Under Review | AHL News, Patrick Williams, Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Utica Comets, Milwaukee Admirals, San Diego Gulls, Rocket Sports Media
ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA — The fifth go-around of Under Review is here as many AHL clubs approach the first-quarter mark of the season. Six weeks into 2021-22 campaign, there are an abundance of surprises across the league – both good and bad. Here are four teams that have provoked plenty of questions so far.
Are the Lehigh Valley Phantoms really a last-place team?
Their roster says, “No.” The standings say, “Yes.”
With a 3-8-4-1 record, including an ongoing five-game slide, the Phantoms have ranked among the AHL’s biggest disappointments this season. The parent Philadelphia Flyers undertook an extensive summer overhaul on the Lehigh Valley roster to aid new head coach Ian Laperriere, bringing in elite AHL sniper Gerry Mayhew and established blueliner Adam Clendening. They have had three first-round picks in German Rubtsov, Cam York, and Morgan Frost.
But these Phantoms just can’t find the net. Lehigh Valley ranks 30th in goals per game and last overall on the power play. Even worse, it is not simply a matter of bearing down and finishing chances; the Phantoms sit 27th in the AHL with just 27.4 shots per game.
It was reasonable to figure that the Utica Comets would surpass the dismal season that the Binghamton Devils went through in 2020-21.
A new home in perhaps the AHL’s most passionate market. New head coach Kevin Dineen, who has been an AHL Coach of the Year along with an NHL head-coaching stint. An ambitious offseason that brought in veterans Chase De Leo, Brian Flynn, Joe Gambardella, and Robbie Russo to buttress a young roster. First-round pick Alexander Holtz finding his way to Utica.
But a record-breaking start with 13 consecutive wins to open the season? De Leo was recalled to New Jersey this week, but the Comets received Holtz in that exchange. Utica looks like the real thing.
Two seasons ago, the Admirals dominated the AHL, at least until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic scrapped the rest of the 2019-20 slate. From there the Admirals sat out the 2020-21 season, as the Nashville Predators partnered with the Carolina Hurricanes on a Chicago Wolves dual affiliation.
Sure, there have been personnel losses, but nearly every AHL club has experienced that. Head coach Karl Taylor is back guiding Milwaukee, and he is among the AHL’s best at what he does. Goaltender Connor Ingram is among the AHL’s best at what he does. The power play is in the AHL’s top-10. They knocked off an early-season nemesis, the Manitoba Moose, this past weekend.
Yet the Admirals sit last in the Western Conference going into play this week.
New head coach Joel Bouchard arrived in San Diego with considerable fanfare, fresh off taking the Laval Rocket to the North Division championship last season. While Bouchard had a largely successful tenure in Laval, his Rocket missed the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs and struggled for much of the first half of his first season.
Given the abundant talent – both with prospects and top-end AHL veterans – the Gulls should be far better than a 5-6-1-0 record. But that abundant talent also means that there is every reason to think that the Gulls can dig out from this slow start in an extremely tough Pacific Division.
By Patrick Williams, Special Contributor
The AHL Report
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