Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bears Shutout Pens, Prepare To Do It Again

Last night had to feel good for the Bears.  The Baby Pens have pretty much dominated the Bears for the past year plus.  The Pens entered last nights game with a 10-3-0-1 record against the Bears since the start of the 2010-11 season. 

The 3 losses were all up in Wilkes-Barre.  Any success the Bears have had against the Pens has come on the road.  Even the shootout win came in Wilkes-Barre back in November.

And by success I mean barely.  All 4 Hershey wins have been 1 goal victories. 

Until last night.

The Bears traveled up I-81 last night to end Christmas for the Pens and their fans with a 6-0 torching of Brad Thiessen and the Baby Pens. 

I wouldn't call it a dominating performance as the score sheet indicates it wasn't.  The Pens actually out shot the Bears 28-23 and appear to have dominated the 2nd period, with a 9-3 advantage in shots.  But I didn't see or listen to the game so I can't verify these assumptions.

In the end the Bears scored 3 in the first and 3 in the third to hand the Penguins their worst loss in a long time.  Looking back through the past few seasons I only see a couple losses by even 5 goals for the Pens.  Both came against Hershey in 2009-10.  Otherwise the majority of their losses are by 1 or 2 goals.

Last night had to feel good for the Bears.  Over the past year plus they have managed to beat just about every team and have been one of the better teams in the AHL.  The Baby Pens have had their number though.

The Penguins have been struggling for a while now and while Brad Thiessen started the season off wonderfully he has definitely cooled down.  In his last 10 games he is 2-6-2 with a 3.62 goals against average and a .844 save percentage.

Those numbers are bad.  Last night his coach had this to say:
“I thought our goaltending was OK,” Hynes said. “I think we’ve gotta have better goaltending if we’re going to beat a team like Hershey.” 

Tonight the Pens come to Hershey where they have not lost since March 27 of 2010.  Bryan Helmer was still wearing the 'C' in Hershey then.  Jason Bacashihua was in net for the Bears.  Alexandre Giroux scored the game winner. 

It's been a while.

The Penguins seem ripe for picking though.  Beyond the 6-0 beating they took last night they have lost 3 straight (all at home) and have only won 7 games since November 11, a span of 18 games. 

The Bears on the other hand are heading in the opposite direction...up.  In the month of December the Bears are 9-2.   They have also taken over sole possession of first place in the division and lead the Admirals and Pens (tied at 37 points) by 4.  And they have taken over first place in the Eastern Conference, which is more important than the division crown this year.

Tonight is going to be an exciting game in Hershey.  The Pens are going to be looking for redemption.  The Bears are going to be looking to finally knock off the Pens on home ice.  And the building is going to be rocking. 

The Giant Center is sold out and will likely be the loudest it has been this season.  I am excited.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bears Enter Holiday Break on High Note

Entering last nights game the Bears were 2-0-0-1 against the Syracuse Crunch this season.  They had outscored them a collective 13-4 in those 3 games.

Make that 3-0-0-1 and the score is now 18-6.

Kyle Greentree scored a goal in his first game back in the lineup and the Bears earned their 8th victory of December and officially took over the #1 spot in the East Division.

Now the Bears get a short holiday break as they won't practice until Monday and don't play again until Tuesday night in Wilkes-Barre.

For the first time since the middle of October the forward lineup looked like the one we all expected to see coming out of camp.  Cody Eakin returned to the lineup on Sunday and Greentree returned from a broken wrist last night. 

Due to that pesky veterans rule, Graham Mink was the healthy scratch last night.  With that move the Bears ran with 3 lines that are probably best referred to as 1A, 1B, and 1C. 

The lines last night were:

Greentree - Aucoin - Bourque
Micflikier - Potulny - Ford
Kane - Eakin - Hanson
Mitchell - Carroll - Rechlicz

(Thanks to the folks over at Sweetest Hockey on Earth for providing the lines)

Looks like a deep talented lineup.

Combined the top line has 26 goals and 69 assists on the season.  And Greentree has played in 5 games.

Combined the 2nd line has 24 goals and 51 assists this season.  And Potulny has only played in 16 games.

Combined the 3rd line has 17 goals and 19 assists this season.  And Eakin has only played in 12 games.

That's 67 goals and 139 assists amongst Hershey's top 9 forwards.

Oh and that doesn't include Mink's 11 goals and 14 assists.

67 goals.  By 9 guys.  (If you add Mink you have 78 goals by 10 guys.)

The Hamilton Bulldogs have 60 in 28 games.  The San Antonio Rampage have 66.  Albany and Lake Erie have 70.  Chicago and last seasons Calder Cup Champion Binghamton Senators have 72. 

Yes, those numbers are for entire teams.

Overall the Bears have scored 111 goals.  Good for 2nd place in the AHL behind only the Norfolk Admirals. 

The offense is solid.  One of the best in the question about it.

The defense...not so solid.  The Bears have allowed more goals (88) than 21 other teams in the AHL.  21.  That means that there are only 8 teams that have given up more goals than Hershey so far this season.  All but one of them has more regulation losses than wins.

The lone team with more goals allowed than Hershey AND a winning record...

The Eastern Conference leading St. John's Icecaps.  They have allowed 89 and have scored 106.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bears get 4 points out of 6

For 20 minutes last night it looked like Hershey was going to take sole possession of 1st place in the East Division.  The Bears were up 3-1 against Norfolk at Giant Center at the end of the first period. 

In fact, they were up 3-1 after the second period too. 

And then they gave up 5 goals to lose 6-3.  5 unanswered goals and only 1 came on the power play.  One was an empty netter as well. 

That leaves 3 even strength goals...all scored in the final 16 minutes of game action.

You had the sense that it was coming.  It seemed to be one of the typical Bears games this season.  A relatively dominant performance over the first 20 minutes followed by 40 minutes of ineptitude in the offensive zone. 

The Bears had 11 shots in the first period...3 of them goals.  They totaled 14 shots the remainder of the game.  And very few of them were what most people would deem "quality" chances.

At the other end the Bears stopped playing defense as well.  Brett Flemming got caught flat footed on Norfolk's 2nd goal (first of the 3rd period) and from there it just seemed like Hershey couldn't get to the loose pucks and when they did, they couldn't get the puck out of their own zone.

I hate to call out Flemming since he was only on the ice for 1 of the 5 goals against in the 3rd period but his misstep is the one that seemed to open the floodgates. 

One player, other than Braden Holtby...who I personally think was left out to dry by his defense, was on the ice for 4 of the 5 goals. 

Keith Aucoin.

I can't sit here and say that he was directly responsible for any defensive lapses but according to the scoresheet he was out there for most of the goals against.  And generally, in most defensive schemes...including the Bears', the center is expected to help the defensemen down low.  Whether Aucoin was doing that or not is something I can't say with certainty, but the odds are against him.

Holtby did what he could and for a long stretch he actually kept the team in the lead (game) to be honest.  The Admirals came out firing in the 2nd period with Braden making multiple big saves.  Even in the 3rd period he made some key saves...just not enough.

These lackluster 2nd and 3rd periods are beginning to be troublesome for the Bears.  Or so it would initial look at the stats doesn't look too terrible...

Goals Scored Per Period:

Hershey - 43
Opponent - 22

Hershey - 32
Opponent - 24

Hershey - 30
Opponent - 35

Prior to last night Hershey was even with their opposition in the 3rd period.  Then they gave up 5.

Overall...not as bad as I was expecting to be honest.

And the records aren't terrible either...

When leading after the 1st period Hershey is 12-2-2-1.  No team in the league has more wins or more points when they take a lead into the first intermission.

When leading after the 2nd period Hershey is even better....14-2-1-0.  Again, no team in the league is better in wins or points.

So, do the Bears 2nd and 3rd period struggles even exist?  Are they actually doing fine and it just seems like things are going downhill over the last 40 minutes?

The initial statistical review suggested that it is a misconception.  They have managed to hold their first period leads in the majority of games this season.

But a deeper look at the statistics shows that there is a problem here. 

First up...record when scoring first.  Hershey has scored the first goal 23 times this season...out of only 29 games.  That is 4 more than the next closest team in the league. 

That's great!  And Hershey is 13-5-3-2 in those games.  Again...the 13 wins is good...tied for most in the league.

But that is only 31 points in games they have scored first in.  That is a points percentage of .674.

That ranks 21st in the league.  20 teams are better than the Bears when scoring first.


So yes, there is a problem.

Oh, and it gets worse.

In games where Hershey is either tied or trails after the first period the Bears are a combined 4-6-1-1.  There are ZERO teams with fewer wins in that situation.  That means there are 29 that have more wins when tied or trailing after 1 period than the Bears.

To give the Bears a positive here...they have only been trailing after 1 period 3 times this year.  That is tied for fewest in the league.

Unfortunately that only brings us to their record after 2 periods...

When trailing or tied after the 2nd period the Bears are only 2-6-2-2.

2 wins.  Only 2 teams have fewer...Chicago and Rockford (they each only have 1 win).

If you combine the two (which likely combines games as teams may trail for an entire game but lets do it anyway) the Bears are a combined 6-12-3-3 when tied or trailing after the 1st and/or 2nd period.  There is 1 team with fewer wins...Chicago.

And when I say that Hershey is trailing in this category, I don't mean by 1, 2, or even 3 wins.  No, there are multiple teams with 20 wins in these situations.  That is 14 more than the Bears.  Norfolk has 19 wins.  Binghamton...the Eastern Conference bottom dwellers...has 13 wins...7 more than Hershey.

So yes, there is a problem with Hershey's performances in the 2nd and 3rd periods.  Generally speaking though, the performance we saw last night was an aberration and not part of this more complex problem.

Either the Bears 1st period scoring margin, currently a +21, needs to grow even higher or the Bears better start figuring out how to buckle down and protect leads or come back from deficits.

My guess...Calder Cup Champions do not have records like this.  In the playoffs the Calder Cup Champ will have to overcome deficits, squeek out close games (Hershey is only 7-3-3-2 in 1 goal games), and hold on to leads once they get them.

Right now the Bears do one thing well.  They score early and often (tied for 2nd in the league in goals scored).

It's time for the Bears to begin scoring when the game reaches its critical moments.  1st period goals are great.  3rd period goals are better. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bears Take 2 of 3 Last Weekend

The Bears started the weekend off pretty well...picking up a 5-3 regulation victory in Hartford against the Connecticut Whale. 

Then things went downhill for a bit.  They hosted the Baby Pens, who didn't have to travel the night before, to Giant Center and they subsequently defeated the Bears 4-2. 

The 4-2 score makes it seem closer than it probably was.  (I was unable to attend so I am going off of the score sheet and what I heard from a couple people).  The Bears controlled the play for the first period and then took a 1-0 lead about midway through the 2nd period.

And that's when the Bears momentum ended and the Pens started.  Over the next 12-13 minutes of game action, end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd, the Baby Pens scored 3 goals.  They added an empty netter with about 2 minutes to play to make it 4-1.  The Bears scored with 40 seconds to go to make it seem like a close game at the end.

So, Wilkes-Barre continues there dominance of Hershey in Central PA.  More on that in a minute.

But Sunday saw the Bears rebound to pick up a 6-3 win over the Norfolk Admirals.  Hershey scored 3 goals on the power play (6 chances) and picked up an empty net goal late to preserve the win. 

Again, the final score doesn't tell the whole story.  Hershey scored 4 in the first period and then Norfolk started playing better hockey.  At the end of the 2nd it was 4-3 Bears and most people in attendance (myself included) would tell you that the outcome was still in doubt.  It was again looking like a strong 1st period would be spoiled by weak 2nd and 3rd periods.

However, Tomas Kundratek (more on him soon) picked up his 4th of the season about 5 minutes into the 3rd and from then on there was little (less anyways) question as to who would win this one. 

Norfolk managed only 6 shots in the 3rd period in what was perhaps Hershey's best late game performance this season.

After the weekend the Bears sit 2 points behind the Baby Pens with one game in hand on the flightless water-fowl.  And 2 games coming up against them in a couple of weeks.

Unfortunately one of those games is in Hershey (12/28 if you were curious).  The Bears have not beaten the Baby Penguins on Giant Center ice since March 27, 2010.  That is the end of the 2009-2010 season when the Bears lost a total of 6 home games all season.

Wilkes-Barre and Hershey have faced off 8 times in Hershey since that game.  The Bears are 0-6-2-0 in those games and have been outscored 34-17. 

The Pens have failed to score less than 4 goals only twice in the last 8 at Giant Center.  One was this year, the first meeting at GC back in October, and the other was a game last spring that went to overtime.

The Bears have failed to score more than 2 goals a whopping 6 times.  They scored 4 earlier this season in an overtime loss and managed 3 in one game last spring.

That is fairly impressive domination. 

Another note about this weekends games...

I mentioned before that Tomas Kundratek scored his 4th of the season on Sunday.  With the Whale he played in only 7 games and recorded a measly 2 assists to start the season.  Since joining Hershey he has played in 11 games and has 4 goals and 2 assists.  Not too bad for a 3rd pairing defenseman.

Francois Bouchard, who was traded to Connecticut for Kundratek, has 2 goals and 2 assists in 14 games with his new team. 

I think most in Hershey felt good about the trade considering Bouch's lack of production last season, but how many really expected Kundratek to actually be outscoring him a month later?

Bears get yet another 3 in 3 this upcoming weekend with games against Norfolk (Friday and Sunday) and Bridgeport.  More coming later this week.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

4 Straight Wins...Baby Pens in Town

For the first time in 2011-12 and the first time since last January the Bears have won 4 straight games. 

For the first 33 minutes of the game last night there were 0 goals.  In the final 27 minutes there were 8 goals.  Fortunately 5 of them were scored by Bears.

Hershey scored 4 straight to open the scoring (2 in the 2nd, 2 in the 3rd) and had a 4-0 lead halfway through the 3rd period.  And then things started to get a little more interesting.  The Whale scored 3 goals in a 5:30 span to make it a 4-3 game with just over 3 minutes to play.

The Bears hung on and added an empty netter with 1 second left to preserve the victory. 

The win moves the Bears into first place in the East division as they are now tied with Wilkes-Barre and Norfolk with 31 points.  The Bears hold the current tiebreaker as they have gotten to 31 in 1 fewer game. 

Lucky for Hershey they can stake overall claim to the number 1 spot in the division with 2 more victories this weekend.

Tonight the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins come to Giant Center.  It is sure to be a physical and intense game.  The last time the teams played the Bears left Wilkes-Barre Township with a 3-2 shootout victory after a postgame celebration that ended in a standoff between the teams.

The Pens didn't play last night so they are rested and ready for the Bears.  But this isn't the same Penguins team that was tearing up the AHL back in October/November.  During one stretch earlier they had won 8 games in a row which included 3 wins against the Bears.

Since that run ended though they are 4-5-0-3.  Their typical stellar defensive play and goaltending has been slightly lackluster and the offense just hasn't been there.  They have given up 4+ goals 5 times in that stretch and have failed to score at least 3 goals a total of 6 times. 

This will be the 6th meeting of the season with 6 more to come including 2 more this month.  So far the Pens control the season series having won 3 of the contests to the Bears 2. 

Should be a good one in Hershey tonight.  

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bears Begin a Tough Stretch This Weekend

I just had a great post written.  It had a look at the upcoming schedule and in-depth team previews for the games coming up this weekend. 

And then it disappeared.  Gone.  No trace of it.

So, instead you get this...

The Bears have their second 3 in 3 in as many weekends beginning tonight in Hartford against the Whale.  The Bears then return home for dates against Wilkes-Barre and Norfolk.

In fact this is just the beginning for the Bears.  Before the calendar turns to 2012 the Bears will play 10 more games.  8 are against teams currently ahead of them or tied with them in the standings.  Tonight's game, 3 against Wilkes-Barre, and 4 against Norfolk. 

In addition to that the 2 "easier" games are against Bridgeport and Syracuse.  2 teams that have beat the Bears within the past month. 

7 of the games are on home ice.  Which, one would think, should be a good thing.  Except the Bears are only 5-3-2-1 at home this season.  Total up the losses and that is below .500 (5-6). 

Last weekend was a good start for the Bears.  They picked up 3 wins and are now in the midst of only their 2nd 3 game winning streak of the season.  The last one?  The first 3 games of the season.

This will be a telling 3 week stretch for the Bears.


There, that's all you get.  I had so much good stuff in that post too.  Check back later today, tomorrow and/or Sunday...if I have time I will type up some new posts with that information.

Monday, December 5, 2011

3 games, 3 cities, 3 nights...3 wins

That was an impressive weekend of hockey from the Hershey Bears.  On Friday they were in 3rd place in the East division...4 points out of first.

Today, they are leading the division, albeit tied in points with Wilkes-Barre and Norfolk. 

In 3 games the Bears allowed 4 goals and scored 14.  They out shot the opposition 115-82.

The power play went an amazing 4 for 9 on the weekend.  That's 44.4%.  Impressive.

Even better...the penalty kill successfully killed off 16 of 17 chances.  94.1%.

The goalies played great.  The defense was stellar.  And the

The move the coaching staff made heading into the weekend (Mink down to the 3rd line) definitely paid dividends. 

Matt Pope showed that he can produce at this level with 2 goals and 2 assists on the weekend.  Ryan Potulny showed that he was a great addition this offseason and is back healthy from early season surgery with 2 goals and 3 assists.  Matt Ford, also back from injury, scored 2 and added 2 assists.  And Jacob Micflikier, who hadn't scored since November 11 finally got back in the goal column with 1 on Sunday and also added 3 assists. 

And that was just the 2nd and 3rd lines.

Keith Aucoin had 2 goals and 4 assists on the weekend and Chris Bourque had 4 assists and has extended his points streak to 11 games.

From 4th to 1st in the division and from 8th to 3rd in the conference (3 points out of first) in one weekend.  That was productive.

Next up is a true test though.  Another 3 in 3 with games against Connecticut (2nd in the conference), Wilkes-Barre, and Norfolk. 

This past weekend was great.  This upcoming weekend will be the true gauge to show where the Bears are right now.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Weekend Preview: Bears get 3 in 3

This weekend the Bears get 3 games in 3 nights for the first time since the last weekends of October.  And they better get used to them as they have them the following 2 weekends as well.

Yesterday I talked about the goalie issues surrounding this team right now which are obviously making it hard for this team to win on a consistent basis. 

Even with that being considered though the Bears are in decent shape.  Remember...I said DECENT.

The Situation:  Hershey currently sits in 8th position in the Eastern Conference...a playoff spot. 

The Good News:  They are only 4 points back from 1st in the division and only 5 points back from the top spot in the Conference.

The Bad News:  They are only 7 points from being in dead last in the division/conference.

This weekend is a good chance to start moving up and stop the downward slide they have found themselves in since their first 3 in 3.  They had managed 11 points in 7 games heading into their first 3 in 3 of the season.  Since then they have lost 9 games and won 4, earning 12 of a possible 26 points. 

Not good.

Tonight they visit Syracuse...a team below them in the standings.  A team they destroyed 7-0 back in October and a team they took to a shootout just a couple weeks ago.  This is a game the Bears SHOULD win.

Tomorrow night they welcome Portland...a team below them in the standings.  A team that is playing very well right now.  They have collected at least a point in 7 straight games and have won 6 of them.  This is a game that teams with Calder Cup aspirations SHOULD win.

Sunday they visit Bridgeport (at 3 in the freaking afternoon)...a team directly ahead of them in the standings.  A team that has only one twice in their last 6 games.  A team that only has a 5-4-2-0 record on home ice.  This is a game the Bears SHOULD get a point in.  (seriously...traveling 4 hours after a 7:00 game for a 3:00 game on the back end of a 3 in 3...getting a point would be a win)

So at the end of the weekend the Bears should be sitting with at least 28 points and in a better position then they entered it. 

We shall see.

If you are watching, listening, or attending the games this weekend here are some names to keep in mind.  (oh and the Bridgeport game will be on TV if you get the channels...I do not).

For Hershey:

For the Connecticut game this past week Matt Ford took Boyd Kane's place on the top line and I was excited to see how it would work out going forward.  Well, Kane is back on the top line and Ford is back to the second line. 

Graham Mink was moved to the 3rd line in an attempt to balance out the scoring from the top two lines.  I like the shuffling and the trying to get more offense but I think the wrong guys are being moved.  But I will wait until after the weekend to pass too much judgement.

Keith Aucoin has 9 assists...9! his last 4 games.  Nice.

Chris Bourque has a point in 8 straight games, collecting 5 goals and 9 assists in those contests.

The player I am most looking forward to seeing is Matt Pope.  He was brought back on his pro tryout after Sjogren took his ball and went back to Sweden.  Down in South Carolina he has 7 goals and 12 assists in 15 games...he should be able to produce something in Hershey if given the opportunity.

And of course there are the goalies, which I discussed yesterday.  Dany Sabourin is expected to get the start tonight, Braden Holtby tomorrow, and then Sunday's starter is TBD but I would suspect Sabourin considering the travel scenario.

For Syracuse:

Kyle Palmeiri (12-6-18) and Patrick Maroon (8-11-19) are the leading scorers for the Crunch.

Nick Bonino has a 5 game point streak in which he has 3 goals and 4 assists.

Rookie Peter Holland has 2 goals and 4 assists in his last 3 games.

Jean-Francois Jacques has 2 goals and 2 assists in his last 3 games.

For Portland:

Dean Arsene will make his triumphant return to Giant Center on Saturday night.  This will be Deano's first game back in Hershey since departing after the 2008-09 season.  It will be good to see him and I am sure the crowd will show their appreciation during introductions.

Andy Miele is the AHL's top rookie for November and team leading scorer with 7 goals and 13 assists on the season.  In November he had 4g and 9a in only 10 games.  2 goals and 3 assists have come in his last 2 games.

Matt Watkins has 3 goals and 4 assists in his last 4 games.

For Bridgeport:

Tim Wallace is the team leader in points (9-9-18) and had all 9 of his goals during the month of November...including 5 goals in his last 5 games.

Rookie Scott Howes has only played in 4 games for the Sound Tigers but he has 3 goals and an assist in those games.

Enjoy the games...


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bears Goaltending Woes

The Bears have 3 games in 3 nights in 3 cities this weekend.  They start off the weekend tomorrow night in Syracuse, return home for a Saturday tilt against Portland, before finishing the weekend in Bridgeport at 3:00pm.

While injuries, recalls, and departures have surely had an affect on the Bears this season the biggest storyline has been the goaltending.  Back in the summer I figured that goaltending would be a question mark for the Bears this season...come playoff time, NOT the regular season.

But here we are, a quarter of the way through the season and the goalies have the current numbers:

Braden Holtby -
5-5-1 | 2.71 gaa | .889 save %

Dany Sabourin -
4-4-1 | 3.21 gaa | .897 save %

Just to clarify how odd those numbers are...consider their career numbers (entering this season):

Holtby -
42-18-4 | 2.30 gaa | .918 save %

Sabourin -
78-57-6 | 2.53 gaa | .915 save %

Even last years numbers could be looked at:

Holtby -
17-10-2 | 2.29 gaa | .920 save %

Sabourin -
14-9-0 | 2.45 gaa | .908 save %

So what seems to be troubling the goaltenders this season? 

Last week I had the notion that maybe splitting time evenly between the two was causing some problems.  The general opinion about goaltenders is the more work they get, the better they are.  Since Coach French has decided to alternate games with the goalies this year, neither can truly get in a rhythm and stand out.

So I looked at last years stats...comparing the times when each goalie was the undisputed #1 and a stretch where they alternated just about every game.  (I count any 3 game stretch as undisputed #1 territory).

As the #1 goalie:

Holtby -
7-3-1 | 2.95 gaa | .904 save %

Sabourin -
7-4-0 | 2.57 gaa | .914 save %

Solid win-loss record but average to below average measurables. 

Now, splitting the opportunities (happened from the end of November through January...some times the guys got 2-3 straight but both were healthy and mostly split games evenly):

Holtby -
6-5-1 | 1.80 gaa | .937 save %

Sabourin -
7-3-0 | 2.30 gaa | .912 save %

Pretty similar win-loss record, but a significant improvement in the measurables.

So, apparently that theory is toast.  These goalies play better when they are alternating then when they are given the #1 role to themselves. 

So, any other theories?

How about this one since it seems to come up from time to time.  Holtby is pissed about being in Hershey after he played so well for the Caps last season. 

Possibly, but I am not convinced.  Last season he had 3 or 4 separate callups that resulted in playing time.  2 of them were extended (3 or more games played) and one of those came in November 2010.  He played fine after that...1.80 gaa and .937 save percentage in the 2 months after he returned.

The talk intensified after his callups in March when he went 6-0-0 with a 1.03 gaa and a .962 save percentage for the Caps.  But even after that he was solid after his return from that in April, until the playoffs of course.

No, the defining mark for Braden seems to be February 1, 2011.  Remember that he injured himself shortly before the All-Star break at the end of January and missed some time after it...

From the start of the 2010-11 season until 2/1/11 -
12-5-2 | 1.76 gaa | .938 save %

From 2/1/11 until now (including playoffs) -
12-14-1 | 3.03 gaa | .888 save %

Now that doesn't speak to everything as he was pretty good for the Capitals in March of last year as I mentioned above.

So, is it possible that Braden is still suffering some effects of the injury that held him out then?  I would say it is possible.  He didn't play in the All-Star event and only played 3 games from 2/1/11 - 3/7/11.  And that just happens to be his worst extended stretch of recent memory...he won 2 of the games but offered up a paltry 3.57 gaa and a .876 save percentage.

Sure, he rebounded with the Caps for a short while but he came crashing back to earth for the Bears after that.

It has been about 10 months since the injury so I won't put too much faith in that theory but it isn't out of the question.

But that doesn't help explain Sabourin's rough start...oh wait...yes it does.  Remember that around the same time (mid-January) Sabourin had his ligaments torn up thanks to pest Louis Robitaille taking him out in a game.  He had reconstructive surgery and missed the rest of the season and a good chunk of his off-season as well.

And remember that many athletes who have serious knee injuries can take a year or two to completely recover physically and MENTALLY from that type of injury.  Playing goalie is already hard on the there any possibility that it is affecting his game right now...I think so.

So, both goalies suffered injuries last January (I don't think Holtby's was never confirmed but I believe it was a knee as well) and both have played questionable since then.  Hmmm.....

But what about one more theory...that the Hershey defense hasn't quite been up to par lately.

I think the numbers do kind of support that.  And I can assure you that watching some of the games this season supports that.

This season is a bit more easy to understand.  Recently all Bears teams have had a somewhat slow, positionally sound, veteran presence on the blueline.  For years it was Dean Arsene, then it was Bryan Helmer and Greg Amadio.  Last season it was Lawrence Nycholat and Brian Fahey. 

Except you know what happened around the end of January of 2011?  Nycholat went out with an injury and only played one more game (in the playoffs) the rest of the season.

More than likely the ailment currently hindering the Bears goaltenders is a compilation of the above items and possibly others.  I don't think the questionable defense can be overstated and the injuries from last season seem to fit the timeline of good/bad play.  But in the end only one thing is certain...something is wrong and it needs fixed.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bears Go 2-2; Sjogren Goes Home

Last night the Bears finished their 4 games in 7 nights stretch around the Thanksgiving holiday.  It started out well enough with a win over Providence last Wednesday night and then a tough shootout win over Wilkes-Barre on Friday night.

And then it went down hill. 

Saturdays game ended with a 5-4 loss as the Bears blew a 2 goal lead and couldn't hold on after tying the game late in the 3rd.  Then last night they lost 4-2 (one empty netter) after again tying the game at 2 with less than 10 minutes to go.

These good starts and late game collapses are beginning to become the norm this year.  The Bears have outscored their opponents 30-17 in the first period so far this season.  But in the 2nd period they are being outscored 18-20 and in the 3rd it is 18-21. 

It doesn't look that bad and in all honesty it isn't the worst in the league.  But it needs to get better.  Norfolk is currently a +14 in the 3rd period (32 for, only 18 against).  Wilkes-Barre is actually worse than Hershey in the 3rd (-5), but they are a +13 in the 2nd (28-15) to make up for it.

The Bears are one of only 7 AHL teams to give up more goals than they score in both the 2nd and 3rd periods.  The other teams...Grand Rapids, Hamilton (-16 in the 3rd), Lake Erie, Providence, San Antonio, and Texas.  Now take a look at the standings and see where those teams are...NONE of those other teams would be in the playoffs as of right now.  And the Bears would be the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference...barely.

Coach French tried to shuffle up the lines last night in an effort to get some more offense, moving Matt Ford to the top line in place of Boyd Kane.  Kane was the veteran scratch last night and didn't make the trip to Connecticut.  Which is kind of a shame considering he must have been well rested after earning 53 penalty minutes over the course of the 2 previous games.

I like the effort to adjust the lines.  While I am not certain that was the right move to make I am looking forward to seeing how the adjustment works after a few games together.  So hopefully French leaves the changes in place now.

And he will have to make more line adjustments as well.  Mattias Sjogren has decided to return to Sweden to play hockey.  Can't say as though I blame him, but it is unfortunate.  Supposedly, according to his agent, he was told that he would only spend a few games (if any) in Hershey.  Yet his performance has left a decent amount to be desired (in my opinion) and he wasn't likely to get recalled anytime soon.  Returning to your home country to make much more money seems like a simple decision and hopefully things work out for him.

As for the Bears, they recalled Matt Pope again after just releasing him from his tryout contract a couple days ago.  Sjogren wasn't pulling down time on the top lines or that many minutes at all so it isn't a huge replacement to make, but it is another body down.

With Kyle Greentree still sidelined, Cody Eakin still in Washington, and now Sjogren returning to Sweden, this Bears team is down a full line from their projected lineup at the beginning of the season.  Add to that Dmitry Orlov who is also still in Washington (and earning some power play time from new coach Dale Hunter).

We were all expecting a deep and talented team that would rival any AHL team in 2011-12 and we haven't had a chance to see it just yet.  With the coaching change in Washington there is no telling what the plan is for Eakin or Orlov.  John Erskine just returned to the lineup and Mike Green is expected to return sooner than later so one would think Orlov would be on his way back at some point.  Eakin is a tougher call as I think he would be exactly what Hunter is looking for in a player...someone that shows up to work every single game and puts in 100% effort no matter what the situation.  Once (if) Jay Beagle is ready to return one would think that there is less reason to keep Eakin up there, but who knows.

The Bears, like any other team, needs to adjust on the fly.  So far, they haven't done so. 

This weekend presents another opportunity for them though.  3 games in 3 nights...2 of which are against teams below Hershey in the standings (Syracuse and Portland). 

A quarter of the season is now over and there is reason to have legitimate concerns about this team.  Fortunately there is still time to remedy the problems and alleviate any and all concerns. 

But that time frame shrinks with every game.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

GameDay Preview: Bears vs Bruins

This will be the first (and maybe only) weekend where Bears fans truly feel the effects of the shorter/longer/revamped AHL schedule.  In years past the Bears would play 4 games in 5 nights around Thanksgiving with home games the Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday and a road game Friday night.  Honestly I was hoping they would keep the 3 home games and do away with the Friday road game but they did not for 2011-12.

Instead the Bears will play 4 games in 7 nights as they travel to Connecticut on Tuesday.

Things have not been going well for the Bears of late though.  Their last win came 2 weeks ago on Wednesday the 9th when the beat Binghamton at home. 

In fact the Bears have only twice in their last 9 games...both against Binghamton at home. 

But I am feeling confident tonight.  I feel a win coming. 

Ryan Potulny and Matthew Ford are both expected back in the lineup tonight for the first time in a while.  Potulny hasn't played since the 2nd game of the season due to a sports hernia that he may have suffered last spring but never had looked at. 

Ford hasn't played since November 4th against the Pens.  He has 3 goals and 3 assists in 11 games played this season and his return will be very good for the teams offensive productivity.

Maybe the return of these players will mean DJ King will be a healthy scratch.  King was reassigned by the Capitals to Hershey because he and his agent wanted him to play more.  It is an understandable desire, but I wish it would have happened somewhere else. 

He has played in 5 games, dating back to the Binghamton win on the 9th, and is a -6 in those games including an embarrassing -4 against the Baby Pens back on the 11th.  If you take out the win over Binghamton he is -7 in his last 4 games. 

And last week I saw two separate incidents which make me question his motives in Hershey.  The first was after one of his penalties expired.  Typically guys come out of the box and if his line is not on the ice he skates to the bench for a change IMMEDIATELY (if the situation call for it). 

Last Saturday he came out of the box with the Bears possessing the puck in their own end with minimal rush from the Devils.  The Hanson-Micflikier-Mink line was on the ice...except for Mink.  So what did King do?  He stood at the blue line waiting for a pass and then proceeded to join the rush while Mink sat on the boards waiting for his change.  And yes Mink was up and waiting...this was not an instance when Coach French didn't call for the change.  King just didn't come to the bench.

The other incident was during a delayed penalty on the Devils.  Generally, watch for it tonight if you don't believe me, the Bears (or any team) will try to get their best offensive players on the ice if they have the opportunity.  Last Saturday Braden made it to the bench and the Bears possessed the puck in their own end and many players changed as the Rechlicz-Carroll-King line was on the ice.  Carroll and Wrecker went off...King stayed on. 

Obviously I am not on the bench (or near it to be honest) so I am not 100% certain that he isn't being told to stay out...but somehow I strongly doubt it.  It appears that King is of the mindset that he should be getting more minutes in Hershey as well and it is costing the Bears opportunities and games.

Up until this point injuries and recalls (Cody Eakin remains in does Dmitry Orlov) have forced the Bears to play guys they typically don't give regular minutes too.  With the return of Potulny and Ford tonight the Bears finally have enough healthy bodies where they don't have to do that. 

King is an enforcer...just like Rechlicz.  Except Joel has been the better player in that role this season in games with and without King.  If an enforcer is used I hope it is Wrecker with DJ King sitting up in the rafters. 

Either way it is likely that, at the most, only one of the two will be on the ice at Giant Center tonight.  Which is good news for the Bears and bad news for the Bruins.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Bears Drop 2 in Shootouts

The Bears entered this weekend having not participated in a shootout in the 2011-12 season to date.  They left the weekend 0-2 in shootouts.

Friday they lost to Syracuse in Syracuse.  Wasn't there, didn't watch, didn't listen.  Here are a couple links if you want more on that game:

Tim Leone
Sweetest Hockey on Earth

Saturdays game was back at Giant Center and I was unlucky enough to attend.  Just so we start this out right let me give you the facts:
  • Hershey lost 6-5 in the shootout to Albany,
  • Hershey took a 2-0 lead in the first 12 minutes,
  • Hershey came back from 1 goal deficits 3 times,
  • Hershey went 3 for 5 on the power play,
  • Hershey killed off 3 of 4 penalty kills,
  • Hershey finished with 33 shots...same as Albany.
Oh and Braden Holtby made 3 questionable plays in the first period (one led to a goal)...BUT HE WAS NOT TO BLAME FOR THE LOSS.

By the end of the game the crowd was "cheering" every time Braden made a save and yelling as soon as he touched the puck or, in some cases, even started to leave the crease.

For those of you not in attendance let me recap the 3 plays:
  1. Braden makes an ill-advised pass from the end line across his crease to a defenseman on the opposite goal resulted,
  2. Braden makes an ill-advised attempted clear up the middle and hits a Devil player in the goal resulted,
  3. Braden plays the puck behind the Bears net and gets trapped by two Devils forwards before turning it over...and the Devils scored.
The first two plays were bone-headed but he got lucky.  No harm done.

The last play was just unlucky.  Should he have cleared the puck faster?  Yes, I will agree with that.  But it wasn't like his defensemen were giving him anywhere to go with it.  They were standing damn near right beside him the entire time.  It was a bad play, but it did not decide the game.

From that point on it seemed the crowd was against Mr. Holtby.  The three goals that followed that sure didn't help.

But let's explore those for a second:
  1. Albany player skates down the wing throws a pass to the front and it is deflected in by a Devil's forward (Gelinas according to the score sheet), 
  2. Albany player skates down the wing (sound familiar yet) throws a pass to the front and it is deflected in by a Devil's forward (Bernier according to the score sheet),
  3. Albany player gets the puck beyond the end line and passes to a WIDE OPEN Tim Sestito standing at the tip of the goal crease. 
The first two were good plays by the Devils that could have been prevented, in my opinion, by a defenseman.  Had someone tied up the stick of those players they more than likely would not have scored.

And the last goal...unbelievable.  It wasn't even a penalty kill...nope this was 5 on 5 (read: everyone should be covered) hockey and the 2 defenseman on the ice at the time (McNeill and Wellar according to the score sheet) were honestly just standing on either side of Sestito.  Both could have touched him if they reached over there and yet neither did. 

To blame Holtby for any of those goals is ludicrous.  Two of them were impossible to stop tip ins that probably shouldn't have happened, but in truth they were both nice plays by Albany.  The last one...that was just plain poor defense. 

So while I know it is easy to blame a goalie when a team gives up 5 goals it was surely not all Braden's fault in this one. 

I have much more I want to say about the goaltending situation (among other things) in Hershey this season but I will save it for another day when I have more time.  Obviously the situation is lacking right now, but I have a theory that I want to look into before I offer an opinion.

In addition to that...there is a Wednesday game this week.  Preview coming soon.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Weekend Preview...Bears visit Crunch, host Devils

Last weekend was not a good one for the Bears as they dropped both games (one in OT) and looked a little lost on the ice. 

This weekend sees two more games in an attempt to right the ship and get the W-L record tilting in the right direction again. 

The Bears started the season 5-1-1-0.  That was almost a month ago now.  A increasingly distant memory.  In the 7 games since the Bears are only 2-3-2 and currently reside in 3rd place in the East Division.  Not exactly what many anticipated. 

But that's ok.  You don't win championships in November.  There is plenty of time to make up points and move back towards the top of the standings.

This weekend is a good chance to begin that move.

Friday night brings a trip up to Syracuse to face the 4th place Crunch.  Syracuse will be looking for some retribution after getting embarrassed 7-0 at Giant Center last month.  In fact, the Syracuse game was the 7th game of the season  and the 5th win before things started to unravel for the Bears.

Like the Bears, the Crunch has struggled since that game going 3-4-1-0 in their 8 games since their visit to Hershey.  At this point in the season neither team is where they want, or expected, to be in the standings.  The Crunch were thought to be a strong contender in the East Division, but have so far failed to meet expectations.

There is plenty of talent on the team though.  Four players are averaging over a point per game including Kyle Palmieri who has 9 goals in 9 games and Patrick Maroon who leads the team with 15 points in 13 games.

Goaltender Iiro Tarkki seems to have found his game since getting pulled in Hershey back in October.  Since then he has posted a 2.13 goals against average and a .931 save percentage while going 3-3-0 since then.  While it is no guarantee that Tarkki starts against the Bears it would seem to make sense to me to give the kid a chance to redeem himself.

The Bears will have to work hard for a victory against the Crunch.  Something they have struggled to do consistently of late.

Saturday night welcomes the Bears back to Giant Center against the Northeast Division leading Albany Devils.  This will be the 2nd of 4 meetings between the former East Division rivals in 2011-12.  Hershey won in Albany 4-1 back on October 21.

While the Crunch has struggled since the Bears beat them, the Devils have gone the opposite route.  They went into the first game against Hershey with a 1-4-0-0 record and pretty much played like that record against the Bears.

However, since that game the Devils are 7-1-1-1.  Surprisingly their only regulation loss during that stretch came against the bottom-dwelling Binghamton Senators.  Otherwise they have either won or at least gotten a point in every game they have played since losing at home to the Bears in October.

Now, while that is impressive let me rain on Albany's parade a bit...5 of those wins came on home ice.  Only 3 of their 10 games (and only 4 of their 16 overall) have been played on the road this season.  In those games they are only 2-2-0-0 with one of the wins coming in overtime.  On the road they have been outscored 12-7.

So this isn't an experienced road team at this point in the season.  Whether that means they are a bad road team or not remains to be seen since it is such a small sample size, but it is the perfect chance for Hershey to take advantage.

The Devils will not have played since last Sunday at game time Saturday night.  So, on one side of the argument they will be well rested and won't have traveled the night the Bears will have to do.  However, on the other side of the argument...they will possibly be a little reserved and a little rusty for the beginning of the game.

Either way the Bears need to be ready to play.  The Devils don't appear to have a "go-to" scorer, but they seem to have some decent balance.  Rookie Joe Whitney leads the team in goals, 5, and points, 10.  After that you have 10 guys with 2 or more goals and another 5 with 1. 

Back in October Jeff Frazee got the start in goal against the Bears.  His numbers on the season aren't exactly wonderful (3.10 gaa, .882 save %) and it would appear that the Devils are currently looking for someone else to step up.  Recently rookie Keith Kincaid has been the option in net.  He has started 4 of the last 6 games including 2 last weekend.  And he has been impressive in those games...going 3-1-0-0 with a 1.74 gaa and a .945 save percentage. 

For the Bears....

Dany Sabourin is expected to start in Syracuse with Braden Holtby getting the start Saturday at home.  Neither goalie has stood out at this point in the season, but neither has looked dreadful either.  One of them needs to step up and become the "number 1" option.

Defensively, it appears that Sean Collins is still injured and will not play this weekend.  Tomas Kundratek made his Hershey debut last weekend and looked pretty good for a guy who just joined the team and learned the system.  Expect to see familiar faces on the blue-line for the games this weekend. 

Offensively we all know who the big scorers are and they know that they need to do more.  But there are a couple of names that haven't been thought of in the offensive light so far this season that need to become more of a scoring threat. 

Mattias Sjogren has shown flashes of offensive brilliance but his 3rd/4th line role has prevented him from making that more consistent.  Similarly, Andrew Carroll has shown offensive flashes this year and in previous years, but his role as agitator and pest (which he does very well) has limited his offensive upside.  (Very similar to former Bear Steve Pinizzotto actually.)  And Matt Pope, just signed to a pro tryout contract (25 game deal that doesn't commit the Bears for any length of time), has been solid for South Carolina in the ECHL this season with 6 goals and 11 assists in only 13 games.

Typically when scorers get recalled from South Carolina there is some hesitation to give them too big a role in Hershey due to possible defensive limitations (do the names Travis Morin or Michael Dubuc ring any bells) so the jury is still out on how this will work.  However, Pope has played in the AHL before and has been featured in a more defensive role with those AHL teams.  In fact, he hasn't played regularly at the ECHL level since 08-09 and has been an AHL regular since then. 

Those 3 players, Carroll, Pope, and Sjogren now make up Hershey's third line and are expecting to bring a more offensive mindset to the game this weekend. 

I for one am excited to see a 3rd offensive line because the top two aren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard of late.

Should be two tough games this weekend for the Bears. But two games that they should (I repeat...SHOULD) win. We shall see if they can.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Bears Drop 2 at Home

2 home games...2 losses.  Sure, one of them came in OT but they were both losses nonetheless. 

First up, Bears vs Pens:

We can focus on the positives if we want to...
  • The game went to overtime...first time in 8 games the Pens even gave up 1 point,
  • The Bears scored 4 goals against a Pens team that had given up only 8 over the last 7 games total,
  • Hershey rallied from 1 goal deficits twice, and
  • Take out 30 seconds of the second period and Hershey wins by 1.
Or we can look at the negatives...
  • Hershey gave up 2 goals in the final 30 seconds of the second period,
  • Wilkes-Barre controlled the play from the opening faceoff,
  • A lack of hustle to the loose pucks, and
  • What appears to be an overall lack of communication on the ice.
Which would you prefer to look at?  Me, I feel like focusing on the negatives today. 

First of all you have to score when you come in 2 on none on the penalty kill, which the Bears did once.  If you are going to win games against teams as good as the Baby Pens you have to score on those.

And you can not give up goals at the end of periods.  Sure, from time to time you will give up a goal at the end of a period...even the Pens gave one up to the Bears at the end of the 1st period Friday night (although I think if thats the NHL it gets reviewed and overturned for coming after the period was over...just sayin).  But you can not give up 2 goals at that point.  That is embarassing effort by a team who's motto is "No Rest". 

While those non-goals and goals against were definitely huge points in the game, they aren't my biggest concern.
Anytime there was a loose puck the Penguins seemed to get to it.  Battles in the corner...the Pens won those.  Neutral zone play...controlled by the Pens.  I didn't think the Penguins controlled the puck the whole game, which is good, but they controlled the tempo and style of play with ease.

For long stretches it seemed like the Bears were all just standing around watching other players make plays...typically Penguin players. 

Which brings us to...communication.  Time after time it looked like Bears players were waiting for a teammate to get to a loose puck.  They didn't want to leave their position to get the puck because they thought someone else would. 

To me that is a simple breakdown in communication.  Considering the veterans on this team you would think this would be second nature.  Maybe it has to do with all the new faces but we are now 15 games into the season...if you haven't started talking to your teammates by now, when are you going to?
Are some of these things injury/recall related?  Maybe.  Kyle Greentree, Ryan Potulny, and Matthew Ford are all out with injuries while Cody Eakin remains in Washington.  That means increased roles for Joel Rechlicz, newcomer DJ King, Maxime Lacroix, and rookie Garrett Mitchell.  I am not suggesting that they can't handle it or don't deserve it, but when you continuously play with different players the first thing to diminish will be things like going after loose pucks and communication.

But that shouldn't be an excuse.  It should be resolved during practice.

It sure as hell didn't get any better by Sunday night...Bears vs Sound Tigers:

Last night the hustle was definitely better.  For the first 10 minutes and honestly for about 90% of the game the Bears controlled the play.  They were the team getting the loose pucks and they were controlling the play. 

The effort was definitely better.  (Which is good considering how much energy they must have had left after the poor effort on Friday).

But you know what I noticed...a lack of communication.  **In the interest of full disclosure, I sit in section 103 so I am no where near the bench to hear any discussion going on there (players yelling to teammates, coaches coaching, etc.).**

All night I heard the Sound Tigers last night.  All game long I heard players telling each other what was going on and where they were.  The Bears?  Didn't hear a peep.  And I am not that much closer to the Sound Tigers bench but you could hear them clearly from where I was sitting.

I am not saying the Bears weren't talking...I am sure there is some communication going on.  All I am saying is that it would appear that a bit more would be helpful.

You know what else would work...a change in the lineup.  I know that all problems can not be solved by changing the lines but I think these problems could be.

The key to setting your lines is to find the guys that work best together.  I don't attend practice so obviously the coaching staff sees more than I do.  On that level you have to assume that Coaches French and Mann have considered that in their line makeups.

The next thing you have to consider is roles.  Keith Aucoin is a playmaker, he is going to pass the puck 75% of the time.  Kyle Greentree is a shooter, he will shoot 75% of the time.  Boyd Kane and Graham Mink are grinders, their strategy is to get to the front of the net and cause havoc and get rebounds. 

In general, and in my own non-professional opinion, a line should be made up of a playmaker, a shooter/scorer, and a grinder.  This allows for goals from many different setups and actions.  Rebound goals are more likely because you have the grinder and the shooter while "pretty" goals are also likely with a playmaker and a shooter.

The problem with Hershey's lines right now is they aren't balanced.  Chris Bourque has a great slap-shot, but he isn't a pure scorer, he has always been more of a playmaker who would prefer to pass first and shoot later.  I think Jacob Micflikier is the best shooter/scorer on the team right now (Greentree would be up close but he is hurt).  My top line would be Micflikier, Aucoin, and Mink.  Move Bourque to the second line with Hanson and Kane or Mitchell. 

After that the big problem for the Bears is a lack of scorers/shooters.  As much as Francois Bouchard didn't earn the playing time, he was a shooter/scorer that could have played a bigger role with Greentree and Ford out with injuries.

In the end I didn't think the Bears played badly last night.  The lines just didn't click that well.  Shots from the outside were rarely getting through and their goalie, Anders Nilsson, is huge and clogged up the crease pretty well.  He did give up lots of rebounds but they are many times hard to corral.

Hershey should have won last night.  Friday night they were lucky to get a point.  Last night they were unlucky not getting some bounces. 

The injuries will eventually work themselves out.  Ford, Greentree, and Potulny will be back...some sooner than others, and will return to the lineup and help Hershey's depth and balance.  Until then the coaching staff needs to make the changes that will help this team win.  Having Bourque and Aucoin on the same line isn't working.  Bourque has 1 goal and 0 assists in his last 7 games.  You can't win with your top winger producing like that.

Obviously the offense isn't the only problem, but it's the only one that I think gets solved by a simple shuffling of players.  Defense...that's a topic for a different day.

This Bears team is still very talented.  They are built, like the 05-06 team, for the spring...lots of grinders and, hopefully, lots of ugly goals.  It is way too early to worry...but it is never to early to try different things and adjust on the fly to see what might work when the games are more important

Friday, November 11, 2011

GameDay Preview: Bears vs Baby Pens

Wow, it has been a while since I posted here.  The last two weeks have been something, between snow storms knocking out power, getting sick, and being incredibly busy at work I am glad the weekend is here.  Power is back on, I am getting healthy again, and the work load...well it's still there, but that's okay.

Lots has happened since I have posted so let's examine it a bit:

Cody Eakin was recalled to Washington. 

I watched most of his first game and he looked good for the Caps.  I was a bit surprised they called him up considering they didn't "need" him, but you knew it was coming at some point this season.  He will probably be back, depending on injuries to the Caps, but there is no telling when that will be.

DJ King is a Bear.

DJ wanted more playing time.  Simple as that.  The Caps tried placing him on waivers to see if anyone would steal him away but no one did.  For anyone who doesn't know...King has generally been a fighter/instigator in his career.  He is a veteran, but falls into the exempt veteran status (or whatever its called) in the 260-320 games played.  Same as Kyle Greentree.  So while Greentree is out there is no harm in him dressing for games.

Who knows what the long term intentions are.  My guess...they are hoping he showcases well so somebody picks up his contract and steals him on re-entry waivers.  If that doesn't could get interesting if he stays in Hershey as that would just add another body to worry about.

Francois Bouchard is gone.  Tomas Kundratek is a Bear.

I was somewhat surprised the Caps even tendered Bouch an offer this past summer.  His production had slipped badly last year and he had never come close to reaching his full potential.  Hopefully the change of scenery will do him good and get him refocused.  Being in an organization like Washington/Hershey can't help a lot of young guys feel they have a real shot.  Not the forwards anyways.

Kundratek comes over from the Connecticut Whale and is in only his 2nd pro season at the age of 21 (22 this December).  Hockey's pegs him as a solid puck moving, defensive defenseman with a good shot.  The suggestion from them is he could have an NHL future if he continues to progress and gets stronger.  There is some thought that he could develop like a Patrick McNeill for the organization.

Bears have struggled a bit of late.

Over the last 2 weeks the Bears have played a total of 5 games.  That is 10 possible points.  The Bears have 5...and 4 of them came against the Binghamton Senators. 

It isn't a terrible stretch, but I was expecting more consistency from this team this year.  The injuries and recalls have surely hurt though.  I think that stuff has kind of highlighted a glaring weakness in the organizational depth...not a whole lot of young offensive talent in the pipeline.  Sure there are a couple of Russian forwards that could make an impact down the road but that's about it. 

I guess I shouldn't be surprised as the same weakness was there last a point.  Last year some of the injuries were to the "young" prospects like Andrew Gordon and Steve Pinizzotto.  This year it is the veterans getting hurt (Kyle Greentree and Ryan Potulny) and there aren't any young kids to step in and take their place.  At least not many.

But I am getting off topic.  Hershey has started out the 2011-12 season eerily similar to how they completed the 2010-11 least in terms of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.  Last Friday the Bears traveled up 81 after having not played for a few days...and they got whooped 4-0 by the Baby Pens. 

That came on the heels off losses to Adirondack and Springfield the weekend before.  Luckily there were 2 games sandwiched in there against the Senators which the Bears swept (although the first one...a couple Sundays ago was a little close for comfort).  But they should win those games...the Senators are the 2nd worst team in the Eastern Conference right now.

The last time I posted here the Bears were 1st in the East Division.  Now they are 3rd.  Sure they are only 2 points out of first and they only played 5 games in 2 weeks but still. 

Something isn't clicking for this team right now.  I honestly haven't seen enough of them yet to place a finger on it but something isn't right. 

It's still early though.  12 games in...64 to go.  Plenty of time to right any problems.

So that's the last 2 weeks in a nutshell. about tonight's game.

The Baby Pens come back down to Hershey tonight for the 4th meeting between the clubs this season.  Wilkes-Barre won 3-1 in Hershey back on October 22 in the only other meeting at Giant Center in 2011-12.

Currently these are two teams on completely different paths.  The Baby Pens started out the season struggling and found themselves in the bottom half of the East Division standings for a little while, winning only once in their first 5 games.  But over their last 7 games they are perfect.  7-0-0-0.  That includes 2 victories over the Bears as well as the rest of the East Division. 

During this streak the Baby Pens have given up more than 2 goals just once.  All combined they have allowed 8 goals in 7 games with 2 shutouts.  And they have scored 25 over the same span.  They aren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard (less than 4 goals per game) but they didn't last year either.

Many people expected the Pens to struggle a bit more this year and to fall in the standings a bit.  Apparently goaltender Brad Thiessen didn't get the memo.  In 11 games this season, which includes the last 7 victories, he has allowed only 19 goals.  That is a 1.82 goals against average.  His save percentage is at .929. 

Those numbers are actually an improvement over his numbers from last year.  Pretty good goalie they have up there right now.

That doesn't mean they are without their problems though.  Especially coming into this game.  Eric Tangradi, their leading goal scorer (7 so far), was recalled to the Pittsburgh Penguins yesterday.  That leaves the Baby Pens without one of their go-to scorers.  Only 2 Pens players have more than 3 goals on the season (Bryan Lerg is the other with 6).  However, depth is their key as they have gotten goals from 15 different players, of which only 4 haven't scored at least 2.  The 2010-11 Pens also had considerable scoring depth.

This doesn't mean the Pens are the same team as last year.  And it doesn't mean this is the same Bears team which will be pushed around by their northerly neighbors.

Hershey boasts one of the best 1-2 goalie combinations in the league which includes Braden Holtby and his current 100+ minute shutout streak.  Now, from what I have seen Dany Sabourin is getting the start tonight so the shutout streak isn't really relevant.  Dany is the only Hershey goaltender to beat the Pens this year, but he was also pulled on the 4th after giving up 3 goals on 10 shots in Wilkes-Barre. 

Offensively the Bears probably have as much or more top end scoring talent even with the injuries to Potulny and Greentree.  3 different Bears find themselves in the top 12 of AHL scorers at this point in the season (Chris Bourque, Keith Aucoin, and Jacob Micflikier).  The Penguins can't match that.

If Hershey is going to compete with the Baby Pens tonight they will need to take advantage of the scoring depth and get some shots passed Thiessen.

Make no mistake...this is an important early season contest.  Yes, they play again in 2 weeks.  Yes, they play another 8 times after tonight.  But the Bears have struggled against average or better teams the past 2 weeks and need a good performance to get themselves for a number of very winnable games over the next 2 weeks.

Considering the Pens just put it to them last Friday I think they will be ready.


Hershey Bears

record ~ 7-3-2-0 | 16 points
standings ~ 3rd in East Division
most recent game ~ 3-0 Win vs Binghamton, 11/9
last 5 games ~ 2-2-1-0
home record ~ 3-1-1-0
goals for ~ 40
goals against ~ 31
home power play ~ 37.0% (2nd)
home penalty kill ~ 95.7% (2nd)

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
record ~ 8-2-1-1 | 18 points
standings ~ 1st in East Division
most recent game ~ 4-2 Win @ Norfolk, 11/9
last 5 games ~ 5-0-0-0
road record ~ 7-0-0-0
goals for ~ 40
goals against ~ 25
road power play ~18.2% (15th)
road penalty kill ~ 85.3% (9th)

last time teams met - This is the 4th of 12 meetings between the teams this season.  Hershey won the first in Wilkes-Barre but has lost the last 2.  Last Friday the Pens won 4-0 in Wilkes-Barre.

Players to watch:


LW Chris Bourque (17) - he still leads the team in goals (6) and is tied for 2nd in points (14) but after recording a point in the first 8 games he has failed to record another one since.  That is 4 games with no points.
C Keith Aucoin (11) - he has taken over the points lead as he now has 17 (3g, 14a) in 12 games.  He only has 1 goal (zero assists) against the Pens this season.
F Jacob Micflikier (18) - he is tied with Bourque for 2nd in points with 14 (5/9) but hasn't recorded a single point against the Pens this season.  He does, however, have 1 goal and 4 assists in his last 3 games.

F Brian Gibbons (9) - the rookie is tied for 3rd on the team in points with 10 (3/7).  2 of his 3 goals have come against the Bears and he has an assist against them too.
RW Colin McDonald (13) - tied with Gibbons for 3rd in scoring with 10 points (3/7).  He has also produced against the Bears scoring 1 adding 4 assists.  Half of his points have come in the 3 games against Hershey.
F Bryan Lerg (19) - he is the active leader in goals (6) and leads the team in points with 13.  Against Hershey he has 1 goal and 2 assists and is a +4 in the last 2 games.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Last week I was playing roller hockey and our team went up 7-2 or something like that just after halftime.  As expected, we let our guard down and started goofing around too much only to see the other team come back and get 3 goals to make it 7-5.  Luckily we steadied out and finished off with an 8-5 win.

It would appear last night that the Bears fell into a similar situation.  Midway through the 2nd period the Bears found themselves up 3-0 after goals by Chris Bourque, Garrett Mitchell, and Jacob Micflikier. 

And then they apparently stopped playing their game.  I am sure they weren't goofing around like we were, but over the next 30 minutes they gave up 3 power play goals and eventually lost in overtime 4-3 against the Springfield Falcons.

Obviously the Falcons had a plan and stuck with it.  I didn't see the game or listen to it but based on the game sheet you can gather that the Falcons were likely running Braden Holtby throughout the game.  He ended up with 2 roughing calls in the 3rd period.  The tying goal came on the 2nd one.

Overall the Falcons took advantage of the Bears miscues.  Hershey gave them 5 power plays (all after they opened up a 3-0 lead) and Springfield took advantage.

Now its on to Glens Falls to face off against the Adirondack Phantoms. 

The Phantoms are coming off consecutive home losses (to Norfolk and Connecticut) and are finishing up a brief 3 game home stand against the Bears tonight.

The baby Flyers are 5-3-0-1 on the season and are currently sitting in 2nd place in the Northeast Division with 11 points. 

Tonight is the first of 4 meetings between the recent division rivals with the next game coming outside at Citizens Bank Park on January 6th.  It will be different not seeing the Phantoms so much each season now that the clubs are in different divisions.

So far this season the Phantoms boast a solid offensive team.  They have scored the same number of goals as Hershey, 33, albeit in one additional game.  33 goals puts the teams tied for second in the AHL, behind only Norfolk's 40 goals.

Denis Hamel leads the team in goals, 7, and points, 11.  2 other players, Eric Wellwood, and rookie Harry Zolnierczyk (how the hell do you pronounce that) are averaging over a point per game as well.  Braydon Schenn was averaging 2 points a game but has since been recalled to Philadelphia.

Unfortunately for the Phantoms they have also allowed 28 goals on the season.  And that is somewhat surprising considering they have Michael Leighton and Jason Bacashihua in net.  Leighton has seen the majority of the action, playing in 7 games compared to 3 for Cash, but both guys are solid veterans.  Leighton got the start last night so I wouldn't be surprised if Cash is in net tonight to face the Bears.

At the opposite end, Dany Sabourin, will get his 4th start of the season, looking to go 4-0 on the young season. 

The Bears will surely be looking to return to Hershey with a win tonight.  Hopefully they can make it 3 straight home losses for the Phantoms.


Friday, October 28, 2011

GameDay Preview: Bears @ Springfield Falcons

The Hershey Bears are in Springfield, Mass tonight for the first game of another 3 games in 3 nights that will see them travel about 800 miles this weekend.  Tonight will be the Bears only game in Springfield for 2011-12, unless of course the teams meet in the postseason.  After tonight the Bears travel to Glens Falls, NY to face the Phantoms before returning home to Hershey for a Sunday evening matchup with the Senators.

Former Bears Andrew Joudrey and Alexandre Giroux are both members of the Springfield Falcons.  Although, Giroux has spent the majority of the season with the Columbus Blue Jackets.  He was on the opening night roster with Springfield and played in 2 games before getting recalled to the NHL.  He hasn't been back since and he has played in 5 games with one goal so far for the Jackets.  Joudrey has played in all 9 games for the Falcons and has one assist on the season. 

The Falcons have been a bit Jekll and Hyde this season.  They started the season going 3-2 with 21 goals for and 19 goals against.  But over their last 4 games they are only 1-3 and have scored a combined 4 goals.  They have done better defensively though, allowing only 10 goals in those games.

Who knows which team shows up this weekend. 

Goaltending was obviously a concern after the first few games and it was addressed.  The Falcons started the season with rookies Allen York and Paul Dainton as their netminders.  That didn't work out so well.  Manny Legace and Danny Taylor have started the last 5 games and have allowed a total of 13 goals in those 5.  Taylor is the star right now.  He has 3 starts, is 2-1, and boasts a 2.00 gaa and a .941 save percentage. 

Unfortunately for the Falcons the improved goaltending and defensive play hasn't translated to wins.  And that is possibly because of recalls to the NHL.  Giroux only played in 2 games before getting recalled, Cody Bass, the former Binghamton Senator, played in the first 5 games (when the team scored 21 goals) before getting recalled to Columbus, and defenseman John Moore played in the first 4 games before being recalled for a couple stints.

None of those players are back in Springfield as of right now. 

Hershey comes into the game having not played for 4+ days.  Not since they put up 7 on the Syracuse Crunch last Sunday evening at Giant Center.

But despite the time off, they still have injury concerns heading into the weekend. 

Due to an injury to Mike Green, defenseman Sean Collins was recalled by the Capitals and won't be available for the weekend as he traveled with the club on a road trip across Western Canada that runs into the weekend.  In response to that the Bears recalled Paul Baier from South Carolina.

Otherwise Graham Mink and Danny Richmond are all listed as day to day while Ryan Potulny and Kyle Greentree are listed as week to week at best.  None of those players are expected to travel with the team for the games this weekend.

The one thing you don't see here though is any goaltending injuries to discuss (quick...knock on wood).  Both goalies in Washington are healthy, which means both Dany Sabourin and Braden Holtby will be dressed in Chocolate and White this weekend.  Braden is expected to start tonight in Springfield with Sabourin getting the go tomorrow night.  As of now the Sunday starter is to be determined, but I would imagine Braden will get the start.

So far this season the Bears are 4-0-0-0 on the road while their opponent tonight is only 1-3-0-0 at home.  Just sayin'.

Hershey Bears

record ~ 5-1-1-0 | 11 points
standings ~ 1st in East Division
most recent game ~ 3-1 Loss vs Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 10/22
last 5 games ~ 3-1-1-0
road record ~ 4-0-0-0
goals for ~ 30
goals against ~ 19
power play ~ 34.2% (2nd)
penalty kill ~ 89.7% (5th)

Springfield Falcons
record ~ 4-5-0-0 | 8 points
standings ~ 3rd in Northeast Division
most recent game ~ 2-1 Win @ Manchester, 10/26
last 5 games ~ 2-3-0-0
home record ~ 1-3-0-0
goals for ~ 25
goals against ~ 29
power play ~15.2% (20th)
penalty kill ~ 80.4% (17th)

last time teams met - This is the first of 2 meetings between the teams this season.  The Falcons will visit Giant Center on March 4, 2012.

Players to watch:


LW Chris Bourque (17) - he continues to lead the team in goals (5) and points (13) and is tied for the team lead in assists now too (8).  He has recorded a point in every game so far this season.
RW Matthew Ford (23) - he wasn't at practice Thursday but is expected to meet the team in Springfield today.  He is expected to take Mink's top line spot so he may benefit from playing with Bourque and Aucoin and expand on his 3 goals and 2 assists.
F Jacob Micflikier (18) - he started out slow (kind of) as he didn't register a point in the first 2 games.  Since then (5 games) he has 3 goals and 5 assists.


LW Nick Drazenovic (10) - leads the team in assists (8) and points (10).  He also has 2 goals this season.  9 of his 10 points came in the first 5 games of the season.
C Martin St. Pierre (39) - leads the team in goals (4) and is second in points (7).  He has scored in each of the last 2 games.
LW Dane Byers (34) - tied for second on the team in goals with 3.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Bears Handle Crunch

At one point in the 2nd period I looked up at the scoreboard and saw Hershey, Shots - 14.

The score was 5-0 Bears at that point.  It was that kind of night.

The game finished up 7-0 Hershey as the Bears picked up their first shutout of the season and their first until late January of last season. 

It started out close as the Bears were up only 2-0 at the end of the first and the Crunch had actually outshot the Bears 11-7 at that point.  The 2nd goal came with less than 4 seconds remaining in the period and it seemed to be a critical point for the Crunch last night. 

Seven different Bears scored goals last night.  Dmitry Orlov, Julien Brouillette, and Mattias Sjogren all picked up their first goals of the season (it was Sjogren's first North American goal) while Jacob Micflikier, Keith Aucoin, and Christian Hanson picked up their 3rd goals of the season and Chris Bourque scored his team leading 5th.

Bourque, Micflikier, and Brouillette also added 2 assists, as did Cody Eakin.  And while Andrew Carroll only recorded an assist it was his attempting to fight an entire line of Crunch players that endeared him to the crowd last night.  Midway through the 2nd there was a minor scuffle behind the Bears net after a whistle and I am pretty sure that Carroll managed to punch all 5 Crunch players.  It was impressive.

As for the rest of the game, once that first period ended there seemed to be little the Bears could do wrong and little the Crunch could do right.  Penalties, turnovers, and questionable goaltending doomed Syracuse over the final 40 minutes. 

The Bears had 6 power play opportunities (all in the final 40 minutes) and they converted 4 of those.  In turn they gave the Crunch 7 power plays and kept them from scoring on all of them (obviously).

It was good to see this type of performance from the Bears after the game Saturday night.  I know that the Crunch aren't the Baby Pens, at least in terms of rivalry, but they are a good team.  Kyle Palmieri, Patrick Maroon, and Nick Bonino came into the game with 13 goals in only 5 games this season.  Hershey held them to zero. 

Dany Sabourin was a big reason why.  He got the start in goal after being reassigned by the Capitals earlier in the day.  He faced 36 shots and stopped them all.  While I wouldn't say it was a particularly hard night for Dany, many of the saves he made were important and impressive. 

Overall the Bears, as a team, played very well.  Considering they came into the game winless at home this season it was good to finally see a (mostly) complete effort from the team. 

But don't let last night fool you.  Just like the Caps 7-1 win over Detroit on Saturday night is an indication on how good the Red Wings are, last night does not mean the Crunch are an easy opponent.  They will be good this year and I expect the remaining 5 games between the clubs to be very good games between two very talented teams.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

GameDay Preview: Bears vs Crunch

Well last night sucked.  It felt just like 2010-11 as the Baby Pens came into Hershey, controlled the play, and left with a solid victory. 

Hershey couldn't solve Pens goalie Brad Thiessen, 27 saves, until late in the 3rd period when the game was pretty much over.  The Pens solved Braden Holtby early as they scored 3 times in the first 31 minutes on their way to a 3-1 victory.

Considering the Bears couldn't beat the Penguins on home ice last year it was a tough game to watch.  Hershey did manage two victories over the Pens in 2010-11 but both came on the road (one in Pittsburgh and another in Wilkes-Barre). 

Boyd Kane picked up the lone Bears goal on a night that all in Hershey are hoping to not see again. 

But enough about last night...what's done is done.  Let's turn our focus to tonight's tilt against the Syracuse Crunch.  By the end of the season the Crunch could be Hershey's biggest obstacle to an East Division crown.

Last season the Crunch finished 6th in the East Division, 15 points out of the final playoff spot.  Last season the Crunch struggled to both score goals (2.71 per game, 24th in AHL) and keep them out of their own net (3.11 per game, 23rd).

They were a young team last season when 4 rookies finished in the top 6 in team scoring.  Many of those players and some additional youngsters are expected to take the next step.

Kyle Palmieri, Nicolas Deschamps, and Nick Bonino were rookies in 2010-11 and all finished in the top 5 in scoring on the team.  Peter Holland and Rick Schofield were late season additions after juniors and college, respectively, who both produced while in Syracuse.  Holland had 3 goals and 3 assists in his 3 games while Schofield had 3 goals and 4 assists in 7 games.  Add to that group rookie Kevin King, a teammate of Cody Eakin's last season with Kootenay, and you have a very young lineup ready to make some noise.

Patrick Maroon is also on the team.  And surprisingly he is still just a young prospect.  It feels like he has been around for years, but while he is already in his 4th AHL season he is only 23 years old as he was drafted out of the NAHL and not a CHL league making him AHL eligible immediately.  Maroon, after coming over from the Phantoms early in the season, scored 21 goals and added 27 assists in 58 games last year.

Add to that Dan Sexton, 9 goals and 8 assists in only 17 games, and Matt Beleskey, 11 goals and 13 assists in only 27 games, and you have another group of players that only spent partial seasons in Syracuse but are definitely offensive forces.

And they didn't rest on these players in the offseason either.  They added veterans Mark Bell, a former 25 goal scorer in the NHL, Nathan Smith, Troy Bodie, and Jean-Francois Jacques to an already deep forwards core.

Defensively they also added pieces...and good ones. 

Kyle Cumiskey, the NHL veteran, Bryan Rodney, Charlotte's captain last year, and Mathieu Carle, from Hamilton, were all brought in to the fold.  They join young Mat Clark and veteran Nate Guenin to make a fairly formidable blue line.

Goaltending is probably the biggest question mark for this team.  Last season Jean-Philippe Levasseur and Timo Pielmeier manned the pipes for most of the season.  Neither goalie had a goals against average under 3 and their save percentages were barely over .900.

Enter Iiro Tarkki and Jeff Drouin-Deslaurius for 2011-12.  Last season Tarkki spent the season playing in the Finnish Elite League and compiled a 22-22-9 record, a 2.44 gaa, and a .919 save percentage in 58 games.  Drouin-Deslaurius was in Oklahoma City, going 17-13-4 with a 2.81 gaa and .906 save %.  Both players could be considered upgrades from 2010-11.

The Crunch have not made the playoffs since 2007-08 but appear determined to do so in 2011-12.  The lineup might lack the depth of some of the other division rivals but the talent is definitely there.  It will be an exciting game tonight and an exciting 5 more between the clubs this season.

Hershey Bears
record ~ 4-1-1-0 | 9 points
standings ~ 1st in East Division
most recent game ~ 3-1 Loss vs Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 10/22
last 5 games ~ 3-1-1-0
home record ~ 0-1-1-0
goals for ~ 22
goals against ~ 19
power play ~ 28.1% (6th)
road penalty kill ~ 87.5% (6th)

Syracuse Crunch
record ~ 3-0-1-1 | 8 points
standings ~ 3rd in East Division
most recent game ~ 3-2 OT Loss vs Lake Erie, 10/22
last 5 games ~ 3-0-1-1
road record ~ 1-0-0-1
goals for ~19
goals against ~15
road power play ~23.5% (9th)
home penalty kill ~ 82.6% (14th)

last time teams met - This is the first of 6 meetings between the teams this season.  In 2010-11 the teams split their 6 games with the road team winning each game.

Players to watch:

LW Chris Bourque (17) - the team leader in goals (4) and points (10) needs to come ready to play tonight.
LW Boyd Kane (12) - the captain and veteran is being asked to step into a bigger role with Greentree and Potulny out of the lineup.  He has 2 goals this season, both on the power play.
C Keith Aucoin (11) - he sits at 2nd on the team in points (9) and leads the team in assists with 7.
RW Kyle Palmieri (21) - leading the team and the AHL in goals with 8 in only 5 games. 
LW Patrick Maroon (19) - second on team in goals with 4 and 3rd in points with 8.
C Nick Bonino (13) - leads the AHL and the team with 8 assists and is 2nd on the team in points with 9.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

GameDay Preview: Bears vs Pens

Last night in Albany the Bears came away with a 4-1 victory over a team they have dominated for the past year or so.  Braden Holtby made 18 saves while the Bears managed 23 shots and got goals from Cody Eakin (3rd), Matt Ford (3), Christian Hanson (2), and Boyd Kane (1). 

That's a win when you are expected to win. Exactly what good teams are supposed to the games you are supposed to win.

Now the Bears return home to face a team that dominated them for the past year or so, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. 

These teams have already met once this year when Hershey won 3-2 two weeks ago up in Wilkes-Barre Township.  This is the second of 12 meetings this season. 

Like the Bears, and most AHL teams, this Baby Pens team will look a little different than they did last year.  Last season they finished as the #1 seed in the AHL and were considered a top contender for the Calder Cup.  As we all know, they came up short losing to Charlotte in the East Division Finals (2nd round), but they had a good campaign leading up to that.

But some things changed up in Northeast PA.

Gone are leading scorer Brett Sterling and 20 goal scorers Tim Wallace and Nick Johnson.  Dustin Jeffrey and his 17 goals also left Wilkes-Barre, but he didn't go far and could return depending on Pittsburgh's health (he has only dressed for 1 NHL game this season). 

Otherwise many of the top names return.  Ryan Craig, Keven Veilleux, Eric Tangradi, Bryan Lerg, Geoff Walker, Zach Sill, and Ben Street were all double digit goal scorers for the Baby Pens last year and all are back with the team this season.  Veilleux hasn't played yet this season due to injury though.

The offense also gets some help in the form of Colin McDonald, rookie Brian Gibbons, and NHL veterans Jason Williams and Niko Dimitrakos.  McDonald scored 42 goals last season playing alongside Alexandre Giroux in Oklahoma City.  Jason Williams played in his first game of the season last night while the other 3 have combined for 4 goals and 6 assists in 6 games.

The defense will look similar as well.  Gone are Andrew Hutchinson, Robert Bortuzzo, and Corey Potter.  Bortuzzo, like Jeffrey, is up in Pittsburgh, but he hasn't seen any game action to date so he could return in the future.

Joining the club on the blueline are NHLer Alexandre Picard (played for Montreal last season) and rookies Philip Samuelsson and Simon Despres.  Picard hadn't played in the AHL since 2007-08 before this season started.

They lost some veteran players on the blueline, but kept a talented bunch in place.  The likely won't allow a ton of easy goals this season.
The strength of the 2010-11 Baby Pens team was the goaltending. John Curry and Brad Thiessen both had great seasons for the Baby Pens.  Thiessen was particularly stellar posting a record of 35-8-1 with a goals against average below 2 (1.94) and a save percentage of .922. 

Curry moved on but Thiessen returns.  So far he isn't having as much success this season as he has a save percentage under .900 and a gaa over 2.50.  But he is always a threat to steal a game away.  He will be joined this season by AHL veteran Scott Munroe who spent last season in the KHL.

In many of the previews I have read it mentions the Baby Pens as one of the teams moving downward in the division.  Much of that talk has to do with teams in Norfolk and Syracuse getting that much better, but until I see it I have a hard time believing it.  This is a very talented team that could easily make a run for another division crown.

The Pens will still be in every game they play and once the big Penguins get healthy the Baby Pens could see a return of some very talented players.  Considering all the callups they had last year that team could have been even better.  I remember the game they destroyed Hershey (7-1 I believe), the top 7 scorers on their team were ALL recalled to Pittsburgh. 

Tangradi only played 42 games for Wilkes-Barre while Jeffrey (40), Johnson (48), and Street (36) didn't play full seasons in the AHL either.  The Pittsburgh Penguins were decimated by injuries last year...making what the Baby Pens did (with a recall depleted lineup many nights) even more impressive.

So far the Pens have recorded 6 points in 6 games.  They are 2-2-1-1 (they didn't lose in OT, the third # in that record, a single time last year) and have scored 18 while giving up 17. 

Tonight they visit Giant Center for the first time in 2011-12.  Fresh off a road win in Springfield.  They have been better on the road than at home in the early going.  2 road games, 2 road wins, outscoring their opponents 8-1 in those games. 

Should be a good one tonight at the GC.

Hershey Bears
record ~ 4-0-1-0 | 9 points
standings ~ 1st in East Division
most recent game ~ 4-1 Win @ Albany, 10/21
last 5 games ~ 4-0-1-0
home record ~ 0-0-1-0
goals for ~ 22
goals against ~ 16
power play ~ 30.8% (3rd)
road penalty kill ~ 87.0% (8th)

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
record ~ 2-2-1-1 | 6 points
standings ~ 4th in East Division
most recent game ~ 3-0 Win @ Springfield, 10/21
last 5 games ~ 2-1-1-1
road record ~ 2-0-0-0
goals for ~18
goals against ~17
road power play ~13.8% (23rd)
home penalty kill ~ 85.2% (10th)

last time teams met - The Bears won 3-2 in Wilkes-Barre on October 8th.  It was Wilkes-Barre's first game of the season and home opener.

Players to watch:

C Cody Eakin (14) - took pretty well to the line shuffle as he had a goal (on the power play) and an assist last night in Albany.
RW Matthew Ford (23) - also scored (and assisted) last night and is tied for 2nd on the team with 3 goals already this year.
C Keith Aucoin (11) - always the engine that makes this team go he had an assist last night giving up 7 on the young season to go with 2 goals.
F Bryan Lerg (19) - leading the Pens in goals and points in the early going with 5 and 8 as he picked up a goal and an assist last night. 
F Eric Tangradi (25) - second on the team in goals (3) and leading the team in assists (4), he picked up goal #3 last night.
RW Geoff Walker (17) - tied with Tangradi for 2nd with 3 goals, he also scored in the win last night.