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Big test ahead for Phantoms

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Phantoms vs Sound Tigers

Jason McKibben - Tom Sestito, second from right, celebrates a goal he scored against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the first period Friday night, October 14, 2011, at the Glens Falls Civic Center. The goal was scored on a power play and was assisted by Harry Zolnierczyk, second from left.

GLENS FALLSĀ -- It's tough to call any stretch of hockey games important when there's hardly been a proper frost yet. But there's no doubt we'll better know by the end of this week whether the Adirondack Phantoms' hot start is a flash in the pan or here to stay.

Three of the conference's best teams roll into the Glens Falls Civic Center this week, a place where the Phantoms haven't lost in nine games dating back to last season. Norfolk, Connecticut and Hershey bring a combined 13-4-1-3 record into the week.

Norfolk, Wednesday's opponent, has scored a league-best 4.43 goals per game and has the AHL's top two scorers in Carter Ashton and Cory Conacher.

"When you've got three big teams coming into your building, you want to be dominant at home and it kind of sets a bar out to the rest of the league if you can knock three good teams off," Phantoms forward Harry Zolnierczyk said.

The Phantoms have been no slouches, themselves, so far.

Their 5-2 record ties them atop the Northeast Division with Connecticut and puts them second in the Eastern Conference behind perennial power Hershey.

The strong start has come despite being outshot in every game, including by a 34-16 margin in Sunday's 3-1 win over Rochester.

"It's not something that you shoot for by any means. It's not a goal we're trying to set," Zolnierczyk said. "We keep pushing to try and get more shots on. But I guess for now you can say we're making good on the chances we're getting."

Zolnierczyk has been a prime example of that. The speedy, 24-year-old rookie out of Brown has been touted for his physical and aggressive two-way play.

But through seven games, his seven points are second on the Phantoms.

"The first (priority), especially when I'm up in the NHL, is playing a hard-nosed game, focusing on defense and making sure you're a plus player when you're out there," Zolnierczyk said. "Then when I have a chance to kind of have an offensive opportunity, I expect myself to make good on those opportunities."

Zolnierczyk has been a versatile player. Not only has coach Joe Paterson used him on both the power-play and penalty-kill units, he's been placed on a variety of lines.

He opened the season with top scorers Brayden Schenn and Eric Wellwood, went to a bit more of an energy line with Zac Rinaldo and Jason Akeson, and was reunited with Wellwood again by the end of the weekend.

"He's created a lot of things. He's a great first man on the puck," Paterson said. "If he doesn't score for us, he can still play a great game and be effective. But when he scores, it's even greater."

Zolnierczyk will be hard-pressed to top his first NHL goal.

Called up for one game in place of Andreas Nodl last Tuesday, Zolnierczyk scored an acrobatic goal against the Ottawa Senators. Charging in from the left circle, he flipped a backhander into the top net and then leaped over the sprawling goalie. The play made all of the national highlight shows.

"That was pretty neat. I don't think I was really expecting that out of the first game, but it was pretty special to get it like that, and the attention it got was pretty cool," Zolnierczyk said. "That was only one and I have to keep working hard to get back up there and hopefully stay there for good."

Loose pucks: Jon Kalinski skated Tuesday for the first time in a couple of weeks since suffering a setback while recovering from an upper-body injury that has kept him out since preseason. Paterson said he's cleared to play, but needs to get back into game shape. ... Johan Backlund didn't practice Tuesday, but tests in Philadelphia last week revealed his injury isn't long-term. Paterson called him "days away" from returning. ... Garrett Klotz, who has been practicing with a full face guard, is at least a week away from returning.


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