Friday, April 30, 2010

Bears sweep Rats to end a franchise

(Before reading on take a minute and read this piece on Brooks will give you a reason to like the Caps again after they choked this past week)

The Albany River Rats skated off their home ice for the final time last night. A final time for both the season and forever as the team will be relocating to Charlotte next season.

And they sure tried to extend their playoff stay last night in game 4 with the Hershey Bears. For the 4th time in as many games the Rats had a third period lead only to Hershey rally for the victory.

3 of the 4 games went to overtime where Hershey's depth appeared to make a difference as none of the game winners came from a top line player. Even though Giroux now has 1o goals in 9 playoff games and Gordon has 9 in that same time frame neither of them scored in overtime against the Rats.

Justin Peters will be seeing Hershey in his nightmares for a long time to come. Overall this season he was 26-18-2 with a 2.54 gaa and a .917 save percentage. But against the Bears he was 2-4 with almost a 4.00 gaa and a .870 save percentage and that included 2 games early in the season when he held the Bears to one goal in 2 games.

Then in the playoffs he was good in the first round (about 2.5 gaa and .927 save %) collecting a 4 game sweep over the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins. But then Hershey came calling and he earned 4 straight losses and posted a 5.00 gaa and a .873 save %.

He will be seeing Bears all summer long!

Hershey's depth is proving to be an insurmountable challenge for teams this postseason. They have trailed at some point in the third period in 7 of their 9 playoff games to date. And they have won 6 of those.

And now their defense is better. Both Karl Alzner and John Carlson were in the lineup last night, one night after playing for the Caps in their game 7 defeat. Hershey went from having severely limited depth after Tuesday's game to having quite possibly the 2 best defensemen in the AHL right now.

Not a bad way to finish a week.

But if there is one problem for the Bears it is that they will now have to wait at least a week to play again. The Worcester vs Manchester series is tied at one game a piece and game 5 isn't until Wednesday.

So the soonest Hershey will know its Eastern Conference finals opponent will be late Wednesday night. So it is likely that the Bears will not play a meaningful game until next Friday at the earliest.

Out in the Western Conference they are even further behind. The Chicago vs Texas series hasn't even started yet while the Abbotsford Heat are up 1-0 on the Hamilton Bulldogs with game 2 coming Sunday.

It is going to be a long couple of weeks coming up. If the Atlantic Finals go 7 then Hershey likely wouldn't play again until about the 10th or 11th.

There is appeal to an extended layoff to get guys rested and healed but there will surely be some rust by the time they play again.

Either way the Bears are yet again East Division Champs! And will be playing in the Eastern Conference Finals for the 4th time in the last 5 years!

Way to go Bears!!!!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Caps loss helps Hershey

As much as I was rooting for the Caps last night I must admit that I am not totally devastated by their loss. For one, while I enjoy watching, following and rooting for them I am not a diehard fan so their early exit from the playoffs is not the worst thing for me. And two the Hershey Bears are likely to get much stronger on the blue line.

Karl Alzner will surely be back and it is highly likely that John Carlson will be returning as well. That will help the Bears depleted and undermanned defensive corps from now until the end of the season, hopefully mid June.

I watched the entire Caps game last night and I want this to be known before I say my next piece...I am a HUGE Ovechkin and Green fan. I think they are terrific players who are as talented as any in the game today.

BUT I don't think they wanted last nights game as much as the Habs AND I think Sydney Crosby has a much deeper desire to win then they do. I can't stand Crosby anymore than the rest of you but you have to give the guy his due...all he wants to do is win.

It just didn't seem like the Caps were playing with as much urgency as necessary last night. I understand Halak was absolutely ridiculous in goal, stopping 131 of the Caps last 134 shots in 3 straight games. But something else was missing.

The Caps never changed their game plan. They rarely crashed the net for rebounds and they kept doing the same things. The things that worked for them during the regular season weren't working now.

Bruce Boudreau sat Tomas Fleischmann down for this game 7 because of lack of production. But then I ask...what the hell was Alex Semin doing in the lineup?

I know Semin is supremely talented...maybe he rivals Ovi in the offensive zone. But this guy can't do anything different. He shoots and shoots and in this series they all got blocked. At least Ovi started going to the net and standing there...Semin won't do it.

There has always been talk of "is this team built for the regular season and not the playoffs" and obviously that talk is going to intensify now. But I thought they brought in some good players at the deadline to help with that in Walker and Belanger. Combine them with Laich, Bradley, Gordon, Knuble, and Chimera and you have a lot of bangers and guys who are willing to get dirty.

So I don't think they are that far away. I do think they ran into a hot goalie and a defense that was focused and blocking everything. **remind you all of 06-07 Hamilton?? when they beat the Bears in the finals with the same game plan**

I think you have to look at three reasons the Caps lost:
  1. Halak...ridiculous 97.76 save percentage and 1.00 gaa over the last 3 games. An all star team wouldn't win against those numbers.
  2. Boudreau...his unwillingness to change. When teams frustrate the Penguins you see Malkin and Crosby on the same line. Did he do that with Semin and Ovi the last couple games? Not much if at all. By doing this you make the defense choose who they are going to stop cause they can't stop both those guys AND Nicky Backstrom.
  3. Desire...the Caps didn't want it as bad. Some of them did but when I look at Ovi and Greenie neither of them seem to care as much as a Crosby or a Yzerman. I would say this will definitely teach them something. The past 2 years they weren't supposed to get there but this year they were Cup favorites so this has to sting more. It is time to focus more and get ready for next season.

But as I mentioned above, the Caps loss is the Bears gain. Looking forward to seeing Alzner and Carlson back on the blue line as Hershey looks to repeat as Calder Cup Champs!!!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bears/Rats game 3

Well, Hershey's depth is again proving to be a force. In the first two games against the Albany River Rats the Hershey Bears have scored 6 goals in the third period or overtime. Compared to only 2 for the Rats.

In the Bridgeport series the Bears scored 7 goals in the 3rd period or overtime. So looking at the 7 playoff games to date Hershey has outscored the opposition 13-4 in the third period or overtime.

That is pretty good. It makes it very hard for the Rats or any other team for that matter to win.

You look at the Hershey roster compared to the Albany roster and you see that Albany has a similar level of talent...on their first 2 lines. But I am not sure there is a team in this league that compete with what Hershey rolls out on their 3rd and 4th lines.

8 goals in 7 playoff games...impressive for a player. Now consider that Hershey has TWO such players in Alexandre Giroux and Andrew Gordon. The next closest player is Abbotsford's Jon Rheault with 5.

Hershey has 3 of the top 4 scorers in the playoffs to date with Keith Aucoin and his 9 assists (and 1 goal) joining Giroux and Gordon.

Add to that scoring Michal Neuvirth's solid goaltending and you have a team that can go a long way assuming they stay both healthy and focused.

Elsewhere around the league:

Not sure how many of you are paying attention but the Texas Stars absolutely rocked the Rockford IceHogs in the first round, sweeping the series in 4 games. Texas goaltender Brent Krahn gave up 5 goals in 4 games while making 122 saves.

They are a balanced team that could cause serious trouble for the big 2 out west (Chicago and Hamilton) if Krahn can continue his stellar play.

The interesting thing about the Western Conference is that they are well behind the Eastern Conference in games played. Neither of those divisional finals have started yet and both are scheduled to have game 2 on Sunday. If Hershey was to sweep Albany or win in 5 games they would be done with their series before either of those series got to 2 games.

Heck in the other Western conference matchup...there isn't one yet. Abbotsford and Rochester are playing a game 7 tonight to see who gets to head to Hamilton this Thursday.

As for the other Eastern Conference series, Worcester vs Manchester, the Sharks lead 1 game to none. That series is more closely aligned with Hershey's with game 4 coming Saturday night.

Lots happening around the league the next few days but the only thing we in Central PA care about is how the Hershey Bears do tonight and Thursday.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Bears get 9 shots over 2 periods and lose 4-1

Just when everyone thought things were going back to normal and the Bears were back to scoring at will came a game in which they could only muster 9 shots through 2 periods.

Those were (surprisingly) the first 2 periods of yesterdays game. All series Hershey has struggled in the first period. In every game but game 3 they were done after the first period as well.

Yesterday it was 1-0 after the first period thanks to a power play goal from Bridgeport. Okay, 1-0 isn't so bad, they could come back from that.

Well more penalties resulted in 2 more power play goals and then a late even strength goal made the score 4-0 Sound Tigers after 2 periods of play.

Hershey managed 5 shots in the 1st period and a whopping 4 in the 2nd. They also managed 20 penalty minutes over the first 40 minutes which probably explains a little bit.

Now obviously I wasn't there watching but you have to wonder how the officiating was as Bridgeport converted 3 of their 9 power plays compared to Hershey's 3 power plays. Either a couple missed calls happened or it was just an absolute poorly played game for Hershey.

Hershey ended up playing very well in the third producing a goal and 18 shots but it was too little way too late as Bridgeport totaled 28 shots and heads back to Hershey down 3 games to 1.

Goaltending was surely a story last night too. At least from a non-viewing fans point of view. Bridgeport started their 3rd goaltender of the series last night Mikko Koskinen while Hershey started wonder kid Braden Holtby.

I would expect to see Koskinen again Wednesday night but I don't think you will see Braden the rest of the postseason barring injury to Neuvirth (quick, knock on wood). Holtby has not looked very good in his two playoff starts to date. Obviously if your team gives up 9 power plays you are going to struggle but you still have to be there making stops to help your guys.

In two games Braden has allowed 7 goals and has about a 3.5 goals against average and is stopping an unimpressive .865% of his shots.

As I said....expect to see a lot more Michal Neuvirth going forward.

Now, obviously all is not lost for the Bears. They return home with 2 days off before Wednesday's game 5 still up 3 games to 1. But you have to be a little concerned now about their lack of offensive output.

But as I said yesterday I wouldn't be too upset with a loss. Although I would rather have seen a 3-2 loss after a lucky shot or something like that instead of a 4-1 dominating defeat.

Although my reasoning for being okay with a loss was somewhat eliminated last night as Albany won in Wilkes Barre to take a 3 games to none lead in that series with game 4 tonight in Northeast PA. Game 5 of that series would also come Wednesday if necessary.

So basically what we need to see Wednesday is...
  1. Neuvy in goal
  2. More offense
  3. More shots....and
  4. More discipline


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bears score 6 in 2nd, up 3-0 in series

After getting handled for much of the first 2 games and in the first period last night Hershey erupted for 6 second period goals on their way to a 7-2 win and a 3-0 series lead.

Alexandre Giroux scored 3 goals, Andrew Gordon added 2, and Kyle Wilson and Steve Pinizzotto also scored for Hershey. All but Wilson's goal came in a monster 2nd period for the Bears.

While Bridgeport has pretty much dominated the 1st period in all 3 games to date they couldn't get a goal in the first last night. Which allowed Hershey to gain confidence and showcase their talents in the 2nd without Bridgeport hanging back protecting a lead.

Bridgeport goalie Scott Munroe was pulled after Pinner's goal (5-0 at the time) and replaced with Mikko Koskinen, who was filling in for the injured Nathan Lawson. Neither Bridgeport goalie had much luck last night though as Hershey scored 7 on only 24 total shots.

Michal Neuvirth got the start for Hershey and could start again this afternoon if he feels up to it according to Coach Mark French. Neuvy was great again last night making 32 saves for his 2nd straight victory. Overall now Neuvy is 18-6 in the playoffs for Hershey.

Hershey can complete the sweep and win the series at 3 this afternoon. But is that the best thing for them to do?

First of all let me say that I hope they win as I would rather just see it end right away and not have to play any extra games.

BUT let me also say that if they do win today they could be sitting around for a while waiting to play again. If the Wilkes-Barre/Albany series goes the distance (Albany up 2-0 with game 3 this afternoon) then Hershey wouldn't even know their second round opponent until next Sunday and likely wouldn't play for 10 days.

Now I don't care how good a team you have or how deep they are but if you are off for 10 days you are going to be rusty the next time you play.

However, I would still rather just see them win it today. No more games, no more risks for injury (Patty McNeill went down last night), and plenty of time to rest and get healthy.

So basically it is like this....


LET'S GO ALBANY because if they can sweep the Pens then worrying about a long layoff wouldn't be necessary.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bears come from behind again

Well maybe it isn't so much complacency as much as Bridgeport is just playing excellent hockey right now because the Bears once again had to rally to beat the Sound Tigers last night in Hershey.

Thankfully the Tigers don't have much in the way of goal scorers or Hershey might be in trouble here. The Bridgeport defense has been outstanding and the goaltending has been very solid as well for the Tigers.

Hershey has scored 7 goals in 2 games but it sure doesn't seem like it. It has been tough just to get decent shots on the opposing netminders. Bridgeport has blocked a lot of shots in the first 2 games and yet they are still down 2 games to none heading into tonight's game 3.

Without more scoring Bridgeport will be in trouble because even with great defense the Bears are still scoring enough to win. 60% of the Sound Tigers goals have been scored by defensemen, which would be great if they had scored a bunch of goals but they have only scored 5 so far.

In both games so far Bridgeport seems to have gotten worn down late in games while Hershey still has plenty left. This is one of Hershey's biggest strengths and tonight and tomorrow it should definitely pay dividends.

Both teams left immediately after last night's game for the 4 hour bus ride to Bridgeport in preparation for tonight's game at 7pm. Then both teams turn around and play game 4 Sunday afternoon at 3.

That is not easy for any team but Hershey will be able to handle it better due to their ability to skate 4 lines all game long. Many teams short shift their 3rd line and don't even use their 4th line late in the game. Hershey uses their 4th line in overtime as evidenced by Andrew Joudrey's game winner Wednesday night.

Michal Neuvirth got the start in goal and looked excellent on his way to 23 saves and his 17th career playoff victory. It will be interesting to see how Coach French decides to play his goalies tonight and tomorrow. Neuvirth is obviously the #1 but considering he has only played about 2 games in the last month you might not want to play him back to back.

I would actually expect to see Braden Holtby get the start tonight with Neuvy back in net tomorrow for the afternoon game. It just seems like too much of a risk to play Neuvy in back to back and maybe 3 in 3 after having so many injury problems of late. Maybe you would if Hershey was down or even tied in the series but considering Holtby's skill and the fact that the Bears are up 2 games to none I think Braden gets a chance to prove himself again.

For Bridgeport it is a tougher call potentially. Scott Munroe got the start Wednesday and looked good for the first 45 minutes before allowing 3 goals over the next 20. Nathan Lawson got the start last night and was looking very good until he got hurt late in the 2nd and came out midway through the 3rd period. I would expect to see Munroe considering the late night bus ride and a very important game for the Sound Tigers.

Hershey has the opportunity to use their depth to put away Bridgeport without having to come back to Hershey in this series. That would complete step 1 on their way to an 11th Calder Cup!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bears/Tigers game 2

I saw a replay of the Perreault goal from Wednesday night and I can only say one thing...WOW! Not sure how many of you saw it but it was an obvious high stick and it is shocking that not one of the officials either saw it or called it.

If that had been flipped with Bridgeport getting a goal like that we surely would have heard a certain arena chant!

But that's neither here nor there as the call was made, the Bears are up 1 game to none with 3 games in the next 3 days this series could be over before some other series get to game 3.

After a very weak first period Wednesday, I am expecting a much better performance from the Bears in period 1 tonight. It seemed as though they suffered from a bit of complacency on Wednesday night. They made up for it with a high intensity offensive push for the final 40 minutes which got them the win.

Tonight expect the Bears to dominate the Sound Tigers. From the slow start Wednesday to the horrible call at the end the Bears got fortunate in Game 1. But the Sound Tigers have to be somewhat frustrated already and I think it shows in Game 2.

It all adds up to (in my opinion) an awakening from the Bears from here on in this series. With the veteran leadership and last years playoff experience on this team I can't see 2 straight games where they struggle with their focus.

In goal, Michal Neuvirth will likely take his rightful place between the pipes tonight as Braden Holtby struggled in his first career playoff start. Last seasons Calder Cup MVP will likely get the starts going forward assuming he is in shape AND stays healthy. With a 3 in 3 this weekend you might see Braden back in net but I wouldn't be surprised to see Neuvy from here until the end.

This series already reminds me a little bit of the Eastern Conference Finals last season against Providence. Hershey was the prohibitive favorite there but came out flat at home against the Bruins in Hershey for game 1. They ended up losing that game as they couldn't beat Tuuka Rask but won the next 4 games including 3 on the road.

Coming out flat in game 1 is a problem for many top seeds. Although many teams don't so much come out flat as the lower seeded team comes out flying because they have nothing to lose. Just look at the NHL this season. Both #1 seeds lose game 1 and a #2 loses game 1. It happens.

It almost happened to the Bears...will it wake them up or does it show a possible weakness?

Personally....I think they have awoken and Bridgeport should be concerned.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bears overcome 2 goal deficits to win in OT

Well so much for not facing any adversity!

Thanks to a sloppy sluggish first period the Bears had to come from 2 goals down to win in overtime to take a 1 game to none lead in the best of 7 series.

Hershey managed to get outshot 9-3 in the first period and faced a 2-0 deficit by the time the period ended. But they managed to get one back 5 minutes into the second period thanks to Alexandre Giroux's first of the playoffs before yet again facing a 2 goal deficit after allowing a last second goal in the 2nd period.

Thats when the fun began. For 20 minutes in the 3rd period Hershey threw everything they could at Scott Munroe and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. But for the first 14 nothing would go in. Then Francois Bouchard broke the ice and got the Bears within 1 at 3-2.

From then on the Bears really controlled the play and with about one minute to go they got a break. Mathieu Perreault scored the tying goal even though it appeared he hit the puck with a high stick. After some brief discussion the officials determined that the goal was good and the game was tied.

Perry's goal came with the goalie pulled and an ambitious lineup on the ice. 6 forwards took to the ice for the restart, Giroux, Perry, Bouch, Keith Aucoin, Andrew Gordon, and Chris Bourque.

That is called...going for it!

And then to overtime where the Bears 'unsung' hero became THE hero as Andrew Joudrey scored only his 2nd career playoff goal about 4 minutes into sudden death.

What a game, what a comeback, what a statement.

Recently I said that Bridgeport scared me due to them getting help from the New York Islanders in the way of blueline players. And for most of the game tonight it appeared as though the Sound Tigers defense might just win the game. Eventually though the talented (and deep) Hershey team made the most of their chances.

Hershey was lucky to get out of this game with a W but they should absolutely be ready for game 2 on Friday night.

After a long hibernation it would appear as though the Sound Tigers have awoken the Bears!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cup defense begins tonight

Now that the warmup season is over the real season and real games begin tonight for the defending Calder Cup Champion Hershey Bears.

Tonight and Friday Hershey will host their first round opponent, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. After that Hershey turns around and heads immediately to Connecticut for games Saturday and Sunday in Bridgeport.

During the season they faced off 2 times with Hershey winning both games, quite handily actually. But the playoffs are a different animal.

Only 1 #1 overall seed in the last 8 years or so have managed to win the Calder Cup. Hershey was last the #1 overall seed in 06-07 which was the year of Carey Price that many of us still have nightmares about.

Bryan Helmer understands this situation all too well. In 95-96 his Albany team was coming off a Calder Cup and went into the playoffs as the #1 overall seed and the prohibitive favorite to win another Cup. They lost in the first round!

17 of the current players played on last years Calder Cup winning team so the experience is there. But this team faced minimal (if any at all) adversity during the regular season. They jumped out to a big lead in the first few weeks, set numerous records along the way, and won the division with weeks left in the season.

It was a phenomenal season but the question is...are they ready for the playoffs? Every player on the team will tell you that the playoffs are different, the regular season doesn't mean anything, and that the pressure is much greater.

Are the Bears ready? If they aren't ready, can they adjust quickly?

Personally I think with last year's experience in their minds they should be okay but I am definitely not just assuming they are going to run through the playoffs on their way to the Cup.

It is human nature to be overly confident at this point. They have to be feeling pretty good about themselves right now.

Last year's team had to deal with multiple issues in goal, tons defensive callups, and an incredibly tight divisional race. They were battle tested. They had faced the adversity and were ready for the playoffs. The regular season mattered more to them than it usually does. They learned alot.

This team now has to hit the reset button and start all over. The regular season means nothing this season. Nothing during the 'warmup' season translates this year. This team must call on their experiences from last Spring.

I think they will. I believe.


Bridgeport Sound Tigers:

home record..........21-15-1-3
road record............17-17-3-3
goals for.................201
goals against..........220
last 10 games..........5-5-0-0
power play..............15.0 (25th)
home power play....14.6 (26th)
road power play......15.4 (19th)
penalty kill..............82.7 (15th)
home penalty kill....82.7 (21st)
road penalty kill......82.7 (10th)

Top Scorers:
  1. LW | Greg Mauldin | 20 - 25g, 29a, 54pts
  2. LW | Jesse Joensuu | 6 - 14g, 34a, 48pts
  3. LW | Trevor Smith | 23 - 21g, 26a, 47pts
  4. LW | Sean Bentivoglio | 14 - 19g, 26a, 45pts
No other player has more than 40 points this season.

Top Goalies:
  1. Nathan Lawson | 52 - 16-16-3, 1 so, 2.52 gaa, .922 save%
  2. Scott Munroe | 33 - 19-16-3, 3 so, 2.52 gaa, .920 save%
As of this moment the starting goaltender has not been announced for game 1.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Bears win again...Norfolk on life support

Hershey won another game against the East division, beating Norfolk 6-1 on 4 second period goals.

Obviously the game means little to Hershey other than going into the postseason on a good note. But the game meant lots to Norfolk.

Thanks to Bridgeport's win over Lowell the Norfolk Admirals are in dire need of some good news. Even if they win tonight they are likely going to miss the playoffs. All Bridgeport and Lowell need is one point in their final 2 games to clinch playoff berths. While Norfolk needs one of the two to lose their last 2 and they need to beat Hershey tonight.

Wilkes Barre did manage to win last night and has clinched a playoff berth as well. But I learned something quite interesting today...Hershey can still play them in the first round even if Norfolk misses the playoffs.

The scenario plays out like this. Let's assume Norfolk misses the playoffs and Lowell finishes 4th in the Atlantic, that would mean Bridgeport is 5th and Wilkes Barre is 3rd in the East.

The Bears would then play whomever has less points, Wilkes Barre or Bridgeport in the first round while Albany would get the other.

If the three teams win their remaining games, each has 2 left, then Hershey would get Bridgeport while Wilkes Barre would head to Albany.

So if you are scoreboard watching tonight hoping to see who the Bears will play here you go:
  • Hershey at Norfolk - 7:15 - Norfolk has to win and get help tonight and tomorrow but technically they are still alive.
  • Manchester at Bridgeport - 7:00 - The Monarchs are in and with a point so are the Sound Tigers.
  • Lowell at Portland - 7:00 - Portland is in and with a point so is Lowell.
  • Wilkes Barre at Binghamton - 7:05 - The Baby Pens are in but if they keep winning the Bears won't have to see them until the second round if at all.
The Bears opponent likely won't be decided until Sunday but after tonight we should be able to eliminate some possibilities.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Who will Hershey play in round 1?

Hershey's loss to Syracuse Tuesday night is really insignificant as far as first round opponents go. But with Norfolk's win over Wilkes Barre it really creates even more problems in determining the Bears first round opponent.

There are 4 possible matchups, Wilkes Barre, Norfolk, Lowell, or Bridgeport. With the remaining schedules I would say Norfolk has the toughest road, while the Pens probably have the easiest. Lowell and Bridgeport have tough schedules but they are manageable.

Let's take a look at the 4 possible matchups:

Norfolk Admirals

Currently sitting in 4th in the East with 82 points and 2 games to play. The remaining two games are in Norfolk against the Bears. While they are currently tied with Bridgeport for the final spot they have one fewer game than the Sound Tigers.

Sitting 4th in the East would usually be a good place to be but with the Atlantic having 8 teams the 5th place team from that division would make the playoffs. With 1 fewer game remaining than the other teams they will likely need to win both games to have a shot.

This season the Bears have dominated Norfolk. They are 7-1 against Norfolk and have outscored the Ads 34-20 in those 8 games with 2 games yet to play.

Offensively they have only one 20 game scorer (Brandon Bochenski would make 2 but he is in Tampa) and only 6 scorers even in double digits. Their top point producer, Ryan Craig, has a whopping 43 points. Not exactly an offensive juggernaut here.

Defensively and goaltending would appear to be somewhat weak as well. Although Jaroslav Janus does have solid numbers in net in his 13 games, 2.07 gaa and a .922 save percentage. But he is only 7-6 which means the offense just isn't producing enough.

Norfolk does not appear to be getting much help from Tampa Bay either. Bochenski would be a big addition but he does not appear on their clear day roster so I am unsure if he is even able to be sent down.

The Admirals would be a favorable matchup for the Bears in the first round but in order for that to happen Hershey likely has to lose their last 2 games to them AND get help from the Atlantic division.

Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins

Currently positioned as the 3 seed in the East division, but just one point ahead of Norfolk. 3 games remain for the Baby Pens, home for Albany Friday night, at Binghamton Saturday, and home for the Sens on Sunday.

Hershey and the Pens squared off 12 times this season with Hershey winning 10 of those games. Overall the Pens were outscored 48-29 in those 12 games.

While this years Pens aren't quite the offensive force of last years team they can still score goals. They have 3 20 goal scorers and 7 players with double digit goals. Dustin Jeffrey leads the team in goals and points with 23 and 70.

Neither of their goaltenders, John Curry or Brad Thiessen, have had good years. Neither is below 2.50 in goals against and Thiessen is barely above .900 in save percentage while Curry is actually below that mark.

Even if the Pittsburgh Penguins were to lose early in the playoffs there likely isn't much help coming down to Wilkes Barre. There are no players currently in Pittsburgh that appear on the Baby Pens clear day roster.

I would be surprised to see the Pens fall to 4th in the East. They would have to lose a couple games and then have to see the Bears fall twice to Norfolk. Can it happen? Sure. Will it happen? Not likely.

Bridgeport Sound Tigers

Last year the Bears and Tigers met many times while playing in the same division. This year the Tigers were moved to the Atlantic and Hershey only saw them twice. And those games weren't exactly competitive with the Bears winning both games, 9-2 and 6-3.

The Tigers currently sit in the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Tied in points with Norfolk (ahead in winning percentage) and 2 points behind Lowell for the 4th spot in the Atlantic. Hartford is 5 points back and while mathematically alive it isn't going to be a problem.

They are a deeper offensive team than Norfolk with 8 players on the active roster having double digit goals and 1 more player, Mark Flood, likely to return with 10 goals as well. Their top point producer is Greg Mauldin with 51 points. They have 4 players with more points than the leading point getter for Norfolk. But at the same time they are still tied for second fewest goals scored in the AHL this season.

There have been a few goaltenders through the roster this year for the Tigers but it will be either Scott Munroe or Nathan Lawson in the postseason and neither is overly wonderful. Both have goals against averages over 2.5.

Unlike Norfolk and Wilkes Barre though, the Sound Tigers are going to get at least 4 players back from the Islanders. 4 defensemen as well which should definitely help them out. Mark Flood, Dustin Kohn, Dylan Reese, and Andrew MacDonald are all on Bridgeport's clear day roster and all will surely be returning once the NHL regular season ends.

While the Bears dominated the 2 games against Bridgeport so far I would not be excited to see them in the first round considering the players returning from New York. Still though the Bears offensive firepower is probably too great for the goaltending it would make the situation a slight bit tenser.

Lowell Devils

Lowell is more than likely in the playoffs. They are 2 points ahead of Norfolk with a game in hand so barring a collapse in their final 3 games they will be in but it could still be as the 5th place Atlantic division team.

The Bears and Devils faced off twice this season with the Bears winning both games 5-2.

Their schedule is favorable but not easy. Starting Friday they host Lowell, then a trip to Portland on Saturday, and then they host Providence Sunday. Honestly if they win Friday they likely wrap up the 4 seed in the Atlantic division and will face the division winner in the first round.

Offensively they are the deepest of any Bears first round opponent there are 11 players with double digit goals. Their top point producer is Ben Walter with 20 goals and 53 points. He is second in goals and first in assists with 33. The problem with Lowell is the depth, with no true #1 scorer they have 10 players with at least 30 points. Compared to the Bears this is no depth at all but compared to the other potential opponents this is a higher number.

Mike McKenna is likely the #1 goaltender for the playoffs and while he hasn't been exceptional he has been steady and strong enough. He has gone 23-16-6 this season with a 2.42 goals against and a save percentage over .920.

Like Wilkes Barre, Lowell is unlikely to see help from the NHL for the playoffs. There are no players on their clear day roster currently in the NHL. In addition to that the NHL Devils aren't likely to be headed for a quick playoff exit.

Overall I would prefer to see Norfolk in the first round but unless the Bears lose their final 2 against them there is no chance of that happening. So considering that I would say Bridgeport is an okay opponent although the return of 4 defenseman is a concern.

Either way it will be interesting to see how the Bears perform in the postseason. This season has been very uneventful as far as the standings goes. Last year the division race came down to the final weekend, this year it was over in October.

Hershey has yet to face significant adversity and the playoffs always bring that. Luckily much of last season's team is still here so they should be able to pull from that experience and be ready to go.

2 meaningless games (for Hershey anyway) Friday and Saturday before the prep for Wednesday's first playoff game begins this weekend. A win Friday combined with a Wilkes Barre win and a Bridgeport win would eliminate the Pens and Admirals from first round consideration.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bears get record with 6-1 win

There wasn't much doubt in this game. Hershey jumped out to a 1-0 lead about one minute into the game and it was 2-0 after Jay Beagle's shorthanded goal with 7ish minutes left in the first. That proved to be the game winner for the Bears who set an AHL record with 58 wins in a season.

Alexandre Giroux, Boyd Kane, Zach Miscovic, Karl Alzner, and another from Beagle completed the scoring for the Bears.

Giroux now has 98 points with 4 games remaining. 2 points and Hershey will have its first ever 2 100 point scorers in the same season.

Michael Neuvirth got the start in net and made it through with no further injuries. The reigning playoff MVP had been dealing with injuries for a while now after suffering some in Washington and then again in Hershey a couple weeks ago.

With him healthy it presents an excellent problem to have this time of year...3 number 1 goalies on the roster. Every one of the 3, Bacashihua, Holtby, and Neuvy, have been spectacular this season. If one were to go down there is plenty of confidence in going with the next guy in line.

More than likely the job is Neuvy's to lose though with Holtby 2nd and Cash sitting in the stands most nights. It has to be a tough spot for Cash to be in but who saw Holtby's emergence happening this season? Cash is the most experienced netminder and can surely get the job done if called upon.

How many other teams can say that about their THIRD goalie??

Two other big things last night in Hershey:
  • Hershey has clinched the overall regular season championship. They will have home ice advantage for as long as they play in the playoffs. In 06-07 the Bears also won the regular season before running into a hot goaltender against Hamilton and Carey Price in the Calder Cup Finals.
  • The AHL announced that the 2011 AHL All Star game will be held in Hershey next January. It is the AHLs 75th anniversary season so they wanted to go somewhere to represent that history and Hershey is that choice. Next year the game will feature the Eastern Conference vs Western Conference for the first time in a while. The past few years has seen PlanetUSA vs Canada which many times pits teammates against each other which really doesn't make any sense.

And now a look around the rest of the Eastern Conference:
  • Norfolk had their best chance to get a win last night against Binghamton but they couldn't get it done losing 5-3.
  • Fortunately for the Admirals the Bridgeport Sound Tigers also lost at home against Portland. So it remains a 2 point Bridgeport lead for the final playoff spot in the East.
  • Norfolk still has a game in hand against Bridgeport but they also play Hershey 3 times in their last 4 games including tonights game in Hershey.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

No record yet

Former Bear Graham Mink made sure the Bears didn't set any records last night as he scored 2 goals in a 3-1 Rochester win.

The Bears return home for their final 2 regular season home games tonight and tomorrow. One win and Hershey will set an AHL record for wins in a season with 58.

There are 5 games remaining in the regular season and the Bears will see only 2 teams in those five games. Starting tonight with a visit from Syracuse and then a visit from Norfolk Sunday before heading on the road to face Syracuse on Tuesday and then 2 games in Norfolk Friday and Saturday.

Hershey needs only 2 points, one win, to clinch the #1 overall seed for the AHL playoffs. Hamilton trails the Bears by 8 points and each team has 5 games remaining.

Syracuse comes in having lost 6 of their last 8 games which includes 2 losses to the Bears by a combined score of 11-4.

The Bears have never had two 100 point players in the same season but that could change this year. Keith Aucoin has already reached the 100 point mark, his first, and Alexandre Giroux is sitting on 97 with 5 games to play. Considering both those players, and Chris Bourque, average over 1 point per game it seems likely that G should get to 100.

The playoff race in the Eastern Conference is still undecided as the final spot could come down to the final game of the season. Norfolk is chasing Bridgeport and Lowell for the final spot and a chance to play Hershey in the first round.

Wilkes Barre isn't out of the woods yet either as they are only 3 points ahead of Norfolk with 1 fewer game to play.

Hershey will likely play a huge role in determining who they play in the first round beginning April 14th. With 3 of Norfolk's final 5 games coming against the Bears, Hershey will likely help to decide the Admirals fate.

Norfolk's other 2 games are at Binghamton tonight and then home for Wilkes Barre on Wednesday.

Bridgeport has 4 games left. They get Portland, Lowell, Manchester, and Hartford. All but the Lowell game is at home. Definitely not an easy schedule as 2 of those teams (Portland and Manchester) have already clinched playoff spots while Lowell and Hartford are still fighting. Although, Hartford is likely eliminated just not mathematically yet.

Lowell also has 4 games remaining. Worcester, Bridgeport, Portland, and Providence and just like Bridgeport 3 of those are at home. A little easier than Bridgeport with Providence in there but the top 2 teams in the Atlantic are not going to be easy games.

The final week is going to be interesting. Much less stressful than last year when the division was yet to be decided but no less interesting throughout the rest of the Eastern Conference.

Check back Monday or Tuesday and I will have an opinion on each possible matchup and which we should be rooting for next weekend.