Sunday, December 21, 2014

The One That Got Away

Well, the Springfield Falcons rolled into town Saturday night and handed the Bears, as well as the fans, some coal in their skate boots with a 2-1 overtime loss. The way the overtime was going and how the goal was scored, I can't remember the last time I've seen almost all those in attendance stay seated with a stunned expression on their faces.

Hershey controlled the pace of the overtime with most of the time being spent the Falcons' zone. Andre Burakovsky was a beast in OT and it seemed like he was playing every other shift. Casey Wellman and Chris Brown both had excellent chances to put the game away. Wellman had a one-timer from the slot while Brown's chance moving left to right across the crease was just stopped by the toe pad of Falcons' goalie Anton Forsberg.

This was one of those run and gun type games but also a goaltenders battle. Both Philip Grubauer and Forsberg put on a display last night that showcased why they're two of the top 10 goalies in the league right now.

The Bears were outshot 10 to 6 in the first period and found themselves down 1-0. However, they would outshoot the Falcons 14 to 8 in the second and tie it 1-1 on a nice goal by Chandler Stephenson. On a rush in the early part of the period, as Stephenson skated over the blue line he received a pass from Byers and, at about the face-off dot, roofed the puck over the right shoulder of Forsberg into the top left corner.

As well as Grubauer played, the overtime goal was a tough one to let in. As Falcons' T.J. Tynan deked to his right, Grubauer moved with him but there was just enough room for the puck to hit the post and then bounce off Grubauer's leg to make it over the goal line.

Overall, the team had speed and were really gunning for the win last night. Unfortunately, the overtime got away from them and the Bears end up 0-1-1 for the weekend.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Lots Of Shots, But No Goals

Amid some controversy, Washington Capitals rookie Andrew Burakovsky has been assigned to Hershey for at least this weekend before the Christmas break. Some see the move as a way for Burakovsky to get more optimum playing time and aid the Bears offensive woes. Others think this is just a step towards his assignment to the Swedish team for the WJC over the holiday break. Either way, the fans in Hershey will be happy on Saturday night and packing Giant Center to see the Caps/Bears newest prospect.

My question is why they didn't use Burakovsky on a line with Tim Kennedy. I realize Troy Mann wants to put him on a top line so he'll get a lot of playing time, but playing with the Newbury, Casey Wellman and Dane Byers doesn't seem to be the wisest choice. There's a reason Kennedy has the most assists on the team and is second in the league. Although Burakovsky did play with Galiev at times, to spark Burakvosky's scoring prowess he should really be playing with Kennedy.

Anyway, the Bears came out on Friday night firing on all cylinders against LeHigh Valley. That translated into the Bears outshooting the Phantoms 16 to 1 in the first period. Unfortunately, they didn't plan on Phantoms' goalie Anthony Stolarz giving an outstanding performance for his second shutout of the season.

Except for not scoring, Hershey's offense was as good if not better than the wins over Binghamton and Bridgeport on the 13th and 5th of the month, respectively. Their passing was crisp and got shots on Stolarz from different areas of the ice. While the Bears only received two power play chances, they made the most of the opportunities with plenty of point shots and passes to the slot from out of the corner.

At the end of the night Burakovsky and Wellman recorded 4 shots a piece while Galiev and Byers had each.

Regarding goaltending, I've always liked the comparison to baseball. No matter how good a team is playing, if you run into a hot pitcher there's nothing you can do about it. The same with goaltending. When a goalie is on, he's on. Of course, I prefer it when that goalie is Philip Grubauer.

Not taking anything away from him, though he faced 18 total shots Grubauer played just as strong in keeping the score 1-0. The Phantoms had two power plays in the third period and could have gone up 2-0. But Grubauer came up with some big saves to keep Hershey in it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Bears, Pens and Overtime

Of the seven games between the Bears and Pens so far, three have gone to overtime with the Bears winning one and the Pens two (including last night). I've about had my fill of Wilkes-Barre so far this season. After the New Year's Eve game, the new year can't come soon enough.

With the third game of the 3-in-3 scheduled for 4 PM on Sunday afternoon, you know the Bears weren't going to be able to bring the same intensity as they did Saturday night. That's not to say the game against the Pens was routine. Nothing with these teams ever is.

Instead, this meeting between the Bears and Pens was one of those quirky games where the first half completely different than the second and a bunch of odd things happened that no one expected.

Another low scoring game, the first period was again strategic and tight checking with both teams only recording about a hand full of shots a piece. Since Hershey and Wilkes-Barre have trended to these types of games this season, this Sunday game seemed like it was going to be tough to slog through being scoreless after one.

Making it 1-0 with a one-timer point shot from Conner Carrick on the power play early in the second, the Bears played evenly against Wilkes-Barre despite being outshot in the period 13-8.

Taking 4 penalties in the second, Hershey's penalty kill looked outstanding and Grubauer came up with some big saves on an extended 5-on-3. Unfortunately, the Bears took one too many as the Pens finally capitalized on their 6th power play chance.

To make matters worse, the Pens came right back and scored less than a minute later when the puck found Dominik Uher in the slot. And just like that it was 2-1 Wilkes-Barre.

The end of the third period showed how an odd bounce at one end of the ice can lead to another at the opposite end. With less than a minute to go and Grubauer pulled, the Pens came through the neutral zone on a two on two but missed the empty net. The Bears came back the other way and with 2.7 seconds remaining, Chris Brown, skating over the Pens' blue line, blasted a shot past Jeff Zatkoff.

Heading to overtime, it seemed like the Bears might be able to squeak out a win. Unfortunately, Wilkes-Barre would score off the rebound of a 3-on-1. After the initial shot and an excellent save by Grubauer, the trailing Bears' defenseman wasn't able to handle the puck. Conor Sheary re-corralled the puck and shipped it to Adam Payerl, who was standing to the right of the net.

The Bears captured 3 of a possible 6 points for the weekend. There are now two more games next weekend before the Christmas break.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Fights, Shots & Goals

With two fights within the first 3 minutes, Saturday night's game against the Binghamton Senators looked like it was going to be one of "those" games. By the end of the 5-2 win, Hershey would out shoot Binghamton 32 to 20 and combine for a total of 28 individual penalties.

Before the 10 minute mark of the first, Hershey was up 2-0 and would eventually outshoot the Senators 13 to 3 in the period. The second period would shake down the same way with the Bears out shooting Binghamton 14 to 8 and notching two more goals to lead 4-1.

The Bears passing and cycle game along the boards and in the corners were on point. In Tim Leone's post game Penn Live article, coach Troy Mann is quoted as saying the team took advantage of the Senator's vulnerability to cycling in certain areas. I've noted throughout the season so far that this Bears teams plays its best offensive game when it gets the cycle game going. It's not going to beat teams with plays off the rush.

Another area that the Bears excelled in last night was the back check. There were at least half a dozen instances when Hershey back checkers caused the Senators, coming out of their own end, to turn the puck over before they got to the red line. Because of Binghamton's aggressive offense, this led to quite a few 2-on-1's of the Bears.

Receiving the CCM Player of the Week award before the start of the game and then going on to be the game's number one star, Chris Conner continues to pile on the points. It's good timing that Conner and Stan Galiev have started to come on strong offensively just as Kris Newbury and Casey Wellman have tapered off. Once the Newbury, Wellman and Byers line gets rolling again, the Bears will be able to use two solid offensive lines interchangeably against an opponent's top lines.

Tim Kennedy finally notched only his second goal of the season but recorded his team and league leading 23rd assist.

Liam O'Brien was once again in the thick of it last night. Less than 2 minutes after the Joel Broda and Shane Prince fight to start the game, some post whistle activities involving O'Brien, Tim Spencer, and Michal Cajkovsky and Binghamton players broke out. In this go round, Spencer jumped in protect O'Brien and ended up fighting Darren Kramer.

Late in the second period, another skirmish would break out in the corner of the Senator's zone and O'Brien would face-off against Brad Mills while Cajkovsky squared off against Max McCormick. Luckily for both O'Brien Cajkovsky, both only received unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the first period or they would have kicked out of the game for their second fights.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Third Period Goals Sink Bears

And so it continues. Another stellar performance by Philip Grubauer. Another goal by Stan Galiev, yet an overall lack of team offense. Despite being evenly matched against the Crunch last night, 3 goals in the last 5 minutes of the game were Hershey's undoing. Oh yeah, and Syracuse only had 4 total shots in the third period. So far this season, the Bears are 0-3 against Syracuse and have been outscored 13-3.

Stan Galiev now has 8 goals on the season and is second on the team behind Kris Newbury's 10. It seems like Galiev is becoming Hershey's version of Ovechkin. Just as long as he keeps putting up goals like he's has. On the power play setup, Troy Mann has plugged Galiev into the "Ovi spot".

And it payed off with the Bears only goal last night. Galiev's one-timer from right above the left face-off dot powered its way past the Syracuse goaltender's glove to make it 1-0 Bears.Philip Grubauer was again superb in net once more facing at least 30 shots in a game. Even though he gave up 3 goals and an empty netter, Grubauer was especially sharp in the 2nd and 3rd periods when the Crunch held extended offensive pressure in the Bears' zone.

The second period saw Grubauer fight off 14 shots by the Crunch including a late period 2-on-1 in which the rebound just rolled past the left post to keep it tied 1-1.

The effort of the night came from Liam O'Brien who fought Dalton Smith early in the 3rd period. Both are pretty evenly matched in size and weight. While O'Brien got in some really good shots, he took a couple big hits from Smith and was bloodied up quite a bit. About half way through you could tell O'Brien was dazed from a few punches from Smith, but O'Brien battled and threw some good ones of his own.