Photo credit: Amy Irvin (38Photography)
The Phantoms had a busy New Year’s week with three games in four days. It started on New Year’s Eve at Binghamton to play the Ottawa Senators farm team. The goals came early and often in this one. Binghamton opened up the scoring just over three minutes into the game. The Phantoms came back with two of their own within a few minutes of each other at roughly the halfway point in the period. The first from Jason Akeson and the second from Blair Jones. The lead was short lived as the Senators tied it at twos going into the first intermission.
The second period started right where the first one left off, with another Binghamton goal. Unfortunately the goals would keep on coming with for a total of four second period goals for the Senators with only one of them coming on the power play. That was the end of the scoring in this one as a quiet third followed eight goals in the first two periods as the Phantoms went down 6-2. Anthony Stolarz got his first start in a couple weeks in net after he missed some time with a concussion and he was yanked after ceding 5 goals on only 21 shots just a bit over halfway through the game. Zepp closed out the game and was 7 of 8 in relief. Jason Akeson led the way for the scoring with a goal, an assist and 5 shots on net. Andrew Gordon, Brett Hextall (2 assists) and Nick Cousins all had 4 shots.
With New Year’s Day off, the Phantoms next tilt was Friday the second at Norfolk. Aside from an Admiral power play goal halfway through the first period there wasn’t any scoring in the first two periods. Just over 13 minutes into the third it was Brandon Alderson who tied the game. With just under two minutes left in regulation Jason Akeson took the lead for the Phantoms on his eighth goal of the year, tied for the team lead. Dany Heatley was recently demoted by the Anaheim Ducks and he answered Akeson with under a minute to go in the game to send it into overtime. Nick Cousins was the overtime hero in this one with an unassisted game winner just two and a half minutes into the extra frame.
Usually when you play a ‘home-and-home’ series with another team, both teams get one home game. This was not the case on Saturday as the Phantoms stayed in Norfolk for a second strait away game vs. the Admirals. After a scoreless first and Norfolk power play goal to start off the second, it was goon-turned-power-play-guy Zack Stortini scoring his fifth of the season who tied the game at one. Brandon Manning assisted on the goal—his 17th assist and 23rd point on the year, both lead the team.
Norfolk scored another quick goal to start the third and were immediately answered by Petr Straka just over a minute later with both goals coming within two minutes of the start of the period. There were no goals for the rest of regulation or overtime and a shootout was needed to decide who got the extra point in the standings. Rob Zepp, who was making the second start in back-to-back games, opened up the shootout with a save. Petr Straka had an opportunity to take the lead for Lehigh Valley but couldn’t convert and the first round ended tied. Zepp made the save on the second Norfolk shooter taking some of the pressure off of Jason Akeson. It may or may not have helped but Akeson buried his opportunity and Zepp denied Norfolk’s last chance as the Phantoms pulled out the victory 3-2.
Robb Zepp started both games in Norfolk and was 34/36 in each game. On the week that brings him to 75/80, which takes his save percentage to .920 on the season. While Anthony Stolarz rough outing certainly will hurt his statistics, his save percentage still bests Zepp’s as ‘Stolie’ is sitting at .924. Five players are tied for the team lead in goals with eight: Nick Cousins, Andrew Gordon, Taylor Leier, Jason Akeson, and Petr Straka.