron Voss (78).
Linesmen-Matt McNulty (26), Jud Ritter (34).
Upcoming Home Games:
Friday, January 8, 2016, WB/Scranton Penguins vs. Lehigh Valley Phantoms, 7:05 p.m. | TIX
Sunday, January 10, 2016, Binghamton Senators vs. Lehigh Valley Phantoms, 5:05 p.m. | TIX
(Star Wars Night.)
Friday, January 15, 2016, Hershey Bears vs. Lehigh Valley Phantoms, 7:05 p.m. | TIX
(T-Shirt Giveaway. Free to First 8,500 Fans in Attendance.)
Saturday, January 16, 2016, Hartford Wolf Pack vs. Lehigh Valley Phantoms, 7:05 p.m. | TIX
(Girl Scouts Night.)
In the midst of their 20th season of operation, the Phantoms are coming off their Inaugural Season as the Lehigh Valley Phantoms playing at the brand-new PPL Center. Established in 1996, the Phantoms spent their first 13 seasons at the Spectrum in Philadelphia before re-locating to Glens Falls, New York in 2009 where the team spent the next five seasons as the Adirondack Phantoms. A new era of Phantoms hockey began in the fall of 2014 when the Lehigh Valley Phantoms began play at the state-of-the-art PPL Center. Through 19 incredibly successful campaigns, the Phantoms have captured two Calder Cup Championships (1998, 2005), two Conference Championships (1998, 2005), two Regular Season Titles (1996-97, 1997-98) and four Division Championships (1996-97, 1997-98, 1998-99, 2003-04).