Running with the Herd – Bison vs Peterborough Phantoms 10/1/15

EPL

Basingstoke Bison 4-3 Peterborough Phantoms

Chinn x2                       Levers

Karpov                          Baranyk x2 (1x DPG)

Long sh

Clicking: The Bison went into the contest without the long term absentee Matt Selby and shorter term absentees Grant Rounding and Brendan Baird which saw Michael Wales drop to defence. The Phantoms were without the recently released Edgars Apelis and started Janis Auzins alongside the additions of James White and Martins Susters.

Given the previous encounters in Basingstoke, the level of physicality early on was no surprise; Joe Rand and Scott Robson laying good hits in the early going. It was the Bison however who were having the lion’s share of the chances with Cameron Wynn and Andy Melachrino going close. Marc Levers was proving to be the danger man for the Phantoms as he had two shots stopped in quick succession by Dean Skinns in the Bison net.

The Bison were gifted a powerplay at the 7:30 mark by some Phantoms indiscipline; Michael Wales stepped into the man to lay the hit and Mr Thompson’s arm rose for kneeing but out of nowhere, Greg Pick stepped in and started throwing punches. Wales was rightly called for the kneeing but Pick earned a 2+2 roughing penalty. Questions about the misconduct normally coming for striking an unwilling combatant aside, the Herd put the Phantoms under a lot of pressure on the ensuing powerplay and Janis Auzins was kept busy. A scramble in front of of the net saw the puck stay out and the Latvian stopped a shot that was tipped by both Melachrino and Connolly. The powerplay expired but the Herd’s pressure told as a loose puck in front of the net was shovelled home by Nicky Chinn at 09:38 to give the Bison the lead.

Chances came and went; Slava Koulikov had a blueline drive knocked away by Skinns and the Bison’s strategy of trying to tip as many pucks in front of Auzins continued as Joe Rand tipped a Joe Baird shot but it missed the cage.

Then out of nowhere the Bison defence went to sleep and the Phantoms were level. With the Herd’s defenders and Dean Skinns drawn to the left, Marc Levers was uncontested at the back door and Luke Ferrara’s pass across the zone found the former Bison with all the time and space in the world to tap in at 13:20.

The response? Almost a carbon copy of what went before. The Bison defence seemed to fall apart as the Phantoms passed to each other with ease which led to James Ferrara passing the puck from below the goal line right onto the tape of Milan Baranyk’s stick for the one timer past Dean Skinns at 14:55. 2 massive mistakes and the Herd were suddenly 2-1 in the hole.

The Herd were sent back to the powerplay when Tom Norton was called for interference behind the Phantoms net the only scoring strike was to the face of Scott Robson, the Phantoms defender being caught with a stick in the face when he’d dived to the ice to stop a shot.

The Phantoms had the momentum on their side and were nearly 3-1 ahead when Darius Pliskauskas beat Skinns and rang the shot off the far post but the post was all it connected with and the first period ended with the Phantoms only having the one goal lead.

Almost immediately at the start of the second the Phantoms hit the post again, this time through Marc Levers as the Phantoms looked to press home their advantage. Instead the start of the period was really scrappy with a lot of turnovers both ways but the momentum of the game hung in the balance. Whoever scored the next goal was going to dictate the direction and outcome of the tie.

The Bison had a golden chance when some slick passing saw the puck go from Joe Greener to Doug Sheppard to Ciaran Long but the later hooked the shot wide on what would have been a beautiful goal. The breakthrough when it came was much less picturesque but just as important. A broken play saw Nicky Chinn and Stuart Mogg almost trip over each other but Chinn gathered the puck and took the zone. Mogg headed to the net and Chinn fired his centring feed but before it could reach his team mate, Jason Buckman dived into the lane to try and stop the pass but the puck careened off the Phantoms defenceman and past Auzins at 27:35 to tie the scores.

This put the game firmly in the hands of the hosts and they started to pepper the Phantoms net with shots but Auzins was standing firm; the antics of previous ties appearing to not be the order of the day but instead confident save after confident save as the force of the tie was swinging against his squad. There was little he could do however about the next major incident.

Where the Bison’s equaliser had been thanks to an act of fortune, their third goal was a sublime couple of acts of skill. Tomas Karpov went for a skate and took the zone. He laid the puck off to Doug Sheppard who one touched the puck back to Karpov for an off speed redirect past an out of position Auzins and into the net at 32:41 for 3-2 Bison and the Phantoms called their timeout to re-organise.

The visitors had a chance to bring the scores level shortly afterwards when Joe Baird was called for interference. The Phantoms hit the post again but it was a really good penalty killing effort from the Bison as they limited Peterborough to minimal effective time in their zone and had a good shorthanded chance through Doug Sheppard. The second came to an end and the Bison had clawed their way back into the lead.

The Bison conceded another penalty when a coming together in the neutral zone saw Andy Melachrino called for tripping. The Phantoms came devastatingly close but were denied by an outstanding pad stop by Dean Skinns who kicked out his left pad to stop a certain tap in on his left post. The Bison had a chance when James Ferrara was called for holding but the chances that fell to Mogg and Melachrino couldn’t be converted.

Penalties were traded between the sides as Darius Pliskauskas then Joe Baird were called for high sticks and holding respectively and the Phantoms had 1:38 of a powerplay at their disposal but they could find no way through.

When Nicky Chinn was called for an innocuous trip, it felt like the entire period would be spent with one team or the other on the powerplay. The Phantoms special teams unit however couldn’t seem to get itself going. A slip at the blueline led to a foot race for puck which was won by Joe Rand. The Canadian’s shot was stopped by Auzins and Connolly couldn’t convert the follow up chance.

When another slack pass from the Phantoms zone however, Ciaran Long made no mistake. He picked up the puck and advanced up the right wing. When the Bison forward hit the blueline, he hammered a shot that flew past Auzins into the net at 53:13 to give the Herd a 2 goal lead thanks to a goal that was pretty in an entirely different way to Karpov’s earlier marker.

The response however was nearly immediate from the visitors who showed the resolve that has seen their rise up the table this campaign. They went back to the net and caused the Bison problems. Joe Rand tangled with James Ferrara which saw the two fall into Skinns’ crease and Mr Thompson’s hand inexplicably raise for interference. With the pile trying to clear, play continued and Milan Baranyk managed to get enough of a poke on the puck to take it over the line at 54:16 to narrow the score to 4-3.

The Phantoms then had a real chance to take the game to overtime when Ciaran Long was called for interference but they were denied by an inspired moment from Dean Skinns. The Bison backstop made a save with the butt of his stick that took the stick out of his hands. None of the defenceman seemed to react quickly enough to give Skinns a stick to use and the Phantoms works the puck around. If anything the Phantoms moved the puck the wrong way as they fed the puck to Slava Koulikov to the right of the net which was easier for Skinns to move to and he smothered the shot from the Phantoms player/coach to keep the Bison’s lead intact.

The Bison kept the pressure on, not allowing the Phantoms to pull Auzins till there were just over 53 seconds to go but there was no way through and no way back for the Phantoms as the Bison picked up a big home win.

Stepping up all over the place: I’m not sure of what other way to say this but “that’s more like it”.

There was an almighty wobble at the end of the first/start of the second but over the course of the game, this the best performance of the last couple of months. There were a few injuries that caused a shuffle of the roster but the line combinations in the forwards worked hard and therefore worked well and the defence looked solid and benefited from rolling the 5 defencemen when the teams were 5 on 5.

We’re all Joe Rand fans and once again his level of consistency was outstanding and he made some really good hits that sparked the team and the crowd though interestingly I think his selection as man of the match might actually be a little awry on this one and there’s quite a few other candidates for the beers from a Bison perspective.

Ciaran Long was constantly trying to make things happen and scored a fantastic goal. Tomas Karpov was also trying to make things happen, even took the body on a few occasions (probably more than some of us might be comfortable with our top line import centre doing) and also scored a fantastic goal.

Nicky Chinn had probably his best game of the season. Back from his virus, the captain led from the front in this one and whilst neither of his goals will go into the pretty category, this new line of himself, Karpov and Cameron Wynn looks unusual at first sight but actually really worked. Wynn didn’t look out of place on the line either and his increased size added a bit of presence in front of the net.

Stuart Mogg also had his best game of the season and for me had to have been in the discussion for the beers if nothing else. Mogg’s not had that many multipoint games but 2 assists, couple of other chances to score and generally put himself about well.

In the last 8 days, the Bison have beaten the teams in first and second in the league and appear to be getting back some of the swagger that’s been missing in December. The talent has always been there, the ability has always been there but the confidence clearly wasn’t and last night it appeared to be back in full force. With an away trip to Guildford then back home to face Manchester on the horizon, it’s the best time for it to come back.

A word on our opponents: The Peterborough Phantoms showed the resolve and teamwork last night that has seen them arguably exceed expectations this season but on the night appeared to lack that little bit of quality and bar the stretch from their first goal till early in the second period, there really wasn’t a bit where they were really on top of the game. They will rue the chances that they hit the post but I think the result was ultimately the correct one; a close Bison win.

Janis Auzins was the correct choice for man of the match. The antics of the previous games between the sides weren’t in evidence and, possibly because they had no backup on the bench, the Latvian focussed on his netminding and showed why he’s rightly in the all star conversation with a 47 save performance that kept the Phantoms well and truly in the hunt for the duration.

Milan Baranyk’s two goals were the pretty and the ugly personified and he was an attacking menace for the Phantoms. It’s easy to see why so much offence is fed through him because his eye for the shot and the pass is of a high quality at EPL level. You won’t notice him and then he appears and scores.

Marc Levers as well had a very good game as well and looked much more of an attacking threat than I normally associate him with being but the Phantoms are going to need everyone stepping up across the roster if a drive for any silverware is going to be maintained and Levers, as a veteran on that roster led by example last night.

Ultimately last night was a blip for the Phantoms and they will look to try and maintain their good form but they need to try and avoid the trap of allowing themselves into being pressed back too early because, in this ultra competitive EPL this season, coming back from deficits is a hard thing to do even with the firepower that they have.

Lowlight of the night: Both Phantoms goals, both avoidable.

Highlight of the night: Can’t decide between Karpov’s goal or Long’s so I’ll say both.

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