Martel Scores Twice and LaBarbera Just Misses 2nd Straight Shutout
Hershey, PA – A pair of goals by Danick Martel and another tremendous performance by goaltender Jason LaBarbera led the Phantoms to a 3-1 win to conclude 2015 in a New Year’s Eve clash at Hershey. The Phantoms improved to 5-2-0 against the Bears this season and upped their road-trip record to 2-0-1 with still two more games to go in their stretch of five consecutive away contests.
LaBarbera turned aside 27 of 28 shots he faced and almost secured his second consecutive shutout but rookie defenseman Christian Djoos broke up the bid with just 2:35 to go with his 6-on-5 center-point laser from the blue-line. Still, it was the second consecutive stellar win for the 35-year-old netminder who posted a 35-save blanking at Wilkes-Barre in his previous start last Sunday.
Sam Gagner made his AHL debut on New Year’s Eve after 580 Games in the NHL. Pictures courtesy JustSports. Sam Gagner made his American Hockey League debut following 580 games in the NHL (with Edmonton, Arizona and Philadelphia) and recorded an assist on a nice dig in the corner to send Martel free for the game-clinching empty-netter in the final minute.
Aaron Palushaj’s seventh of the year started the scoring with his first-period power-play lamplighter assisted by Tim Brent and Samuel Morin. It was a nice secondary assist from the rookie defenseman Morin who crept in from the right point and unleashed a drive that handcuffed Bears goalie Justin Peters. Palushaj from the left of the cage was able to reach his stick into the blue and poke the puck between the legs of the stunned goalie for the 1-0 advantage.
The goal was part of the second consecutive strong start for Lehigh Valley who posted a season-high 18 shots on goal in the opening period. This followed a 17-shot barrage in the first frame on Tuesday at Binghamton. Peters made some nice stops in those beginning minutes to keep the Phantoms from blowing things out of the water in the early-going.
Early in the first period, Lehigh Valley rookie Tyrell Goulbourne engaged scrappy Liam O’Brien in a spirited fight to help fire-up both teams and the crowd. The two combatants landed a number of punches in the scrap. It was the fourth fight of the pro career for Goulbourne and the first time in which he did not decisively win his bout.
Hershey turned up the pressure in the second period and Jason LaBarbera made some nice stops among his 10 total saves in the middle stanza to help the Phantoms find themselves and their offensive stride again. Jesper Pettersson connected with Martel speeding up the right-wing and turning the corner on the Hershey defenseman. The talented rookie drove right at Peters and was able to muscle in his close-range shot off the stick of the Hershey goalie for his first of the night and 11th of the year. Pettersson’s assist was the second helper and third point of the season for the season-year Swedish blueliner.
Protecting a 2-0 lead in the third period, LaBarbera’s best save of the night came on the team’s penalty kill with 11:34 remaining. Leaning to his right while tracking the puck, LaBarbera needed to quickly dive back the other way while pulling the splits to use his long wingspan and glove the hard backhander from Hershey’s leading goal-scorer, Paul Carey, in the slot.
That penalty kill extended Lehigh Valley’s streak to 22 consecutive opposing power plays without allowing a goal. The Phantoms have killed 30 of 31 in the past eight games for a gaudy 96.8% rate. In the past 16 games, since November 22, the Phantoms penalty kill unit has been successful 91.9% of the time with only six power-play goals allowed in 74 man-advantage opportunities against.
Overall, the Phantoms defense and goaltending has been exceptional over the past four games since the Holiday Break surrendering just four goals in total (not including a shootout winner that Binghamton scored in the extra-round on Tuesday).
Hershey pulled goalie Justin Peters with 2:45 to play and converted with a 6-on-5 tally on a center-point blast from Christian Djoos on a bullet over the right shoulder of LaBarbera. But Gagner’s win in the corner set up Martel to cruise up to the left-wing circle and bury an empty-better with 1:01 left for the 3-1 final margin. The goal was Martel’s 12th of the season.
Lehigh Valley out shot the Bears 35-28. The Phantoms were 1-for-3 while Hershey finished 0-for-4. Lehigh Valley enters the New Year with a .500 record of 16-16-2. The Phantoms are 9-7-1 on the road.
The Phantoms next travel to Portland, Maine for a pair of weekend matchups on Saturday and Sunday to commence the 2016 portion of the schedule. The Portland Pirates, AHL affilaite of the Florida Panthers, are in fourth place in the Atlantic Division, directly ahead of the hard-charging Phantoms. Saturday’s broadcast at 6:20 can be heard on 1470-AM or FOX1470.com or the iHeartRadio app. Sunday’s game at 4:00 can be heard on 790-AM or 790WAEB.com or the iHeart Radio app beginning at 3:25.
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 Hershey Bears 1 – Status: Final
Thursday, December 31, 2015 – Giant Center
Lehigh Valley 1 1 1 – 3
Hershey 0 0 1 – 1
1st Period-1, Lehigh Valley, Palushaj 7 (Brent, Morin), 11:12 (PP). Penalties-Goulbourne Lv (fighting), 2:08; O’Brien Her (fighting), 2:08; Stanton Her (cross-checking), 4:08; Morin Lv (interference), 6:59; Mitchell Her (boarding), 9:25; McDonald Lv (interference), 18:53.
2nd Period-2, Lehigh Valley, Martel 11 (Pettersson), 13:38. Penalties-MacDonald Lv (tripping), 6:46; Stanton Her (kneeing), 9:45.
3rd Period-3, Hershey, Djoos 3 (Bourque, Gazley), 17:25. 4, Lehigh Valley, Martel 12 (Gagner, Brent), 18:59 (EN). Penalties-Morin Lv (delay of game), 7:02.
Shots on Goal-Lehigh Valley 18-5-12-35. Hershey 12-10-6-28.
Power Play Opportunities-Lehigh Valley 1 / 3; Hershey 0 / 4.
Goalies-Lehigh Valley, LaBarbera 3-7-0 (28 shots-27 saves). Hershey, Peters 8-5-3 (34 shots-32 saves).
Referees-Furman South (55), Pierre Lambert (39).
Linesmen-Tom George (61), Bob Goodman (90).
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).