Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bears Are 3 Wins Away

That was about as bad a start to the game as you can have.

And that was about as good a start to the series as you can have.

Both starts attributed to the same team...your HERSHEY BEARS!!!!

The Bears escaped game 1 with a 5-4 OT victory on the shoulders of Alexander Giroux last night. Giroux scored 3 times including the game winning goal late in the first overtime to give the Bears a 1-0 lead in the series. Oskar Osala added 2 more and Michal Neuvirth made 26 saves to help Giroux.

It was a hell of a game with both teams catching breaks and bounces that you probably won't see again. I mean how many 5 on 3 power plays is one team going to get in a game? How many gratuitous bounces can the other team get in a game? And how many times will the defense either be caught flat-footed or too deep in the offensive zone in one game?

Look at all those instances.

Manitoba scored twice on 5 on 3 power plays but did not score once with the standard 5 on 4. Not saying they can't but they couldn't last night.

Then they scored on two breakaways. One of which saw Michael Grabner skate right by Patrick McNeill (which happened 2 other times too) and right in on Neuvy for a goal. The other breakaway happened because John Carlson and Staffon Kronwall decided they wanted to play forward and got caught INSIDE THE FACE OFF DOTS trying to score.


Hershey got some good bounces too. The shot the tied the game at 3 went of Manitoba defenseman Nolan Baumgartner and into the net. There were also some fortunate bounces that ended on the sticks of Bear forwards.

So both teams got some favorable bounces and plays to score their goals.

But Hershey also had to contend with the referee.

Referee Kyle Rehman whistled the Bears for 11 penalties including a terrible boarding call, a questionable delay of game call, and another TERRIBLE too many men call. The boarding call in my opinion was flat out wrong as Pinizzotto got to the side of the player and did NOT hit him from behind into the boards. BUT a little later Mink did board a guy and it wasn't called so it was pretty even at that point.

The delay of game call that I had a problem with was the one on Aucoin. The puck was shot in and he slapped at it and it bounced at the last second and went over the boards. This rule is ridiculous when that happens. There was no intention to hit the puck over the boards, it was just a fluke deflection.

The too many men call gave Manitoba another short 5 on 3. All in all the Moose had 10 power plays and scored on 2 of them. Hershey had half as many but also scored on 2 of theirs.

Obviously the refs did not influence the outcome of the game but they definitely played a role in the way it was played. The penalties at the end of regulation were unarguable as were most of the calls when goals were scored.

Some things I learned about Manitoba:
  • Not a terribly physical team, they had some big hits but not as many as Hershey.
  • Fast. At least it appeared that way when Patty was getting burned on multiple occasions.
  • Disciplined. There really weren't many (if any) missed calls against the Moose. They seem to know how to stay out of the box.
  • Goalie play....Schneider might be as big as Rask but he plays MUCH smaller in the crease. He goes down earlier and doesn't use his size to protect the net well.
  • Penalty Kill....unlike Providence they are not very aggressive. They play much like the Bears as they stay in their box and do not push the puck much.
  • Deep...this team was running 4 lines most the game just like Hershey. I don't think they played as much as the Joudrey line but they did play some.
  • Manitoba has 3 lines that can truly score. Hershey has not seen that in a while (and not in the playoffs) so they need to be ready no matter who is on the ice.
  • The teams are built similarly on the blue line with more athletic puck movers on defense which does 2 things...helps you score and leaves you susceptible in your own end.

A few notes on Hershey's play:
  • Hershey needs to start better. Again they let the opposition jump out to a two goal lead before the halfway point. Sure they came back but they need to stay in games from the start.
  • Hershey's depth seemed to help late in the game again. Even though Manitoba skated 4 lines they were not as energized late in the third and in overtime.
  • Neuvirth has been shaky lately. Last night he had trouble gaining control of the puck which causes more scrambling by the defense then should be necessary.
  • Expect to see at least 1 new defenseman for game 2. Patty McNeill was not playing towards the end of the game (Carlson wasn't either) because he couldn't keep up with the Moose forwards. I would expect to see either Collins or Amadio get in to game 2 for McNeill.

My Three Stars of the Game:
  1. Alexander Giroux - new AHL record with 72 goals in the season + playoffs after a hat trick last night
  2. Michael Grabner - scored 2 and assisted on another kept Manitoba in this game
  3. Oskar Osala - 2 goals to help Giroux get the Bears a victory

Grading the Performance:
  • Offense - B+ - Good play by the unit as a whole but I have one complaint....more puck possession down low is going to be needed. The only line that was able to keep the puck in low was Perrault, Beagle, and Bourque and that was mainly because Perrault is a magician behind the net and Beagle is strong on the puck. No other line could sustain pressure in the corners with a cycle.
  • Defense - D - This unit was out of position multiple times, bad line changing led to a Penalty Shot, and guys standing around led (eventually) to the first goal when Bourque had to take a penalty because the defense was left flat-footed on the blue line. AND would someone please teach the defense how to move the puck behind the net. You can't play with it back there all time!
  • Goaltending - B - He was really left out to dry on some of the goals but he did make some big saves including the penalty shot try. Personally I think he could have had at least one of the breakaway goals by Grabner but won't hold it against him that he didn't....those are tough to stop.
  • Power Play - A - I thought this unit was terrific. They got into the zone, passed well, and got shots on net. Pretty sure that they were able to generate pressure on every power play. They did add 2 goals on 5 chances to end with a pretty good 40%.
  • Penalty Kill - B+ - I actually think this unit played very well after the first 5 on 3 goal. That was piss poor in my opinion because the Moose tried the EXACT SAME PASS a minute before the goal and the PK didn't see it coming the second time. But other than that I think they played very well and didn't allow a 5 on 4 goal.
  • Overall - B - They did enough to win which is good but they went to extremes yet again to get there. Fighting back from 2 down and fighting through some questionable penalty calls proved they can get it done. But once I would like to see them come out and dominate in the first and second period and get their own 2 or 3 goal lead. Either way it happens though they are now only 3 WINS AWAY FROM THE CUP!!! If they can pull out a victory in game 2 they are going to be in pretty good shape heading home.


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