Hershey opens up a two game home weekend tonight with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at Giant Center. This will be the first game for Hershey without Oskar Osala after the winger was traded to Carolina/Albany at the trade deadline.
The Pens however lost their leading goal scorer at the deadline. Luca Caputi, who was leading the team with 23 goals and second in points with 47, was traded to Toronto.
That doesn't mean the Pens still aren't a formidable opponent, just one that is a little weaker this weekend. They still have 7 other players with 10+ goals so scoring shouldn't be an issue for the Pens.
This will be the teams second to last meeting of the season as they will play in Hershey 3 Saturday's from now. Meeting number 11 of the season comes tonight with Hershey owning a commanding 8-2 record against the Pens so far this season.
While the Bears are all but in the playoffs (4 points from clinching) the Pens are still in a dog fight for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Because of the unbalanced divisions IF the 5th place team in the Atlantic division has more points than the 4th place team in the East division they would get the spot and (more than likely) play Hershey in the first round.
So the Pens, who are currently in 4th in the East, are fighting with Adirondack and Syracuse in the division AS WELL AS Providence, Hartford, and Bridgeport in the Atlantic. Currently the Pens are in as they have a better winning percentage than the other teams.
But they have their work cut out for them. Luckily for them they are almost done with the Bears and they have 4 games left against the bottom dwelling Binghamton Senators and Springfield Falcons. Unlucky for them they have many of their games remaining against the teams ahead of them in the East division and the teams just better than them in the Atlantic.
It won't be an easy road for the Pens especially after losing their leading scorer.
For the Bears they can actually clinch a playoff berth this weekend. A full month plus before the end of the season and the Bears can clinch a playoff spot. But complacency is a risk if that were to happen. Last season the Bears were in a fight for the division until the last weekend which might have prepped them better for the postseason which resulted in the amazing Calder Cup run.
This year a clinch this early could present some problems, especially since clinching the division won't be far behind the playoff spot. Coach French is going to have to keep the team focused so that they do not become complacent and struggle going into the playoffs.
The veteran leadership on this team should help tremendously but you have to wonder how many of them have even been in this kind of position. It is unique position the team finds itself in and the biggest challenges are surely yet to come.