I didn't see much of the game last night. Only enough to know that Hamilton wanted that game more than the Bears did. So I am not going to give my opinion on the game or critique the performance. So instead I will give my State of the Bears address.
The other day I made the comment that the secondary scoring just doesn't seem to be there with this Bears team. I might have been wrong on that.
I went back and looked at some different stuff and for the most part that isn't true. But something does seem to be missing from this team at least right now. Maybe this is just a slump which but I don't think this team is as good as it was at the beginning of the season.
And I have some theories on that:
1. Not as high powered an offense as everyone thinks.
If you look at the season as a whole (53 games) the Bears have scored 197 goals (not counting the goals for winning a shootout) for an average of 3.72 per game. Which is good for first in the league. Not bad right?
Well you have to remember that 9 times this season Hershey has scored 6 or more goals in a game. If you eliminate those 9 games and the 67 goals scored in them the Bears only average 2.95 goals per game. That is still pretty good (8th in the league) but when you consider the weak penalty killing and the average goaltending it doesn't look as good.
Like I said I don't think they are in trouble but I think the expectations of this team at the offensive end have been mis-judged.
2. The best team always gets the best effort from the opposition.
This happens in every sport in every league. Teams want to beat the best and the Bears are the perceived best team in the league.
That might explain why night in night out the Bears seem to be running into hot goaltenders and great defenses. It isn't necessarily that the Bears play worse these nights but the other team considers it an achievement to beat the Bears so they bring their A game.
Obviously rivals are going to get up for these games anyways but Portland, Hamilton, and Manchester played some of their best hockey of the season against Hershey. And in my opinion it is because it is easier to get ready for a game against the best than the worst.
3. This is still a streaky team.
Looking at their schedule you can see that they have had 3 different runs of trouble not including the 2 game skid currently.
In the end of October and beginning of November they went 2-4-0-1 in 7 games before winning 11 straight games. After that winning streak they went 2-3 in their next 5 including a shootout win. That preluded a 6-1 run over the New Year where they outscored the opposition 28-17. Surprisingly that was followed by a 3 game losing streak and a 1-3-0-1 over the next five games in the middle of January.
But since then they haven't really bounced back into a winning streak. In the 10 games since then they are 6-2-0-2. That isn't bad but really it is 6-4 which is much worse.
During the regular season these streaks are pretty meaningless but it is bothersome for the playoffs. A team needs to respond to a loss instantly or they find themselves in trouble very quickly.
4. Maybe they are getting tired.
I don't know if this is more the length of the season or getting every teams best effort but Hershey was 24-8-0-1 before the new year. Since then they are 11-6-0-3 or 11-9 depending on how you want to look at it.
If they continue at that pace they would more than likely still make the playoffs but winning the division might be a lofty goal.
Now I did see some positives and good trends looking at the numbers. Not everything looks bleak.
1. The scoring from players is mostly consistent.
Looking at the double digit goal scorers (8 of them) and breaking it down by the New Year most of the players are on the same point production average.
For example Keith Aucoin scored 11 goals in the first 33 games this season and has 6 in 19 since the new year. So he is pretty much exactly the same with 1 goal for every 3 games.
Chris Bourque and Andrew Gordon are still doing good but not as good as the first part. Chris was scoring about 1 in 4 but is now 1 in 5. While Gordo was scoring 1 in 3 but is now 1 in 4.
Kyle Wilson, Graham Mink, and Alexander Giroux are either the same or better than the first part of the season.
The biggest concerns have already been mentioned and that is Oskar Osala and Francois Bouchard. The big O was scoring 1 in 2 and while Bouchards numbers aren't that bad, 1 in 4 before but 1 in 5 now, he hasn't scored since the 16th of January.
But everyone is still scoring which is good BUT there is room for improvement for some of the players.
2. Good when they score.
Obviously all teams are good when they score but what I mean is this: when the Bears score more than 3 goals they are 23-2. That is pretty good but unfortunately the team doesn't average 4 goals per game.
Unfortunately it isn't all good news on the scoring front. When Hershey scores under 4 goals they are only 12-16. That also doesn't bode well for the playoffs though. Low scoring games are common place in the postseason and the Bears aren't strong in those games.
3. Solid but not great since Varly went down.
I am a believer in that Simeon Varlamov is the best goaltender on this team and he gives Hershey the best chance to win.
I was honestly surprised that since his last game (Jan 14) the team has actually been pretty good. Since his injury Hershey is 7-2-0-3. Obviously the problem with that is the 3 shootout losses but the nice thing about that is there are no shootouts in the playoffs. But 2 of those wins also came in shootouts meaning that Hershey has been having trouble closing out games of late. Which doesn't fall on the goalie.
I still think Varly is the goalie that gives Hershey the best chance to win in the playoffs. Now the problem with that is he is also the most NHL ready of the 3 netminders. That wouldn't be a bad thing if both goalies in Washington were healthy BUT they aren't. Brent Johnson had surgery yesterday to fix his hip and will be out for at least most of the regular season.
I expect Varly to be headed up to Washington in a few weeks UNLESS Michal Neuvirth performs very well up there.
Which means that Daren Machesney and Neuvirth will probably carry the team through the rest of the season and maybe the playoffs. And that isn't necessarily the best news in the world.
So basically there are concerns heading into the final third of the season that have to be worked out. The scoring isn't necessarily a huge problem but if the goaltending or the defense isn't up to par than the scoring better be great. I would be perfectly to see every Bears game end 4-3 with Hershey on top but that isn't likely since they only average 3 goals per game.
I think the biggest issue is the streaky-ness of this team. This weekend is going to go a long way to proving this teams heart to me. After losing 2 in a row at home they need to win at least 2 of 3 this weekend.
All teams lose and I wouldn't expect them to win all 80 games BUT I also think that when you lose you should want to win the next game. And while I am not saying that they don't WANT to win it doesn't seem like they are always as focused as they need to be.
Obviously that might change come playoff time when the stakes are higher BUT if they would show it now I think they would boost the confidence of many of the fans and of themselves.
Now at the same time the streaky-ness could be a good thing. If they can go back on an 11 game winning streak they would be only 1 game away from the Calder Cup Finals. Which I still believe they will win!!
LET'S GO BEARS!!!