Running with the Herd – Bison vs Peterborough Phantoms 06/02/16

EPL

Basingstoke Bison 2-3 Peterborough Phantoms

Mogg ………………………Pliskauskas

Connolly pp ……………..Weldon

………………………………..Norton pp

Here we go again: The Bison headed into the game minus all the usual absentees as well as the newly injured Ryan Watt but bolstered by the addition of Daniel Lackey, added permanently from the Basingstoke Buffalo during the week. The Phantoms were as expected with Janis Auzins starting between the pipes.

It wasn’t a particularly auspicious start for the Latvian as the Bison came racing out of the gate off of the opening faceoff. With the hosts swarming, Aaron Connolly won the battle to get out of the corner and fed the puck to Stuart Mogg who had pinched in. Mogg scuffed the shot slightly but the defence parted too late for Auzins to be able to see the puck in time, the Phantoms netminder waving a leg at the puck as it was almost already past him and into the back of the net at 00:29.

The Bison had their tails up and started trying to put more pressure on Auzins’ net but there were no shots coming that someone wasn’t getting in the way of. Ciaran Long had some space but before he could blink, there was Darius Pliskauskas in the way. The pattern began emerging.

The Herd had a chance at getting some more space to work with when Milan Baranyk landed a nasty looking hit on Rene Jarolin which sent the Bison to the powerplay. Sadly for the home fans the powerplay stuttered and the Phantoms fed off of the good penalty kill as they came more into the game. The visitors had some sustained spells of pressure with chances for Baranyk, Cam McGiffin and Edgars Bebris but Jon Baston in the Bison net was equal to the task.

The first period was spotty from both sides but entertaining. The Phantoms had been caught flat footed in the first shift which had resulted in the goal but both sides were giving as good as they got in the first frame. There were clearly nerves on both sides and the ascendency seemed to swing back and forth but this top of the table clash that was likely to have title implications was certainly living up to expectations from an enjoyment standpoint if not from a quality one. The line of Lack, Lackey and Karpov caused some issues for the Phantoms and Darius Pliskauskas had a powerful wrist shot saved by Baston. The first period came to an end with the Bison 1-0 to the good but the hand of momentum pointing firmly into the middle.

Janis Auzins was called into action early in the second period and that save would prove important moments later as the Phantoms found the equaliser. Lloyd Gibson’s drive to the net forced an awkward save from Jon Baston but as the rebound came out the Bison netminder was out of position. For some reason the Herd’s defence remained static and the puck fell onto the stick of Darius Pliskauskas who fired into a virtually empty net at 21:29.

This seemed to spark the Bison and chances followed; Connolly, Lack and Long all went close before James Ferrara was called for an interference so textbook that nobody could really have any arguments to it. The Herd’s powerplay tried setting up Ciaran Long for the blast but it was a more unorthodox method that found the back of the net as the puck was worked behind the net, Rene Jarolin drove the puck to the crease and Aaron Connolly got enough of his stick on the puck to get the puck past Auzins at the near post to restore the lead to the Bison at 25:58.

The Phantoms soon had their own powerplay chance soon after as Shaun Thompson was somewhat harshly called for hooking after some good work on the forecheck to dispossess the dawdling Phantoms defenceman but the Phantoms could find no way past Baston in the Bison net.

Rene Jarolin skated around and around for about 20 seconds before finally having a shot saved, Pliskauskas had another hard shot saved by Baston, the second period ticked with the score still at 2-1 and the sides seemingly cancelling each other out for chunks of the frame.

Then disaster struck. Now Will Weldon scored at 35:11 to make it 2-2. I’m not 100% how the puck went in nor how the goal stood. I thought the puck had left the zone rendering everything offside to start with. Weldon also appeared to be in the crease and without his helmet when the puck found it’s way past Baston. Now that is me seeing things in the moment and I’m one guy with one set of eyes so this is one to wait for the highlights on Bison TV (cheque is in the post, Adrian) but the Bison players on the ice certainly weren’t happy with the goal and again the defence seemed to have been at see when it came to helping Baston letting the Phantoms back into the tie.

The rest of the second period seemed to fizzle out as not much happened though the Bison would be given a lifeline heading into the third as Robert Ferrara was called for holding and Craig Scott was given a misconduct penalty by Mr Cloutman for expressing his dissatisfaction at the call in the last minute of the second.

The Bison powerplay didn’t go well; the Phantoms didn’t score but the Herd appeared to have come out flat into the final period in a 2-2 game which wasn’t ideal and the Phantoms seemed to be happy to capitalise on the the Herd’s poor play. Bebris hit the outside of the post, a slick move with a drop pass saw Marc Levers fire wide and the Bison just seemed to not get anything going, lose the puck and Phantoms would go forwards.

The Bison were still having their chances; Jarolin, Greener and Balmer all had shots but nothing that was testing Janis Auzins to a large degree. The hosts seemed to be lacking the spark that was really needed and frustration seemed to be setting in.

When Declan Balmer was called for slashing, I had a horrible feeling and I was right too. On the powerplay Karpov and Long raced out as the high men to press the defencemen at the points but some neat passing saw Darius Pliskauskas pass to Tom Norton in space by the hashmarks whose shot beat the pad of Baston at 56:26 to give the Phantoms the lead and the Phantoms took their timeout to keep their heads on straight.

The Bison went into panic mode but nothing fell. The timeout was taken and Baston pulled to the bench but time ran out and the Bison had lost their second game at home to the Phantoms.

Head scratcher: In what was set up to be one of the biggest games of the season, the Bison conspired to beat themselves. They started with a bang then seemed to fizzle out across the game. It was one of those games where you know what the Bison are capable of and they just didn’t seem to show it.

Again the line combinations were shuffled, partly due to injury and partly because they Bison were playing a very heavy system focussed team. The line of Greener, Jarolin and Connolly was kept together but Joe Greener appeared to have an uncharacteristic off night. Tomas Karpov with Lack and Lackey caused some issues but Karpov needs more of a foil to go with him. Whilst Ciaran Long’s not been in the richest vein of form recently, sticking arguably the team’s most natural goal scorer on a grinding line with Towalski and Thompson feels like it’s upset the balance. Karpov needs someone who can keep up and play with him, Long works better with someone to feed off of. Splitting the offence across the lines is all well and good but the attack needed to be more pointed at times last night and that attempt to spread the offence instead felt like it diluted it.

The goals given up as well just all felt avoidable. Some may argue that Baston’s positioning needed to be better but team defence on all of the goals was less than ideal. The first saw nobody get back on the line to defend, nor the second and Tom Norton, arguably the best defenceman in the league had a good 15 feet of space to work in. Baston probably should have got his pad down quicker on the game winner but he isn’t solely to blame. Arguably the Phantoms should not have been in a position to be getting the game winner in such a fashion.

There were some decent individual performances; Stuart Mogg was a fantastic shout for man of the match. His goal will never win any goal of the season competitions but on a night where the defence as a team wasn’t ideal, Mogg’s showing once again that his transition not only to full time EPL player but full time defenceman was a master stroke by the young man and Coach Sheppard. He was confident, assured, well positioned and was rewarded for his efforts.

Kurt Reynolds had a very good game as well, at one point single handedly keeping the Phantoms at bay when it seemed the Bison might be over run. I thought Aaron Connolly had a good game as well, industrious and energetic as usual. Tomas Karpov was constantly trying to make things happen even if they didn’t come off.

This was a must win game that was lost and it feels like the Bison beat themselves. Three goals handed to the opposition by avoidable mistakes and just seeming to fail to step up to the big stage. It was a disappointment, there’s no other way to really frame it.

A word on our opponents: I have a few things to say about the Peterborough Phantoms but before I get into my existential crisis about them, I have to tip my hat to them on the win. It doesn’t matter how they happen, scoreboard says that they won and that’s that. I have to credit the fact that they stick to the system like their lives depend on it and their team ethic. The Peterborough Phantoms play for each other and Slava Koulikov deserves credit for that.

My big problem is that I do not “get” the Peterborough Phantoms. I feel very conflicted about that but that’s how I feel and I’ll try to explain my opinion.

I’ve said on here a lot of times that the opposition do not owe you, the home fan, the price of admission and that’s true but I just don’t understand this hockey club. The two times that the Bison have lost in Basingstoke to the Phantoms, I feel they’ve beaten themselves by over-thinking what they do rather than being outplayed. The Phantoms never feel like they create a great deal themselves and just capitalise on chances that any team worth their salt would capitalise on. Yes they do bits and pieces, Bebris had a good chance that hit the post but lots? If you asked me who the best hockey side we’ve seen in Basingstoke this season are, the Phantoms would not be it. They’re a good hockey side but not a great one at this level. I don’t understand why teams lose to them like they do. People will say the things I praised above and that’s fine but I loyalty to the system and each other can’t do everything. The Peterborough Phantoms leave me shrugging my shoulders because I watch them and I’m just not convinced. They have good individual players, man of the match Tom Norton, Janis Auzins, Edgars Bebris, Darius Pliskauskas and the like but as a team they leave me shrugging my shoulders. Last night didn’t really do an awful lot to change my overall opinion of them.  I was told I have an analysts’ brain recently (please don’t be too shocked) and maybe this is blinding my to some intangibles that I can’t see but I don’t think they do. I also feel and will always maintain that the important thing on here is that level of honesty. If I like something, I say so. If I don’t, I say so.

I can only assume that they’re a very different team at home and that’s where the conflict comes into it. Look at the table, look at the final of the cup; how does this happen? I feel bad to in some ways be downplaying a side that is doing what it’s doing but at the same point what do I do? Do I ignore the evidence of my eyes solely because of the statistics? Does my opinion, however educated negate the table?

The answer of course is both have a degree of validity. I can be unconvinced by what I’ve seen of the Phantoms as much as their cup final tickets being on sale may argue otherwise. I can find them dull and uninspiring to watch as their season ticket holders will find them exciting and inspiring to do so. Ultimately Banners On The Wall is a vehicle for an opinion, one man’s opinion and you can like/dislike that as you wish. I don’t claim to be the oracle. I will happily shake Slava Koulikov’s hand for the job his men have done last night and across the season. Be impressed with it? I think that’s a different story.

Lowlight of the night: The overall performance, the Bison were capable of much better.

Highlight of the night: Mogg’s goal, the young man deserves every point he gets this season.

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