By Patrick Williams
SJSports Special Correspondent
PHILADELPHIA Now that Thanksgiving has passed, perhaps the Phantoms can draw up their lists for Santa Claus.
Number one on that list should be some goals.
Recent games have shown the Phantoms do have an ability to put shots on net.
Generating goals from those shots is another story altogether.
Peter Budaj’s 31 saves in net for Hershey paced the Bears in a 2-0 win over the Phantoms at the First Union Spectrum. The win was the rookie goaltender’s first professional shutout. Brian Willsie provided Hershey’s two goals in his return from a stint in Colorado.
Given the Phantoms’ scoring troubles, when Hershey struck first was an ominous sign for the home club.
With Philadelphia up a man, an errant pass in the Hershey zone sent the puck the other way on a two-on-one. Willsie used Mark Freer as a decoy bursting across the Phantoms blue line before putting a wrist shot up high on Antero Niittymaki for a 1-0 Bears lead at 12:45.
Willsie’s shorthanded goal was the second such goal surrendered by the Phantoms in as many games. Rochester’s Jason Botterill scored shorthanded in Wednesday night’s 4-2 Philadelphia win.
“It’s obviously a concern,” Stevens said. “I think it’s a matter of guys trying to make the perfect play.”
Philadelphia threatened midway through the middle period. Mark Greig’s left-circle shot beat Budaj but nicked the post, allowing the rookie goaltender to smother the rebound. Seconds later, Ian MacNeil and Greig’s two-on-one chance was stopped after Budaj took a Greig shot in the chest.
Those two opportunities were followed by Patrick Sharp leaving the ice after taking a hit along the sideboards. Sharp appeared to be favoring his knee as he left the ice.
The night’s first two periods saw the Phantoms control the play, outshooting Hershey by a 25-16 margin.
Marek Svatos’ slashing call five minutes into the third sent the Phantoms on a power play. Ben Stafford wheeled around in front of Budaj and nearly beat the goaltender. However, the Hershey power play which entered the night having killed 15 consecutive penalties stifled the remainder of the Philadelphia power play.
MacNeil broke down the left side with six minutes to play. First holding off on a shot, MacNeil tried to center a pass that was picked off by the Hershey defense.
Philadelphia pinned the Bears in late. David Harlock’s charging penalty behind the play with 59 seconds left on the clock derailed Philadelphia’s momentum, however.
“I don’t know how a guy can get a boarding [charging] penalty backchecking,” Stevens said when asked for his assessment of the late-game work of referee Harry Dumas.
Stevens pulled Niittymaki after the Harlock penalty, but Philadelphia struggled to push the puck past center ice. Willsie’s second goal of the game was an empty-netter with a second remaining.
“It’s just coming down to put goals in and finishing teams off,” Greig said.
Defenseman Dan Peters returned after a 13-game absence that was the result of a concussion…Freer and Eric Bertrand both former Phantoms were in the Hershey starting lineup…Sharp’s condition was unknown after the game, according to Stevens.