Today the push towards the playoffs begins in earnest. Today, let's look back to see what has gone right so far. And tomorrow we will look forward and some issues that could help or hinder the Bears overall quest.
The first half of the season saw a ton of callups to Washington and injuries to Bears. Hershey was without each of the following players due to injury or recall for extended periods during the first half:
- Keith Aucoin
- Jay Beagle
- Mathieu Perreault
- Andrew Gordon
- Kyle Greentree
- Andrew Joudrey
- Brian Fahey
- Lawrence Nycholat
- Patrick McNeill
- Sheldon Souray
- Braden Holtby
Perreault and Beagle remain in Washington and for the foreseeable future they are likely to stay there. More on that later on (tomorrow).
Despite all the roster uncertainties the Bears still had a good first half.
They are currently 2nd in the Eastern Conference with 61 points. That is 11 points behind the #1 team in the league, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The two play 5 times over the final 34 games so it is still possible that Hershey would win the division. But in the end it doesn't matter where you finish the regular season!
Hershey is averaging 3.43 goals per game on the season. That is good for 2nd in the league. And it is better (barely) than the Baby Pens mark of 3.40 goals per game. Portland leagues the lead with 3.46 goals per game.
On the defensive end, Hershey is allowing an average of 2.33 goals per game. That ranks #1 in the AHL at this point. Much of that can be attributed to the 15 goals allowed in the last 9 games. Not a bad run.
The Bears rank in the top 10 in both Power Play (3rd) and Penalty Killing (10th).
There are 4 Bears in the top 20 scorers, Gordon, Willsie, Aucoin, and Greentree.
2 of the top 11 goal scorers in the AHL are Bears, Gordon and Willsie.
Both Dany Sabourin and Holtby rank in the top 12 in goals against average, Dany in 12th, Braden is 2nd.
Braden ranks #2 in save percentage and is tied for 1st in shutouts as well, he has 5 of them.
The numbers show that Hershey is still a top team in the league. With a little roster stability the Bears could and likely will contend in the playoffs.
Let's hand out some mid-season awards....
Best Forward -
Keith Aucoin - he missed 17 games due to injury and/or recall yet he is 3rd on the team in points (43), first in assists (31), and ranks at the top of the league in points per game...a ridiculous 1.48 points per game.
And he has been consistent as well. (This amazes me more than anything else). He has played in 29 games this season. He has at least one point in 25 of those games. He has failed to record a point in ONLY 4 games this season. That is as consistent a scorer as you will likely see.
12 goals, 31 assists, 43 points in 29 games. 14 multi-point games. 1.48 points per game. 3 separate streaks of 6+ games with a point, including a current streak of 8 games.
Best Defenseman -
Lawrence Nycholat - he is averaging .86 points per game...he is a defenseman! That .86 would be higher than the top guy for 11 AHL teams (minimum 10 games played). And it would be in the top 3 or so defenseman in the league.
He was selected for the All-Star game and made an appearance last night but was not able to play due to injury. He is 5th on the team in points (27) and assists (22) despite playing in only 31 games. He also has 5 goals which is 2nd on the team by a defenseman, behind Zach Miscovic's 6.
Brian Willsie - he has played in 45 of Hershey's 46 games and has played each of the 3 offensive positions and plays the point on the power play.
He had a slow December with only 7 points in 12 games (still not too bad) but has turned it on in January with 14 points (7 goals and 7 assists) in the 12 games this past month.
He has been the one constant throughout the season. He started the season as the first line left wing. And then everything changed...
- While Coiner was out...Willsie filled in at first line center.
- While Gordo was in Washington...Willsie filled in on the top line.
- With Perry in Washington...he is playing 2nd line center most nights.
- With Beags in Washington...he is killing penalties.
45 games played, 19 goals (2nd on team and 11th in league), 25 assists (2nd on team), and 44 points (tied for 1st on team, 11th in the league). 12 power play goals leads the team and the league. +23 rating leads the team and the league.
He has been everywhere and he does it all.
It has been a good first half and I am confident that the second half will be even better.
LET'S GO BEARS!!!!!
*Tomorrow I will have a 2nd half preview including discussion about the NHL trade deadline, what players could be at risk for trades, and when we can expect the reinforcements from Washington...if ever.*