The Hershey Bears are in Canada right now getting ready to play the Toronto Marlies. Then tomorrow night they will be in Cleveland to play the Lake Erie Monsters.
Both teams are in the AHL's North Division. Toronto sits in 4th with 65 points while the Monsters are in 3rd with 66 points.
The Bears are looking for a little retribution on this short road trip. Both the Marlies and Monsters have already won in Hershey this year. Both by a 3-2 score with the Lake Erie game decided in a shootout.
Hershey will have some additional weapons at their disposal for the two games but neither of them is Russian. Andrew Joudrey and Brian Fahey are expected to play, Joudrey tonight and tomorrow with Fahey getting in the lineup tomorrow (maybe tonight).
That's big news considering some of the injuries that the club has been dealing with. Joudrey's return is allowing the team to consider moving Brian Willsie back to where he started the season, on the 1st line. Willsie has mainly played 2nd line center since Mathieu Perreault was recalled to Washington.
With Jay Beagle's return last week and Joudrey getting healthy there is now a little more depth at center which will allow Willsie to return to the top line. Steve Pinizzotto has spent the last couple games at that position but it has really been a revolving door since Gordon went out.
Hershey needs more production from the top line as Keith Aucoin has been held without a point in 4 of the last 6 games....all Hershey losses. Hopefully (if they make the move) Willsie will help with that.
It is another tough stretch for the Bears this week. But not as difficult as the previous 5 in 7 and definitely not as tough as the stretch in March.
3 games in 4 nights in 4 different cities is challenging. After tomorrow nights game the Bears will return to Hershey for a day off and then a Saturday game against Albany. Then they are back on the bus for a trip to Bridgeport for a 3:00 matinee on Sunday.
As the team gets healthy and fresh bodies arrive from Russia there should be enough energy to get some quality performances this weekend.
Dmitri Orlov is expected to play this weekend, possibly on Saturday night against the Devils. He signed a PTO contract on Tuesday and has been practicing with the Bears. Due to not having a visa though he couldn't travel to Toronto with the team and is unlikely to join them in Cleveland.
He is looking to become the 2nd straight Bears rookie defenseman to win the World Juniors and a Calder Cup in the same year. John Carlson accomplished the feat last year when the USA took the Juniors crown while Russia won the tournament this year.
His play will likely speak for itself over time but the language barrier is a bigger problem for the immediate future. But unlike Semyon Varlamov who did not have anyone but his father in Hershey to help with the language Orlov has Dmitri Kugryshev. Obviously that won't help on the ice as they will have separate shifts but it should accelerate the learning curve a bit.
Any defensive depth is helpful for the Bears this season. After a very strong start the defense has succumb to numerous injuries of late. Both Lawrence Nycholat and Fahey have missed considerable time lately and Nycholat is not expected back anytime soon. Add to that Sheldon Souray's latest saga with the waivers and his injuries early this year.
With Patrick McNeill also missing time at the start of the season you start to wonder what this unit would look like if everyone was healthy and playing at the same time. Considering the Bears are still one of the best teams in the league in goals allowed per game (4th with 2.53), a full unit of defenseman could make this a unit that no team wants to face come playoff time.
Fahey - Nycholat
McNeill - Orlov
Souray - Collins
Wellar - Miscovic
Who sits in that bunch? All are solid players that bring something to the table and have contributed this year.
Hopefully we will get to see it at some point but for at least the next 2 games Nycholat, Orlov, and Souray will remain on the sidelines watching.