Monday, November 3, 2008

What's Ailing the Bears?

The Bears are 8-3-0-1 after 12 games. Good enough for 17 points and a 2 point lead in the division.

Is this team in trouble?

Some would say no they aren't. They are 8-3-0-1 and there is plenty of time.

Others would say yes. The power play is stale, the penalty kill is bad, the defense is struggling, and the goaltending is questionable.

I personally fall somewhere in the middle. I think the team has many problems but I also think it is early and some of the problems will correct themselves.

Here are the (potential) problems as I see them:
  • Goaltending
  • Defense
  • Offensive production
  • Power Play
  • Penalty Kill
  • Coaching

Now lets look at each a little more in-depth.

No one is going to argue that Daren Machesney hasn't had some problems this year. He consistently seems out of position and seems to be fighting the puck an awful lot this year. His rebound control is poor at this point. Numbers - 3.52 GAA (34th in the league) and a save percentage of 86.2% (good for 42nd out of 44 in the league) Not good.

Simeon Varlamov has only played in 2 games due to injury and hasn't really been much better so far. He is due back this weekend so we should get a better look coming up.

Bobby Goepfert has been the best goalie so far based on numbers. He has also played in 2 games and won one and lost one. His GAA is 2.77 and his save percentage is 90.3.

Solution: Don't really have one. This is something that the goalies are going to have to work out on their own. Varlamov will be back and maybe he can add something. If not Michal Neuvirth is down in South Carolina and he should be brought up to see what he can do. It isn't like you can do different things in strategy or style with goaltenders. They are who they are and they do what they do no matter what is going on.


This unit is not producing like they should. Last year many people considered the defense to be the problem with the team. So Hershey went out and brought in a couple of veteran players in Bryan Helmer and Greg Amadio. And some of the younger players made progress and moved up to Hershey, Karl Alzner, Patrick McNeill, and Sean Collins. They joined the holdovers from last year, Dean Arsene, Sami Lepisto, and Tyler Sloan.

There hasn't been any improvement so far.

The problem seems to be players just standing around and then rushing when they get the puck. The defense isn't entirely to blame for the goals being scored but I have seen many a defensemen out of position this season.

3 players in particular seem to like hitting more than playing. Arsene, Amadio, and Grant McNeill (plays wing more than D) seem like they would rather take off a guys head than play their position on the ice. Deano was even in the booth one game and made a comment that G Mac was out of position cause he went for a hit.

YOU CAN'T DO THAT and expect to win regularly.

And just to throw this out there.....Helmer is 36, maybe he has lost a step. That and he has always been more of an offensive defenseman than a defensive defenseman. And I think he is being asked to do A LOT more defensively this year than he has had to in the past.

Solution: Sit Helmer every now and then. I know he is the captain but he is 36 and he could benefit from some days off. Same thing for Deano, which is being done, since he is injury prone and not the swiftest skater. Amadio should not play more than half of the games this year and if Deano is in, Amadio is out.

And make sure there is an offensive guy with a defensive guy. Put Helmer with Alzner, Sloan with Lepisto, and Deano with Collins/P McNeill. That way you have a guy that can skate and jump up with a guy that typically likes to stay back on the blue line.

Offensive Production:
This will come back on its own in time. All teams and all players go through slumps no matter what sport. Unfortunately all of the Bears slumps have hit at the same time.

Solution: I hate to break up lines just because of a few games but maybe Coach Woods could change it up for a game or two. I would drop Alexandre Giroux down to the second line and put Chris Bourque up on the top line. And I would also drop Darren Reid to the bench and put in a guy like Andrew Joudrey who can help out on the PK as well.

Other than that....go with the hot hand/line. Put the Oskar Osala, Mathieu Perrault, and Francois Bouchard line out more often. Give them some power play shifts maybe. But get them out there more than they are right now.

Power Play:
Some would put this in with offensive production but I think it is entirely different. The power play is currently ranked 16th in the league (out of 29), scoring on 13 of their league high 81 opportunities. Not terrible you say?? Look closer. If you eliminate the first game of the season they are 8 of 74 for 24th in the league.

Now how do you feel about the PP?

Solution: CHANGE UP THE LINES!! Don't put the MAG line out together. Definitely move Bourque off the point and onto the wing. He is not as valuable on the point in my opinion. No one is getting shots through from out there. Move him to the circle and let him shoot from there. Put the rookie line out there. Get Beagle out there to scrap. Do all of these things.

The power play thought it was so powerful after the first game and now they are falling apart it seems. It needs changed NOW!

Penalty Kill:
This has been a problem since the first game. And it isn't getting better. They are currently 28th in the league. Opposing teams have scored 19 power play goals on 76 opportunities against the Bears. That is bad.

I personally think certain players make or break a penalty kill. And in this case I believe there are 2 players on the Bears that shouldn't be ANYWHERE near the penalty kill.

Bryan Helmer and Alexandre Giroux. Giroux is a no brainer in my opinion. He is a goal scorer, not a defensive forward. But Helmer is a little bit more surprising. But check this stat out...of the 19 power play goals given up....Helmer has been on the ice for 11 of them! NOT GOOD!

Solution: Obviously after reading above I say sit Helmer on the PK. Put Alzner out there with Collins and P. McNeill. When Deano is healthy than he should be on the ice for the PK. Sloan has had some problems too so put Lepisto out there instead. You need guys that can move out there, not statues. The more statues the worse you are going to be.

And the forwards are not immune to this. Along with Giroux I don't think Keith Aucoin or Graham Mink should be out there. Forwards I want to see out there are Quintin Laing, Jay Beagle, Bourque, Joudrey, and maybe even the rooks Perrault and Bouchard. At least give them a shot.

This is the big one. People have been trying to blame Woods since last spring. I am not saying that his coaching method needs tweaked. I am saying that he needs to take control of this team.

Everyone made a very big deal about how many former captains and alternate captains there were on this team. There are many veterans who like to play and have been playing for a long time. But that isn't necessarily a great thing. At times it works and when things aren't working you have to hope the locker room isn't dividing due to different leaders saying different things.

Is that happening here? I don't think so but if things don't turn around you could see it.

Solution: Woods needs to take control. Bench the veterans when they aren't performing. Aucoin hasn't done anything in 4 games and he took a BAD PENALTY in the last game...bench him a game. Helmer has been performing a little below expectations...take him off the penalty kill.

Stand up to the veterans and become the leader of this team. If Woods can't do it than this team will be hurting at many points during the season.

I do think this team will be fine. I believe they will make the playoffs....probably with ease. But unless they fix these problems they will be hard pressed to win the Cup. And that is the ultimate goal...isn't it.

Please leave your thoughts on this in the comments section or email me your opinions.


Anonymous said...

I think the major factor in goaltending has been mental. Machesney has gotten his world rocked in the past couple games and seems a little shell-shocked. Goepfert hasn't given up or been prone to soft goals; I think he derseves a few more starts.
On another note, what's up with Lepisto? Last season, he seemed to be in the mold of a Mike Green, a very offensivley-minded defenseman. This year, it seems like all he does is turn the puck over. How can the Bears fix their play behind the blue line?

The Wicked Truth said...

I hate to say it, but is it possible Lepisto is still pissed off that he didn't make the Capitals roster.

GM said...

anonymous - I would agree with you on the goaltending. the question do they get it back? It is going to take time.

Lepisto on the other hand is a different story. I think it could be mental there as well as I think he has been affected by Sloan's call up. He was playing very well up until that point I think.

truth - I agree obviously.