Tomorrow night the Hershey Bears finally get back to playing hockey against guys wearing different uniforms. After completing a 4 game sweep of Albany on April 29th the Bears have only been able to scrimmage against each other. It will have been 13 entire days since Hershey last took the ice when they host Manchester tomorrow night.
The questions that arises due to this is...
'Will there be rust?' and if so...'How much?'
We can only hope that they are used to not playing for a couple days/weeks and will therefore fall right back into their structure and winning ways. But 2 weeks is a long time.
I am legitimately worried that Hershey could be heading to Manchester on Monday with the series tied at 1 and 3 straight games in New Hampshire.
Back in December they had consecutive weeks where they didn't play for 5 days and both times they lost to Albany that first game back. Since then the coaching staff made some adjustments to practice times and styles to combat long layoffs.
BUT 13 DAYS?!?!
Hopefully I am wrong but I would say if you are going to, listening to, or watching the game tomorrow night don't be surprised to see or hear about Manchester controlling the play for the first 10-20 minutes.
More than likely the strategy for the Bears will be to weather the 1st period storm so to speak and expect to dominate the 2nd and 3rd periods.
Which in all honestly is exactly what they have been doing in the playoffs anyways so this really shouldn't affect them all that much.
Don't kid yourselves either...Manchester is good. This is not the same team that Hershey swept in the 06-07 Conference Finals (before running into the fighting Carey Prices' in the Finals). This Manchester team is very good and is getting even better goaltending right now.
Only 3 players remain on the Manchester roster that played in the 07 Calder Cup playoffs against the Bears, Kevin Westgarth, Gabe Gauthier and John Zeiler.
Hershey is different too as only 5 of the current Bears faced the Manchester team in 07. They are Giroux, Bourque, Wilson, Joudrey, and Sean Collins. And I don't think they all actually played but they were on the roster, more than likely some were just practicing with the team.
But this is a Manchester team who has been playing very well of late. Going back to the regular season this team has won 16 of 20 games and has only given up more than 3 goals twice in those 20 games (both losses by the way).
Remember that in the playoffs a team can achieve amazing things with a hot goaltender. Surely I don't need to remind you all of Carey Price (although I already did a few seconds ago) but without Price that series would have been MUCH closer and in my opinion it would have had a much better outcome.
This years hot goaltender...
Manchester's Jonathon Bernier. He came into the playoffs with a rock solid 2.03 goals against average and a .936 save percentage. And he has actually gotten BETTER after the first two rounds of the playoffs, allowing a ridiculous 1.48 goals against and sporting an insane .952 save percentage.
That means that on average you only score 2 goals on 40 shots. There aren't many teams that can manage to overcome those kind of numbers. Even the high powered Bears would likely struggle shooting that kind of a percentage.
What makes those numbers even more impressive is that the Monarchs have faced off against the Portland Pirates and Worcester Sharks so far. The #1 and #2 playoff seeds in the Atlantic and coincidentally the #1 and #2 teams in goals scored in the Atlantic.
Oh it gets more impressive...Worcester managed to score a whopping 10 goals in 6 games against Bernier and the Monarchs. This is the SAME Worcester team that finished SECOND in the AHL in goals for during the regular season behind your Hershey Bears.
This team could cause Hershey all kinds of problems. If you were or are of the mindset that this Hershey team was just going to skate into the Finals with their scoring...think again. This Manchester team could be a significant challenge.
If I was a betting man, I would say expect a return trip to Hershey before this series sees its conclusion. (my final prediction is at the very bottom of this post)
A few more notes, mentions, and analysis for the series:
Manchester is not nearly as good as Hershey in this regard but they are solid. They have scored 30 goals in 10 games compared to Hershey's 40 in 9 games. **when you only allow 15, as the Monarchs have, you don't have to score much**
Then again Hershey's defense hasn't been exactly dominant this postseason either giving up 27 in 9 games. If you play the numbers out then you would see that Manchester will average their standard 3 goals per game while Hershey will average only about 2.
But that's why they play the games on ice and not paper.
- LW Bud Holloway (9) | He has 6 goals and 5 assists in their 1o games this playoff year. He also led them in points during the regular season with 47 and was second in goals with 19.
- RW Trevor Lewis (11) | He is second on the team this postseason with 5 goals and has an additional 2 assists for 7 points.
- There are a bunch of players with 2 or 3 goals and overall they have 14 guys who have at least one goal.
- LW Alexandre Giroux (12) | 10 goals, 7 assists, almost 2 points per game in 9 playoff games...absolutely obscene.
- RW Andrew Gordon (10) | 9 goals of his own, along with 5 assists puts him 3rd on the team in points with 14.
- LW Chris Bourque (17) | He only has 4 goals this playoff year (only...ha!) but he has 11 assists which gives him a 2nd on the team 15 points.
- Overall Hershey has 12 players with at least one goal. Surprisingly two fewer players than Manchester.
Defensive numbers are tough to make sense of as there really are no telling categories. They have +/- but in my opinion that only means something if there are a couple players that are way off the team average.
I will say this though. If you have a defenseman that was playing on the #1 pairing for a Stanley Cup contender (or so they thought) then he is probably pretty good. John Carlson is that player and add in to the mix another likely NHLer for next season Karl Alzner and you could get the impression that Hershey's defense is pretty good.
And it is. As for Manchester...they don't have anyone quite like that on their team. But Joe Piskula is tied for the team lead with a +8 so I would have to say that opposing teams don't score too much when he is on the ice.
Hershey during the regular season was dominant on special teams, finishing 1st in both power play and penalty killing. But Manchester was pretty good too finishing 5th in both categories.
After looking at the stats I can say this...Hershey is a great power play team...on the road. At home Hershey is actually 13th in the league on the power play while they are 1st on the road converting almost 40% of their tries. This will help them when they play 3 straight in Manchester next week.
Overall though I would say this is a wash. Hershey is slightly better on the power play while Manchester is slightly better penalty killing. Neither team is great but neither team is awful either.
Although I will say this...Hershey needed to be that good on the power play on the road because they are only 14th (out of 16) in road penalty killing...allowing a whopping 30% success rate.
This will be the most interesting segment in the series. Last years playoffs MVP, Michal Neuvirth, versus this years top goalie to date, Jonathon Bernier. Bernier's numbers, mentioned earlier (1.48 gaa, .952 save %) are absolutely ridiculous. Overall the Manchester goalie has allowed more than 2 goals only twice in the postseason and both were losses.
Hershey hasn't had the same stability this year as Neuvirth has been unable to stay healthy but when he plays he is playing okay. He has a 2.42 gaa and a .890 save percentage. They aren't especially good numbers but when your team is averaging almost 4.5 goals per game you have a little more wiggle room.
But I am afraid that Neuvy is going to have to step up his game this series. More than likely the final scores will be closer to 3-2 than 5-4 and the way Bernier is playing Hershey's blueliners and Neuvy better be ready to protect 1 goal leads.
And now for the prediction....
I am a Hershey fan (obviously), a positive thinker, and an eternal optimist but this series scares me a lot more than it did two days ago now that I have looked at the numbers. This might be the toughest series for Hershey since the 05-06 Portland series which went 7 games.
I think Hershey wins but just so you know...I intend to be in Hershey next Saturday and Sunday (22nd and 23rd) for the 'if necessary' games 6 and 7.
Just for those of you who can't put all that together....
Hershey in 7
(and by the way I don't want the stress that I will surely be feeling if this goes 7 so I hope it is over next Tuesday night with a Hershey sweep)