Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Update to the free agent lists

As I said yesterday, Tim Leone would have something up soon. And he does.

Below is a complete breakdown of all the players that were with Hershey. Much of this information was in yesterdays post but this clarifies the AHL only contracts that I didn't have access to.
Players under contract with Hershey AND Washington for 2011-12:
  • Braden Holtby 
  • Brandon Anderson
  • Dmitry Orlov
  • Keith Aucoin 
  • Kyle Greentree 
  • Jay Beagle 
  • Garrett Mitchell
  • Dmitry Kugryshev
One note here (didn't realize this yesterday)...Anderson can NOT play in Hershey in 2011-12. He is still a junior eligible player and can only join the Bears after his season is over.

Here are the players under contract with ONLY Hershey in 2011-12:

  •  David de Kastrozza
  •  Maxime Lacroix
  •  Phil Oreskovic
  •  Andrew Carroll
Overall there is 1 goalie, 2 defensemen, and 8 forwards eligible for Hershey next season, and that includes Jay Beagle. That is what you call an empty roster. There will be LOTS of signings and player movement this offseason.

Here is a list of the restricted free agents for 2011-12:

  • Patrick McNeill
  • Zach Miscovic
  • Josh Godfrey
  • Joe Finley
  • Francois Bouchard
  • Mathieu Perreault
  • Trevor Bruess
  • Andrew Kozek (Atlanta Thrashers)

Perreault had this to say about his future:
“I want to sign back with Washington,” Perreault said. “I like the organization. I like to be here [Hershey] if I’m not there.”

Seems like he will sign his offer if (WHEN) it comes. I don't see the Caps letting him go yet but another team might be interested. I would expect all of the remaining guys to get offers as well with the exception of maybe Finley. But even him I expect to see them give one more chance.

Here are the unrestricted free agents for 2011-12:
  • Dany Sabourin
  • Todd Ford
  • Jared DeMichiel
  • Nolan Schaefer (Boston Bruins)
  • Johann Kroll
  • Dylan Yeo
  • Brian Fahey
  • Patrick Wellar
  • Sean Collins
  • Lawrence Nycholat
  • Patrick Cullity
  • Jordan Pietrus
  • Nikita Kashirsky
  • Grant McNeill
  • Ashton Rome
  • Andrew Joudrey
  • Joel Reclicz
  • Boyd Kane
  • Steve Pinizzotto
  • Brian Willsie
  • Andrew Gordon

That's a lot of names. Here is what Gordon had to say about his future:
“Washington has been so good to me over the years, so I feel it’s still priority No. 1 for me to stick around here,” he said. “If they don’t think there’s a spot for me, I still have the option to maybe go test the water this year."

“It’s all I know. I love it here. I want to play in the NHL, though. With all due respect to everybody here in Hershey, I don’t want to spend any more time here. It’s a tough position. I don’t want to see this organization in my rear-view mirror, but at the same time I’d like an NHL opportunity.”
I don't think he comes back without a 1-way deal. And I am not sure he gets it with Washington. He is a very good player with a real chance to make it in the NHL but the Caps don't seem to like giving their young forwards as much of a shot as other teams. The defense has been built via Hershey but the offense...not so much.

That is possibly an indication of the forwards in the system and that top forwards are more likely to skip the AHL but that doesn't answer it all. Nathan Gerbe, Martin St. Louis, Claude Giroux...they all spent considerable time in the AHL and are all key players for their respective clubs.

That doesn't mean Hershey has seen talent like that at forward but I think...IF given a legitimate shot...that Gordon and Chris Bourque could make it in the NHL.

Either way I think Gordon might have played his last game in a Hershey jersey. We wish him all the best no matter what he chooses.

Some other comments from guys:

Boyd Kane,
“I definitely love it here and I’d come back in a second.”
Brian Willsie (considering Europe as well),
“Nothing too concrete right now,” he said, “but Hershey is a definite possibility.”
Sheldon Souray (under contract with Edmonton),
“It really was an easy and seamless transition for me, especially with the guys and the coaching staff and just this organization in general,” Souray said. “I say that and I mean it.

“You think about hockey and playing with a lot of younger guys who are hungry to make the NHL. I really had a fun time. It was a good experience. It reminded me of playing 15 years ago.”

“I don’t have one bad thing to say about the organization or the experience I’ve had here,” Souray said. “So if that’s something that’s going to play itself out, then I have no problem coming back here.
“Obviously, there’s other places I’d want to be, you know what I mean? I say that in the best way. My goal is to get back in the NHL, like most of these guys. But it was so easy here."

Steve Pinizzotto,
“I think I put together a good couple years here,” he said. “Hopefully, I can do something where somebody believes I can play at the next level.”

There is lots of time for speculation about any number of these players but after the past few years we are used to seeing certain players each and every year.

The roster turnover hasn't been there like it might be this year. Most of these years has seen many of the same faces return year after year. Obviously we will see many of these players again. There are the 11 currently under contract and I would be willing to bet that at least 8 of the unrestricteds get resigned by the organization.

But we won't know about them until July. That's a long way off compared to when the season ends in June.

That's kind of depressing to think about.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

First look at free agents/offseason

Got a question on the previous post about what the free agent outlook is for this offseason and headed into next season.  I don't have all the numbers right now (surely Tim Leone will be posting something soon enough) but here is what I know...

Under Contract for 2011-12

Dmitry Kugryshev (F)
Dmitry Orlov (D)
Cody Eakin (F)
Braden Holtby (G)
Garrett Mitchell (F)
Dustin Stevenson (D)
Brett Fleming (D)
Brandon Anderson (G)
Keith Aucoin (F)
Kyle Greentree (F)

Of the group I expect all of them to spend some time in Hershey.  Orlov, like Green, Schultz, Alzner, and Calrson before him, will spend most of his time in Hershey with plenty of recalls to Washington.  Eakin, much like Orlov, will likely see some recalls but I expect him to begin the season in Hershey.

Mitchell, Fleming, Stevenson...all will get a shot at Hershey but may end up in South Carolina depending who else is on the team.

Aucoin and Greentree are all but sure things for Hershey next season again.

Holtby is the wild card here.  If the Caps trade Varlamov this off-season, which is possible considering that Neuvirth has claimed the #1 spot in Washington, then Holtby would move up full time to the NHL.  If Varly stays...Holtby stays...simple as that. 

There are other players shown as under contract but uncertainty with their eligibility (junior players) and desire (Gustafsson) leaves huge questions so I didn't include them.  As the calendar turns to May and June we will surely learn more about these players.

Restricted Free Agents for 2011-12

Trevor Bruess
Francois Bouchard
Joe Finley
Josh Godfrey
Mathieu Perreault
Patrick McNeill
Zach Miscovic

I wouldn't be surprised to see all of them return to the organization.  Being that they are restricted free agents the Caps get to deal with them first and can match anything and be compensated if they leave.  No one on this list is going to demand much attention outside of the organization other than maybe Perreault. 

In the end I think they all sign their contract tenders and return to the Bears/Stingrays for 2011-12.

Unrestricted Free Agents for 2011-12

Steve Pinizzotto
Dany Sabourin
Brian Willsie
Brian Fahey
Todd Ford
Andrew Gordon
Andrew Joudrey

This is tough.  I only see a few of these guys returning for multiple reasons.  I think Pinner is the most obvious to resign.  He still hasn't reached his full potential and is still not considered a veteran (only 205 games played). 

For the rest it is tough.  I would think Fahey and Willsie are in good shape as both want to win and the Bears (despite the loss) still give a good chance at that.  But both are veterans and so are Aucoin and Greentree (he just hit that mark this year with 301 total games played).  So that would fill 4 of the 6 spots already. 

Which brings us to Gordon and Joudrey.  Guess what...they are both veterans now.  They have each played 279 games which puts them over the 260 game limit.  That's a problem. 

Obviously Gordon is the most likely to be resigned BUT does he want to come back?  He might get a look as a free agent and get a better chance somewhere else, much like Kyle Wilson did last year.  I don't think he is heading to Europe, like Chris Bourque, but I don't think Gordon returns.  The Caps haven't given him enough of a chance and other teams might give him a long look.

Joudrey has probably played his final game with the Bears.  I hate to say that cause I think he gives his heart and soul every time he steps on the ice but he is very limited in his game.  He regressed a bit offensively this year (who didn't on this team though) and now that he is a veteran it is tough to resign him.  Especially with Aucoin and Greentree already signed.

Ford and Sabourin...who knows.  Ford I think is gone from the Caps thoughts at least.  Sabourin could end up back if he wants to but that depends on the Caps.  If Holtby heads to Washington you could see Dany return to be the #1 while Brandon Anderson serves as the #2 for a season.  Who knows...the goalie situation won't be figured out until the summer.

You may be wondering about players like Lawrence Nycholat, Boyd Kane, Ashton Rome, Maxime Lacroix, Andrew Carroll, Andrew Kozek, Sheldon Souray, Nolan Schaefer, Patrick Wellar, Phil Oreskovic, Johann Kroll, Dylan Yeo, David de Kastrozza, and Joel Rechlicz.

Most of them were on AHL only deals so I don't know the timeframe of their contracts.  I don't think these contracts are ever for more than 1 year so more than likely all of these players are free agents of some sort.

Kozek is still the property of Atlanta.  Souray of Edmonton.  And Schaefer of Boston.  They are not Caps/Bears any longer.

I would bet a large amount of anything that Andrew Carroll is a Hershey Bear next season.  He played great in the playoffs and is a former 30 goal scorer in the ECHL.  The Caps/Bears will likely give him a shot next season.

Same with Lacroix although a bit less certain.  He played well but this is his 2nd go around with the organization and he is a bit older now and less of a prospect.  But he played well enough to earn another 1 year deal.

Kane and Nycholat are veterans so they are lumped in with Fahey, Willsie, Gordon, JoudreyGiroux - he did say he would like to return to Hershey!).  Kane could return as captain as he brings different things to the table.  Nycholat's health has to be a concern now so he might be done.

Everyone else...all bets are off.  They may still be under contract either in Hershey or South Carolina but I doubt it.  They will get a chance somewhere but I am not sure it will be Hershey.

Another part of the question from the previous post was Chris Bourque...he is (as I understand it) still the property of the Washington Capitals. But I am not certain how that works. I think he would be considered a restricted free agent for Washington IF he were to come back to North America to play.

Hopefully that gives you an idea of what might happen this offseason.  Hershey has a lot of players shown as free agents and few players under contract right now.  That is typical of most offseasons but this one feels different.

Next years team will still be strong but it might look drastically different than the past couple of years.

Monday, April 25, 2011

In an instant it ends

First let me make 2 points...

1.  It was a good season.  The Bears dealt with injuries and recalls all season to finish in the top few teams of the AHL.  Trying to compare this team to the 08-09 or 09-10 versions just wasn't fair but human nature is such that we tried to do that time and time again.

In the end it was a great season that I feel ended before it was supposed to.  But you can't win them all and Hershey's record run of 8 straight playoff series wins ended 8.

2.  Congratulations to the Charlotte Checkers.  They were the better team in the series.  You saw it in game 1 and that continued through game 6.  Despite the urgency that Hershey should have possessed in game 6 it was the Checkers that had the quick counter punch and the Checkers had the majority of the scoring opportunities.

They played a great season and deserved the victory.  Now...go get those Penguins!!!! that those two points are out of the way I want to say a couple more things about game 6 and the series as a whole.  Then we will move on and look at the offseason and follow the Caps as they look to continue deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Personally I blame the game 6 and series loss on 2 things...

1.  Lazy play.  The final goal was exactly what cost this team during the playoffs....too many guys standing around watching and not enough playing. 

It was almost as if the Bears expected to win and were just waiting for the puck to go in the Charlotte net or be cleared from theirs. 

Sure, Braden Holtby didn't play as well as he did during the regular season...BUT neither did the defense.  Routinely Checkers were left standing by themselves right beside the goal just waiting for a rebound.  And those rebounds came (sometimes far too often) and that is an easy way to score goals in the playoffs.

Offensively this team just wasn't the same without Andrew Gordon.  Once he went down the Bears chances seemed to go with him. 

Which brings me to my 2nd complaint...

2.  Coaching.  I know French is a good coach but personally I think he let down the Hershey team and the fans.  If you watched the game yesterday you know that Hershey generated FEW real scoring chances.  And while I didn't see games 3-5 I expect that those games looked very similar to game 6.

You watch in the NHL and you see coaches willing to make changes.  Last year the Blackhawks shuffled lines in the Stanley Cup finals to get Toews and Kane more chances.  This year you have goalies being pulled every game in Philly.  In Vancouver the coach had the guts to sit Roberto Luongo.....yeah one of the best goalies in the league...because of 2 subpar outings.  Even in Washington you saw Boudreau make line adjustments damn near every period during the season.

But in Hershey?  French rolled the same lineup with the same line combinations for 4 straight games after Gordon went down.  And it worked 1 time.  And even that 1 time Hershey tried to blow a 3 goal lead.

I don't know if different combinations would have one does.  But I knew that the same ones wouldn't.  And honestly...when I saw the scratches and the starting lineup last night a sense of calm kind of came over me.  I obviously still believed but at the same time I knew that this was quite possibly the last time we would be in Hershey this spring.

And that sucked.  I just feel like French left something on the table.  I feel like he could have done more.  In the end it comes down to the players but the coaches didn't help them.

All series long they kept saying..."if we just play our game for 60 minutes."  What does that mean?  Sure if you say that after one game it makes sense.  But we have been saying that about this team all season.  In my opinion it was all the more reason to make some changes to the lineup and go out swinging.

But instead it feels as though they just rolled over and died.

In the end it really came down to one simple thing....Andrew Gordon.  You could have asked me before the playoffs to name one player that Hershey couldn't "afford to lose" and I would have listed at least 3 other names before Gordo.

Apparently I was wrong.  He was the Hershey offense this year.  Sure other guys scored goals but none were as dominant as Gordo when he was healthy. 

Unfortunately that was only evident when he wasn't healthy...including in the playoffs.

But in the end one injury should not derail a season like this. 

Oh well.  As I said above...You can't win them all.

Next year is another opportunity to hang banner #12.



Saturday, April 23, 2011

It's simple....Bears MUST win

Game 6 is tomorrow evening.  Easter Sunday.  A Bears win means there is life yet with a winner take all game 7 on Monday night.

If the Bears lose....

It's an odd thought really.  Sure this team isn't as good as last years team.  Everyone knew it was going to be harder to get yet another chance at the Calder Cup.  No one thought it was a foregone conclusion.

But to be done watching hockey at Giant Center in April? 

That just doesn't happen...does it?

We find out soon enough.  But I can guarantee you one thing...

Charlotte is not going to lay down.  The Checkers have presented the 2010-11 Hershey Bears with a somewhat unexpected challenge.

The Checkers, for a majority of the series, have been the better team.  Both teams have, at times, been dominant and both teams, at times, have been extremely vulnerable. 

Hershey needs to change the game.  They need to take control.  They need to be dominant in game 6 and 7 and force the Checkers to appear vulnerable for 120 minutes. 

It is time to make changes to the lineup.  Drastic in some cases. 

I know there are some people (Coach French is probably one of them) that would say why change now.  It could hurt the chemistry, it could affect the team.  There is no time for them to adjust and adapt to the changes.

Personally I think that is bs.  My thoughts would be simple...

1.  What your doing hasn't exactly worked so why continue it?

2.  Wouldn't you rather go down swinging then standing there and taking strike 3? 

That's pretty much what doing nothing is.  Assuming that it was luck or a few fortunate bounces that led to your 3 losses. 

It can't be the team!  They are so good together.


The first change that HAS TO HAPPEN....

Lawrence Nycholat has to dress for this game.  I am 99% certain he can replace Sean Collins on the clear day roster (or Andrew Gordon at this point).  So the only thing stopping them is the veteran rule.  And that is a problem. 

Hershey has 6 veterans with only 5 spots.  Boyd Kane, Keith Aucoin, Sheldon Souray, Brian Fahey, Brian Willsie, and Nycholat.

So who do you sit.  Well if it was me I would strongly consider Kane but we know it won't be him so it has to be Souray.  Take away his big shot and what do you have....a slightly better version of Patrick Wellar. 

He is a very good player.  But so is Nycholat.  And when Nycholat was manning the point on the power play the Bears were a different team.  Since he has been out of the lineup the power play has slowly gone from being one of the best in the league to extremely average. 

And in this series they have been dreadful.  They have scored 1 power play goal in the series.  And that came in the 1st period of game 1. 

Overall they are 1 for 24 with the man advantage.

If you were looking for the main reason that the Bears are struggling in the series I think you just found it.

Will Nycholat fix the problem?  I have no idea but I would sure love to find out.

Fix #2

CHANGE THE DAMN LINES!!!!  Anyone who has been reading this blog over the past week knows that I have not been pleased with the line makeup.  Especially since Gordon went down. 

Obviously things haven't been that bad either.  They have managed to score 16 goals in the series.  But they have also allowed 17. 

Line combinations don't just affect offense.  They also impact the defensive end.

Line #1 is currently Kane, Aucoin, and Steve Pinizzotto.  All three have tempers.  All three can, at times, become distracted and forget defensive assignments.  And while Aucoin is fast, the other two are not.  Kane and Pinner would rather hit you into the boards then stay in their respective zones. 

Sure, Kaner and Pinner are both excellent penalty killers.  But that is a different mentality then 5 on 5.  Earlier this season they played with Andrew Joudrey as their center.  Joudrey thrives in the defensive end so if Kane and/or Pinner are skating around playing a "hit everything that moves" style of game he is there to help the defense shoulder the load.  But right now they are playing with Aucoin.

That it turn puts a lot of pressure on the defense and Holtby.  So far they have not been able to handle it.

In addition they aren't carrying their weight offensively.  Hell at the offensive end they can't even be considered the #1 line anymore. 

And that is a problem.  For games 3-5 Hershey has had 1 scoring line.  Sure other lines have chipped in but only 1 line causes the Checkers any worry right now. 

So Charlotte can just sit and wait for a mistake against 75% of the Hershey team.  They don't have to worry about getting caught up ice against 3 of the 4 lines.  Sure Aucoin can kill you but Kane...Pinner?  Not exactly striking fear into opposing goaltenders.

But move Willsie to the top line and that changes everything.  All of a sudden an Aucoin/Willsie breakaway strikes much more fear into the opposing defense and goaltender.

And a Perreault/Greentree threat is still there on line #2. 

Balance.  It is quite possibly the simplest thing a hockey team can do.  Spread out your stars and force other teams to defend multiple lines.  Unfortunately Hershey hasn't done that since Gordon went down.

But the problems don't stop at the top line.  Lines 3 and 4 have been solid but they need to be better.  Ashton Rome has not had a great season. 

And he isn't what Hershey needs right now.  He is not a playmaker, he isn't a great player in his own end (although he is solid in that regard), and he isn't a prominent goal scorer. 

So why is he in?  I have no idea.

I want a line that looks like this...

Andrew Kozek, Andrew Carroll, and Dmitri Kugryshev.  I don't care if it's the 3rd line or the 4th line.  I want to see it and I guarantee you they will get some excellent chances IF they are given a chance.  If you want to you could even put Joudrey in Carroll's spot but I would rather go with 3 scoring lines (which this would be) instead of 2 defensive lines which it would be if Joudrey is there.

The Bears have tried the defensive lines for the first 5 games of the series...they lost 3 times. 

It is time to fight fire with fire.  Hershey has players that can score. 

It's time to let them play. 

Put them in positions to be successful and I am confident that the Bears will win the series. 

Continue to set your roster as if you are trying not to lose....I suspect they will lose. 

We find out in less than 24 hours.

Will Hershey live to see a game 7 Monday or will the Bears be having exit interviews and setting up tee times instead?



Friday, April 22, 2011

Uh-oh...Bears face elimination Sunday

3-0 Hershey was the score tonight with 3 minutes to go in the 2nd period.  3 to nothing.

The final score...

5-3 Charlotte.

5 unanswered goals by the Checkers creates a very unfamiliar feeling for the Bears.  Hershey has not faced elimination in the postseason since the 2nd round in 2009 when Wilkes-Barre held a 3 games to 2 series lead after 5. 

The Bears proceeded to win the next 2 games (two 3-0 shootouts actually) on home ice. 

Michal Neuvirth was in goal for those games. 

He isn't coming back to save the Bears this year.  If Hershey is going to win, Braden Holtby HAS TO BE BETTER! 

I am not going to blame him exclusively for the collapse.  I didn't see the game so I can't judge the goals.  But I can say this...

Braden has 8 playoff games to his name.  He is 4-4 with a 3.37 goals against average and an .874 save percentage. 

Those are easy to interpret....they are bad!  Simple as that.

In this series he is 2-3 with a 3.23 gaa and a .885 save %.  Better than his career numbers but definitely not good. 

He isn't controlling rebounds and he is still making mistakes.  The first Charlotte goal (based on John Waltons call) sounds like it was a Holtby turnover when he was out playing the puck. 

Personally I think Braden should play the puck.  That is part of the game and I don't have a problem with it.  But he has to stand on his head and make the necessary saves when the game is on the line. 

And he hasn't.

But he isn't getting much help either.  The goalie alone is not responsible for a collapse like you saw tonight.  Since I didn't see it I can't say who played well and who didn't but I can take a guess based on the score sheet.

Patrick McNeill was on the ice for 4 of Charlotte's goals.  So was Brian Willsie.  Rome, Carroll, Joudrey, Kane, Fahey, and Greentree were on the ice for 2 goals against.

Much of the credit has to be given to the Charlotte Checkers.  They have outscored Hershey by a score of 9-2 in the 3rd period. 

9 goals allowed over 5 games in the 3rd period.  Unacceptable. 

All season this team has failed to commit themselves for a full 60 minutes.  When they play for a full 60 they are a very tough team to beat but they do it so rarely you wouldn't know it. 

I thought that would end in the playoffs.  I thought with the veteran leadership on the team that they would come out in the postseason and start finishing games. 

So far they haven't.

Obviously we can all point our fingers and pick out things that haven't worked.  Power play, goaltending, defense, offense, lines, coaching....I guess that is everything. 

But right now I think it is as simple as this...

Charlotte wants it more.  They have been the better team in the series to this point.  You saw it in game 1 and you continue to see it game after game.

If the Bears don't decide they want it before Sunday then it will be an early summer for a Hershey Bears team that is used to playing into June.

It's not over until they win 4.

Hershey has been in this position before and they have risen to the occasion.

Can they do it again?  Who will lead the charge? 

We find out Sunday.

(But I will have an opinion before then.  Check back tomorrow or Sunday morning and find out what I think needs to happen - hint: if you have been reading this week you should know my #1 fix - and who needs to step up)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Series tied at 2 after Bears lose game 4

Last nights game wasn't exactly what I was hoping for.  Honestly, I didn't want to witness another 1st round game at Giant Center this season.  I was hopeful that the Bears would manage to end the series in Charlotte and move on to 2nd round preparations.

But the Checkers weren't having any of that.  While they struggled to get going in the first (they didn't get their first shot until the 15 minute mark) they managed to pick up the pace and the quality of the chances in the 2nd and 3rd periods.

Overall Hershey won the shots battle 37-24.  I wish I could critique those shots as it didn't seem like they had that many quality opportunities as I listened to John Waltons call.  But Time Leone seems to feel that they played very well and would like to have same effort on Friday night.  He was there to witness it so I won't doubt his opinion...much.

I didn't see it so I won't judge.

But I can read the scoresheet and I can say this...

The "top" line for the Bears needs more offensive output.  Hershey registered 37 shots.  The "number 1" line for the Bears registered 7 of them.


Less than 1/5 of the Bears shots came from the 1st line of Boyd Kane, Keith Aucoin, and Steve Pinizzotto.  I know they played together for a good bit in February when Gordon was out.  And I know that Kane and Pinner combined for 41 goals this season.  But the top line for ANY team in ANY league needs to produce more than they have in the last 2 games.

Maybe it was just last night?  Considering the Bears won on Tuesday night and Aucoin scored this line must have produced some offense...right?

On Tuesday night they registered 3....3!!!!...of the Bears 23 shots.  That is about 1/8 of the teams shots.

Not enough.

Personally I would blow the lines up completely and restart.  But since French won't do that we need to hope that he will at least consider putting someone on the line that is willing to shoot the puck.

I am a huge Pinner fan but his favorite move is to get in deep and duck around the checks to set something up.  Kane...great leader, good player...but he isn't going to beat you with his skating and he doesn't shoot much either.  Aucoin...on the list of best AHL players ever but he isn't a scorer...he would rather pass then shoot.

So how do you fix that.  Well...on the 2nd line you have 2 30+ goal scorers in Kyle Greentree and Brian Willsie.  And boy do they like to shoot!  Combined in the last 2 games they have 23 shots.

23 in 2 games between the 2 wings on the 2nd line.

The top line has 10 TOTAL in 2 games between 3 guys.

No comparison.

Take Willsie OR Greentree off the 2nd line and move Kane or Pinner down a line (or two).  The lines would have more balance (grinder, scorer, playmaker) and would allow for more balance between the lines.

If because of their success (3 of the Bears 5 goals in the 2 games), French doesn't want to break up the 2nd line then he needs to add a shooter to the top line.  Francois Bouchard LOVES to shoot the puck and he has been playing better of late.  Move him to the top line and Pinner to the 3rd line.

I have been as hard on Bouchard as anyone this entire season but he would be a good fit on either the left or the right wing with Aucoin at center and Kane/Pinner at the other wing.  He will shoot freely and after playing so much with Perreault he is definitely used to working with a dynamic playmaking center.

No matter what I think French has to make a change.  Yeah they had 37 shots on Wednesday but guess what...they lost.  And yes they won on Tuesday with only 23 shots but they tried their best to lose that one too.  Had they not gotten 3 past Murphy early it would have been a different outcome.

French waited until the 3rd period of game 3 against the Texas Stars to make changes last June.  But he did finally make it.

Will he make it this time?  We find out tomorrow at 7...hopefully something changes.

Whether its the Hershey lines, their approach, or Murphy getting a case of the yips....Hershey NEEDS to win this game!


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bears take game 3 and series lead

Wooooo!!!!  I was wrong!  (Well...partially wrong.)  Yesterday I said that I did not like the line combinations that Coach French was going to use last night.  I also said that if the lines managed to work out I would admit I was wrong.

They worked...for the 1st period.  So in theory I was partially wrong. 

Hershey jumped out to a 3-0 lead after the 1st period.  Then they almost lost it.  The final score was 3-2 and it was every bit of close as that during the 3rd period. 

I didn't watch the game (I can't justify spending $10 a game on to see the games) but I did listen to it.  And Walton (and the Bears) had me on the edge of my seat throughout the 3rd period. 

With Kyle Greentree in the penalty box and Charlotte goalie, Mike Murphy pulled at the end of the 3rd the Checkers had a 6 on 4 power play and I was stressing.

But Braden Holtby made the saves when they mattered and Hershey started the 3 game road portion of the series stealing one.

The first goal of the game was a fluke as the puck jumped off Francois Bouchard from behind the net, bounced off Murphy, and went in.

Now both teams have a fluke goal and a shorthanded goal this series as Charlotte got both of those in game 1. 

After the 1st period, which also saw goals from Keith Aucoin (assisted by Steve Pinizzotto) and Greentree, the Bears struggled to really get anything going.  Rarely did I get the feeling, from listening to Walton, that Hershey was close to scoring.  There were a couple exceptions but I would say, based on the information, that Charlotte dominated the play throughout the 2nd and 3rd periods.

That stats mostly support that too.  The Checkers only outshot the Bears 18-12 in the last 2 periods but they outscored them 2-0.

In the end Hershey had just enough as they clung to the 3-2 lead and escaped game 3 with the series lead.

Game 4 is tonight and I am sure you will see the same line combinations as last night but I still contend that they should be changed.  Yes the Bears scored 3 in the first but they didn't come close after that. 

I know that Pinner is a very good player.  I actually think he has more offensive potential then he has shown up to this point.  BUT I think Willsie would be better served on the top line at this moment as he is the better pure scorer of the two. 

I could see Pinner dropping into Willsie's spot on the 2nd line.  That would work.  He would be paired with a playmaking center and a player that likes to shoot.  He could park himself in front of the net and wait for the pass or rebound. 

But as long as they keep winning...who cares what the line combinations are. 

2 DOWN...2 TO GO!!!!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Game 3...Bears vs Checkers...Tonight

The series is tied at one game a piece heading into a week of 3 games in 4 nights...all in Charlotte, NC. 

I would contend, however, that the Bears have been the better team in roughly 4 of the 6 periods to date.  Take out the 3rd period of game 1 and the 1st period of game 2 and I think it would be tough to argue that Hershey has been the better team.

But that doesn't mean anything heading into game 3.  Nothing from the past matters at this point. 

So what should we expect in game 3?

Well it starts with bad news.  Per Tim Leone...Gordon is not in Charlotte today and while he could fly in he isn't expected to play in games 3-5

So Gordon is out and Ashton Rome will take his place in the lineup.  (Mistake number further)

Steve Pinizzotto will move up to the top line with Boyd Kane and Keith Aucoin.  (Mistake number 2)

Francois Bouchard moves up to the 3rd line so Rome can enter on the 4th line.  (Mistake number 3)

Obviously you can see that I don't agree with those moves.  Here is what I would have done followed by my reasons (and these moves I suggest are based on French's preference to not change the lines TOO much...personally I would blow them up and start over):

Move Brian Willsie up to the top line to take Gordon's spot.

Move Andrew Kozek to the 2nd line to replace Willsie.

Dmitri Kugryshev would become the 3rd winger on the 4th line.

The Willsie move is simple.  You NEED BALANCE!  What does Pinner do well?  Crash the net.  What does Kane do best?  Crashes the net.  What does Aucoin do best?  Sets up scorers.  Except now he has no scorers.  Yeah I know...Kane and Pinner combined for 41 goals this season.  Great! 

Combined they have scored 7 goals in March and April.  Just sayin'.

Willsie can score (30 goals this year) and he works well with Aucoin. 

Kozek to 2nd line.  This is simple.  Kozek I goes to the net for his goals.  He would be playing with Kyle Greentree, who loves to shoot, and Mathieu Perreault who, like Aucoin, likes to set up scorers.  And Kozek has been playing great of late.  He would also add an "edge" to the line with his physical play.

And finally I just think Kugryshev is better than Rome.  Especially for the 4th line.  Rome's biggest weakness is his eagerness to shoot.  That would be fine on the top 2 lines but the key to success for the 4th line is to cycle and get the opposition tired and then get your shots.  Kugryshev can stick handle with anyone which would allow Maxime Lacroix and Francois Bouchard to go the net and/or cycle behind it with him.  I just don't think Rome is near as good at fitting that role.

Could I be wrong about these moves?  Hell, I hope I am.  Nothing would make me happier then writing tomorrow..."Well, I was wrong...Kane and Pinner each score and the Bears win." 

But I think Hershey is in trouble.  The 3rd and 4th lines have been great up until now.  Now they are completely different.  I don't like worries me.

Not saying that Pinner isn't good enough to play on the top 2 lines....he is.  I could see the argument for moving to the 2nd line instead of Kozek.  I am fine with that but that 3rd line has been playing so well I don't want to see it broken up.

Only 6 more hours to see how everything works out. 

The Leone update says that Gordon could fly down for games 4 and/or 5 but you have to imagine that if he can't go tonight he won't be able to tomorrow.

Hershey can win without him...they did in February (a little bit).  But having him adds a significant dimension to the roster. 

It will be interesting to see how the lines gel. 


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Now it's a best of 5

Next year the AHL is going to make the first round series in the playoffs a best of five instead of the current best of seven. 

After Hershey's 4-2 win early tonight the Bears and Checkers will begin a modified best in 5 on Tuesday. 

It definitely wasn't perfect but Hershey won game 2 in what many would have considered a must win.  In his traditional pregame interview Assistant Coach Troy Mann wouldn't call the game a must win but you knew that the guys in the locker room felt that way.  And least to some extent. 

Yet it was Charlotte that came out flying.  It looked like the 3rd period of game 1 was still going.  The Checkers speed caused problems for the first few minutes but then Hershey calmed down and played their game.

And at the end of the day they played very well.  Charlotte's speed was absolutely neutralized by good positioning and good angles. 

The addition of Zach Miscovic to the lineup definitely seemed to pay dividends.  He is a much better skater and puck handler then Phil Oreskovic and it showed from his first shift. 

With the exception of a few isolated incidents the defense was exceptional tonight.  Charlotte only managed 24 shots and rarely did you see an uncovered Checker in the Bears zone. 

At the other end of the ice I have this one thing to say...

Shoot high and to the glove side.  I was watching in warmups and Pogge looked very good until guys went high glove and he couldn't stop anything.'s warmups.  Who cares?  Well, ask Sheldon Souray and Andrew Kozek how that glove hand is.  (I think it was Kozeks but it might have been McNeill or Willsie's goal).  Both shots went high glove and both went in.

Obviously hitting the top corner is easier said than done but Pogge isn't going to be the reason they don't go in.  It will only be because they missed the net.

4 goals on 20 shots is good.  But getting only 20 shots isn't great.  I don't think the Bears are optimizing their talent and that might have taken a bigger hit in the 3rd period when Andrew Gordon went down.  I know that he came back later but he didn't stay out long.  He tried to go during a power play but left pretty quick and I don't remember seeing him the rest of the game.  Hopefully it isn't serious but he definitely appeared to be in a lot of pain when the injury happened. 

Beyond the injury I think the Bears are just not quite clicking in the offensive zone.  Not sure exactly what it is and at this point it obviously isn't a big problem (8 goals in 2 games) but I think they can be better.  And if they can get better they can go far in the postseason.

Defensively...much improved.

Offensively...good enough.

Goaltending...definitely better but...

I still think Braden Holtby needs to be better for Hershey to get all the way to June.  Honestly he let in 3 goals tonight but the 3rd one was waived off as the 2nd official had called a penalty just before the puck went in.  And the goals aren't being scored on great shots. 

You have to give the Checkers credit though.  Both their goals came on the heels of Hershey goals.  They needed to respond and they did both times.  If you are the Bears it definitely isn't something you want to see continue. 

But I think we are just nit-picking a bit now. 

Overall I thought it was a good (not great) game by the Bears.  But it was what they needed tonight....a 60 minute TEAM effort.  Positionally they were great.  Hustle, plenty of it.  Hitting...everyone was involved all game. 

They play like that the rest of the series and they will advance to the 2nd round. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What to look for in Game 2

On Thursday night I overheard someone talking about the Wilkes-Barre series and if Norfolk had a chance to win the series.  I chimed in and offered my opinion...."Hell No."  It was that simple.

Well, that might not be the case.  Norfolk won game 1 on Friday night and followed that up with a win on Saturday night as well.  The Norfolk Admirals have gone into Mohegan Sun arena and beat the AHL's #1 seed in two consecutive nights.

It still takes 4 wins to win a series but even folks in Norfolk have to be surprised about the outcomes so far.

Just thought I would mention it.  Not looking ahead at all...especially not after game 1...but it is always good to follow some of the other series.

We here in Hershey have other things to worry about.  Namely the Charlotte Checkers and what our Bears are going to do to recapture the momentum and move towards a first round victory.

So what should we expect in game 2?

The first thing I would expect to see is Zach Miscovic in the lineup in place of Phil Oreskovic.  He practiced in his place this weekend and while Coach French won't confirm the move it would appear that Oreskovic is out and Miscovic is in.

I think it is the right move.  Maybe if Oreskovic and Wellar were separated it wouldn't look so bad but neither of them will be mistaken for agile and when they are paired together against a fast team like the Checkers they are simply sitting ducks.

More than likely that is the only roster change you will see on the Bears side.  Personally I would make some other lineup changes....
  • Move Greentree to top line.
  • Kozek to 2nd line.
  • Kane to 3rd line.
But I don't think any of that will happen for game 2.  And I think that is ok.  Hershey played well for 45 minutes and had they finished the game playing that way they likely would have won.  So making wholesale changes after a game that you out played the other team for a good portion of the game just wouldn't make sense.

The only other change I would strongly  consider moving (before the 3 I mentioned above) would be adding Nycholat to the lineup.  He can join the clear day list thanks to Sean Collins recall to Washington but who he would replace is a tough one.  I would probably suggest Souray.  I know his physical play and incredible shot would be tough to take out of the lineup but Hershey needs mobility and offense in this series.

Nycholat played in 32 games, scored 5 goals, added 23 assists (.88 points per game) and was a +15.

Souray played in 40 games, scored 4 goals, added 15 assists (.47 points per game) and was a +10.

Obviously that is a BIG change but I think it would be okay.  Both players bring unique talents to the team...I just think the Nycholat's are more of what is needed right now.

Moving on.

I mentioned the other day that this is the 5th time in the last 5 years that Hershey has lost game 1 in a series.  3 of those instances were in the Calder Cup finals, once in the Eastern Conference finals, and 1 other time in round 1. 

4 of those 5 were on home ice.

Of the 5 instances only 1 time did Hershey fail to win game 2.  That was in 2008 when Hershey lost in the first round to the Baby Pens. 

Basically...I would be surprised to see Hershey lose again.  But don't for a second think it can't happen.  The Bears have to commit to playing a full 60 minute game...maybe even more than 60 minutes. 

And that is something they have struggled to do all season. 

I definitely expect a complete effort. 

I think Braden Holtby is mad at himself and will be determined and focused to show that game 1 was a fluke and he is the man for the job. 

I think the defense will also up their level of play and stop allowing unmarked Checkers forwards to stand beside Braden and wait for the pucks to fall at their feet.

I think the forwards will crash the net even more.  If there is one thing we know about Justin Pogge, it is that he is capable of becoming flustered and frustrated.  Crash the net, get in his face, and make contact with him and he will become uncomfortable in the crease.

I think Hershey wins. 

And honestly...I think they do it convincingly.


Friday, April 15, 2011

More thoughts from Game 1

This is my second recap of last nights game view the first please follow this link: Bears Drop Game 1.

I think this says all you need to know from last nights game 1:
"Speed to burn has been a hallmark of the prolific Charlotte Checkers in 2010-11," Tim Leone wrote.  "Charlotte's explosiveness was an ever-present threat..."
To read Leone's full recap follow this link.

The one thing that I noticed the most in Game 1 was the speed of the Charlotte team.  They routinely skated right around Bears like they were standing still.  (Although, sometimes they were just standing still...right Wellar?)

Unfortunately I don't think there is any way to equal their speed this year.  There just isn't a ton of speed on Hershey's roster as far as top 6 forwards.  Sure Aucoin, Perreault, and Gordon are good skaters with some good speed.  But Greentree, Kane, and Willsie are not going to win a lot of foot races.

Last year Bourque and Wilson joined Coiner, Perry, and Gordo in the top 6 to provide plenty of speed.

There are some players on the scratch list that add speed, namely Dmitri Kugryshev.  But who do you take out for him?  He isn't a top 6 guy yet and the bottom 6 forwards are much better in the speed category and I thought they all played well. 

So you aren't going to match it.  So now you have to figure out a way to marginalize it.

Coach Mark French definitely felt like the team did that in periods 1 and 2.  Or at least he was happy with the outcomes and effort in those periods.

I would agree that the Bears played better in the first 2 periods.  They held the Checkers to 16 shots while they registered 27 in the first 2 periods.  So while it was tied 3-3 after two you could argue that all of the Checkers goals were anomalies and the Bears were playing much better than Charlotte.

Goal 1 was a rebound that was partially the result of Gordon's lazy backcheck and Braden Holtby's lack of rebound control.  It was a playoff type goal that Braden should have stopped in my opinion.

Goal 2 was an "own goal" scored when (this is how I saw it) Gordon tried to clear the puck but instead hit his defenseman (Souray?) and the puck bounced right in the net.  Fluke.

Goal 3 was a shorthanded goal by the Checkers in the 2nd period.  Yes it was a good goal.  No, it wasn't a true fluke.  But how many times do teams score shorthanded? 

Assuming for a second that those the 2nd and 3rd goals don't happen every game then you could make the argument that in most games, played the same way, Hershey would have been up 3-1 after 2 periods.

Obviously that didn't happen.  But what I am saying is...Hershey played well enough to win.

For 45 minutes.

Most of the final period was just horrible hockey from the Bears.  Lazy passes.  Minimal hitting.  Poor positioning.  Embarrassing hustle.

Flat out...bad hockey. 

And French noticed.  Phil Oreskovic (according to Leone) was pulled from the defensive rotation for the 3rd period.  That seems to signal a change coming for game 2 which is good because if there is one thing Oreskovic is definitely not good at it would be quick or mobile.  And against a team with as much speed as the Checkers you need to maximize your own team speed.

Overall I wasn't disappointed watching the team until the 3rd.  I was hyped and absolutely pumped for the game through the first 45 minutes of the game.

At which point it seemed like Hershey stopped playing their game. 

And that resulted in a 5-4 game 1 loss. 

Hershey enters game 2 only 3 more losses from heading to their summer vacation.  They are still only 4 wins from the 2nd round but now they have to win 4 in 6 with 3 of those games in Charlotte.

Possible?  Without question.

But 60 minute efforts are going to be necessary.  The Bears won't win with 45 minute games.  And that is something that has troubled this team all season long. 

Hopefully it ceases being a problem beginning now.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bears drop game 1

I am not really sure what to say after that game.  There are so many talking points. 

But let me start here...

Braden Holtby has played against the Checkers 6 times this season, counting 4 of those games he has allowed 5 goals.

In the other two...1  We need THAT Braden Holtby to show up on Sunday and the one that played tonight to stay away.

Let me also say this...the defense (and forwards) need to help out more.  Personally I think there were 3 goals that Braden should have kept out but on all three there was a Checkers player standing right near the crease with no Bear in sight.

So don't get me wrong...this wasn't just Braden tonight.  It was everyone in the Hershey zone. 

In fact...Braden made 3 of the best saves you will see in a hockey SEASON.  In the 1st it was a ridiculous glove save and then in the 3rd he made a diving save and a 'stand on your head' kick save where he legitimately made a pad save with his legs at the crossbar and his head on the ice.

But that just shows you how Hershey played in their own zone.  When your goalie makes 3 incredible saves in one night and STILL allows 5 have a problem.

How do you fix it?  I have 2 ideas.

Bench Patrick Wellar and/or Phil Oreskovic.  Neither of them are great skaters and yet they are playing together???  Wellar got flat undressed in the 3rd period by a Checker forward.  He got caught flat footed constantly.

Who do you put in?  Well, that is an excellent question.  I think Zach Miscovic is obviously one but until Sean Collins returns from Washington I am not sure there is anyone.  But at least you would get one of the two out of the lineup.

I know Miscovic was banged up recently so maybe that is why he didn't play but if he is healthy he should be in.

Honestly I think Hershey outplayed Charlotte for much of the game.  They got a few unlucky bounces including the 'own goal' when Gordon tried to clear the puck and instead it bounced off another Bear (Souray?) and right past Holtby.  Unfortunate. 

For much of the game Hershey was playing a physical game, getting to loose pucks, and being smart (read: patient) with the puck.  And then it all went away.  It started in the 2nd period and got better to start the 3rd before it completely deteriorated and all hell broke loose. 

All of a sudden no one was doing anything they were supposed to.  And passes were being intercepted every single time.  Lazy passes and risky ones. 

In the end it cost them the game.

Since the Capitals affiliation began Hershey has lost the 1st game of a series 5 times.  Once each year.  They managed to win the series 3 times after losing the 1st.  4 times the first game was on home ice.  2 of those times they came back to win.

But this is only the 2nd time in the last 5 years that Hershey has dropped a game 1 in a round prior to the Eastern Conference Finals or the Calder Cup Finals.

The other time...07-08 to Wilkes-Barre.  That was in the 1st round and Hershey hosted game 1 due to scheduling conflicts. 

The Bears are 3 losses away from ending their season much earlier then they want to. 

Braden must be better.  The defensive play must be better.  If that happens I am still confident that Hershey will win this series.

There is still a lot of hockey to play.

Bears vs Checkers....preview #3

This is the final series preview post and this is where I give my final pick for this round...and maybe the entire postseason...I am not sure yet.  (Note...I just finished writing and this ended up being much longer than I anticipated...sorry. If you just want my predictions then just scroll to the bottom to see them.  Thanks for reading!)

Tonight at 7:00pm Hershey begins their quest for their 3rd consecutive Calder Cup.  John Walton discusses the rarity of the opportunity in a post of his own on today

16 wins.  That is the only thing that separates Hershey from probably the greatest team feat this league has ever seen.  In the history of the AHL only 1 team, the 1960-62 Springfield Indians, has won 3 straight Cups.  And they did it when the league was only 8 teams.

First up though is Charlotte.  You need 4 wins in this series before you worry about anything else. 

One game at a time...One series at a time.

The first round opponent the last two years for Hershey (Philly and Bridgeport) weren't that good to be honest.  Hershey managed to get through those series quickly and with little difficulty.

The Checkers are a different animal.  I guess they aren't even an animal...hmmm.  Getting off track now. 

They bring multiple 20+ goal scorers, plenty of young talent, and a successful campaign up until this point into Giant Center for game 1 tonight.

Yesterday I discussed some cool or not so cool stats, depending on how you interpret them and how much emphasis you put on the statistics.

This morning you might have seen my breakdown of the players for each team.

Now you get my overall thoughts on the series in general.

I think Hershey is the better team.  When healthy I think Hershey is as good a team as there is in the AHL.  (Obviously Tim Leone agrees with me as he picked Hershey to raise their 12th cup).

In my opinion there are plenty of questions surrounding the Bears entering the playoffs. 

Can Braden Holtby play like Neuvy and carry the Bears?
Can the team stay healthy?
Can the power play and penalty kill return to early season form?
Will the role players step up?
Is there a star who can shoulder the load?

Obviously I can't answer those questions yet.  Only time will tell.

But I can give you my opinion on those questions.

Can Braden Holtby play like Neuvy and carry the Bears?

Holtby will play like Neuvy and carry the Bears.  It's simple I think.  When Braden was in Washington there was substantial pressure and uncertainty for him.  And he thrived.  Back in Hershey during the regular season there was little pressure and not really any uncertainty as he is the #1 goalie in Hershey.

But now the playoffs are here.  Now there is pressure.  Now there is uncertainty.  Braden knows that he must play like he did in Washington or the entire team will be playing golf earlier then they want to.

Can the team stay healthy?

This is as much a question posed to the Caps as it is in Hershey.  If the Capitals suffer any bad injuries that could derail Hershey's Calder Cup aspirations quicker than anything else. 

As for the Hershey players directly...I actually think the time off this season will help.  In the previous 2 seasons Hershey played a combined 203 games.  Then you add in the 80 this season.  That is 283 games in 3 years.

That's a lot of hockey.  And it takes a toll on the players, just ask the AHL...they just reduced the number of games for 2011-12 because of the grueling schedule.  No team has played as grueling a schedule as Hershey has of late.

So the time off for the players, guys like Aucoin, Gordon, McNeill, Pinner, they got to rest a little bit more than they usually would have.  In theory, and this is just a theory, they will be fresher during the playoffs then they would have been previously.

I think they come out strong, with excellent energy and motivation.

Can the power play and penalty kill return to early season form?

This is somewhat tied to the previous question.  The power play and penalty kill really started to fade when the injuries started.  As those players continue to get reacquainted with each other they will likely begin producing like they did previously.

It will come.  Maybe not in game 1, maybe not in game 2 but at some point in this series the power play will all of a sudden hit their stride.

Will the role players step up?

This is important.  Hershey doesn't have the number of top players like they did last year.  Chris Bourque and Alexander Giroux really carried this team for stretches last year.  The role players didn't need to play as big a role.

This season players like Bouchard, Kane, Pinner, Rome, Kozek...they will be playing larger roles and definitely need to produce. 

Kane tallied 24 goals and 25 assists this season.  Only 3 goals and 3 assists have come since the beginning of March.  He needs to do more.

Bouch stepped up late and produced 3 goals and 2 assists over an 8 game span.  But it was still a disappointing season as he produced only 12 goals and 12 assists.  A resurgence in the playoffs would be huge.

Andrew Kozek came over from Chicago where he had scored 7 goals and 5 assists in 57 games.  He has played 14 games for Hershey and has 4 goals and 4 assists.  He needs to keep it up.

In the end I think Hershey's role players definitely step up and contribute enough.  Which is exactly what you want.

Is there a star who can shoulder the load?

Last year and the year before you knew who to look towards for a goal in a pressure situation.  Giroux was the king as far as Hershey offense was concerned.  Last spring Bourque definitely served as prince and took home the Playoff MVP trophy.

This year is a concern.  And personally...this scares me the most.  I don't think there is a player on this team that is capable of stepping up in the big situations and make the big play.

I definitely hope I am wrong on that.  There are plenty of candidates...Gordon, Willsie, Greentree, Perreault, Aucoin.  But none of them (other than Greentree) are pure goal scorers.  And Greentree is not uber-consistent. 

In the end I think a committee like approach can work.  But I would much rather see one of these guys distinguish himself as THE MAN when a goal needs to be scored.  I think it is currently the biggest weakness on the team.

So there...I answered most of the questions that I HAD for the team entering the playoffs and this series.

The most important note from all these preview posts would be this...

Charlotte (and most of the other teams) have yet to see Hershey at full strength.  Perry spent considerable time in Washington.  McNeill, Souray, Nycholat all spent time injured.  Aucoin, Gordon...injured. 

If you think about how good the year was for Hershey (they finished 4th in the league overall) and then you consider that they missed so many games to injuries and call ups.  It's pretty impressive isn't it!?!?

Now the predictions part...

Bears over Checkers in 5 games.  That's right.  I spent the first 2 posts of this series telling you how good the Checkers are and now I am saying they win only 1 game.  That tells you how good I think this team can be when healthy. 

Calder Cup...let me say this...I am not as confident as I was last year or the year before that.  I am worried that the season will end before June.

But I refuse to succumb to those worries.  Bears will take the Cup! 

You know why...because Braden is that damn good!  He will carry this team to their 3rd consecutive Calder Cup.


Bears vs Checkers....preview #2


Yesterday we looked at some stats that tell a bit of a story.  In many ways the Charlotte Checkers were the superior team to Hershey this season.

But stats are generally meaningless once you get to the postseason.  The best teams routinely get ousted in the playoffs.

Winning in the playoffs in many ways comes down to players and getting the occasional bounce to go your way.

Since there is no way to break down fortunate bounces we will instead look at the players today.


Here is a category that most Bears fans would probably feel really good about.  The Bears have Braden Holtby.  He has been great for the Bears and even a bit better for the Capitals this season.

For sake of this preview we are going to assume that Braden Holtby and Justin Pogge will be the goalies for each game of the series.  Mike Murphy and Dany Sabourin would be the top backups but they are both injured.  Nolan Schaefer and Bobby Goepfert are the current backups.

But we only care about the starters.  During the regular season they compare like this...

GP Record GA GAA Saves Save %
Holtby 30 17-10-2 68 2.29 777 92%
Pogge 48 22-18-4 136 3.12 1327 90.7%

Pretty good for both guys to be honest.  Braden's numbers are better but that was to be expected.

Now let's look at how they performed in the season series...

GP Record GA GAA Saves Save %
Holtby 5 2-3 16 3.15 126 88.7%
Pogge 4 0-1-1 7 2.59 83 92.2%

That tells a different story a bit doesn't it.  Pogge's stats are slightly deceiving as he was pulled in 1 game against Hershey and was tossed in another.  So while he only allowed 7 goals many of them came in a short amount of time.

I don't think too many people would argue the fact that Holtby is the better overall goalie right now but he struggled against the Checkers this season, hasn't looked great in recent outings (unless he is playing for Washington), and struggled in his 3 playoff outings last season.

Pogge can be rattled as he did multiple times this season.  If Hershey can crash the net and crowd his crease they should be able to frustrate the Checkers #1.


This is one of the hardest things to measure.  How do you measure a players effectiveness on defense?  It is almost impossible considering the statistics provided by the AHL.  In the NHL they track more stats which if combined/divided/multiplied can tell you a players effectiveness.

Plus/minus is a tough statistic to rely on because of the many factors that play into it.  But it is all we have right now.

Another way to gauge a defenseman's effectiveness is based on his offensive production.  So many blue-liners are asked to contribute more offensively now that they can rack up solid point totals.  Lawrence Nycholat averaged almost a point a game when he was actually able to play.

First up let's look at the Bears.  The following players are the guys I would expect to see as the top 6 entering the series.  Two huge questions with this list...1) if Sean Collins returns he absolutely makes this list and 2) I am not sure Nycholat will see much time with the veteran limit and all.

Goals Assists Points +/-
Brian Fahey 4 26 30 +22
Sheldon Souray 4 15 19 +10
Patrick McNeill 7 20 27 +7
Patrick Wellar 3 15 18 +1
Lawrence Nycholat 5 23 28 +15
Dmitry Orlov 2 7 9 -5

A solid group.  Admittedly I was surprised to see Orlov at -5 and Wellar at just a +1.  Dmitry has not been in the lineup against Charlotte this season.  Over the season series Fahey had 4 assists against the Checkers while Wellar was a -2.  The biggest surprise on the season series would be that Collins, who led the Bears with a +29 on the year, was a very poor -5 against Charlotte.

Now let's look at the Checkers top 6 based on my assumptions (which admittedly could be way off).

Goals Assists Points +/-
Bryan Rodney 9 38 47 -15
Michal Jordan 4 14 18 +13
Bobby Sanguinetti 3 12 15 0
Casey Borer 2 12 14 +7
Brett Bellemore 2 8 10 +8
Zack FitzGerald 0 8 8 -11

Not certain that those are the players we will see or not. But that is my best guess.  Outside of Rodney there isn't much offense there.  Although keep in mind that Sanguinetti only played in 31 games this season so he averaged about a half point per game.

As I mentioned before...measuring a defensemans worth is hard to do with statistics.  As a unit the Bears seemed to block a lot of shots but again the AHL does not provide us with enough statistics to make a true valuation.

Based on the overall performance of the defenses you would have to give the Bears the advantage here but that can definitely be neutralized by ill-timed penalties and unfortunate bounces.


In years past this was a no-brainer...the Bears were better and deeper.  This year that isn't necessarily the case.

On the season Hershey had 9 (if you count Kozek) double digit goal scorers and 6 players with 40+ points.  Charlotte, likewise, had 9 double digit goal scorers but they had 8 40+ point getters.

The big difference comes at the 20+ goal mark.  Hershey had only 4 while the Checkers had 6.  Not a huge difference but if you put three of those players on one line Hershey has only 1 left while the Checkers have 2 full lines of 20+ scorers.

Here are the top 7 forwards for the Bears as I see it.  That stats you see in parentheses are from the season series.

Goals Assists Points PP Goals
Keith Aucoin 18(2) 54(2) 72(4) 4
Brian Willsie 30(1) 38(4) 68(5) 14
Kyle Greentree 30(5) 33(1) 63(6) 13
Andrew Gordon 28(1) 29(2) 57(3) 14
Boyd Kane 24(2) 25(2) 49(4) 4
Steve Pinizzotto 17(0) 25(2) 42(2) 2
Mathieu Perreault 11(2) 24(1) 35(3) 0

The most troubling part of the Bears 7 is that they are much better at home than on the road.  For example, Aucoin had 44 points on home ice and only 28 on the road despite playing in 1 more road game.  Gordon, 11 points less.  Kane, 13.  Pinner, 10.  Willsie, 8.  Perry, 7.  Greentree is the only (of the top 7) Bears player to even get to even between road and home as he actually had 3 more road points then home points.

Does that mean anything?  It might mean that games 1 and 2 are as important as any in the series.  Or it might mean nothing.

The only reason it really concerns me is that the Checkers don't have the same problem.  I didn't calculate all 7 guys numbers but I did do 4 of them (sorry...ran out of time).  The only one that saw a drastically lower number on the road was Dalpe.  The rest of the guys I checked (Boychuk, Terry, and Micflikier) were either better on the road or just a couple points worse on the road.

Here are there numbers before analyzing more.

Goals Assists Points PP Goals
Zach Boychuk 22(0) 43(8) 65(8) 10
Chris Terry 34(5) 30(2) 64(7) 10
Jacob Micflikier 29(4) 32(3) 61(7) 12
Zac Dalpe 23(4) 34(4) 57(8) 7
Jon Matsumoto 20(0) 28(3) 48(3) 10
Drayson Bowman 12(1) 18(3) 30(4) 3
Oskar Osala 13(1) 29(3) 42(4) 2

So...what do you think?

Charlotte has some definite talent in their top 6.  They can score and they have some good balance.  Something Hershey said a lot last year.

Based on the seasons they had I would say that the Checkers actually have the edge in the discussion about offense.  Offensively they are the class of the league.

But after all that you need to keep one very important thing in mind...Charlotte hasn't seen a full Hershey team yet this season.  The closest Hershey came to having a full squad was the 1-0 win over Charlotte in Hershey on January 29.  Even in that game Hershey was missing Perry, Nycholat, and Orlov.

In fact the only other game against Charlotte that Gordon and Aucoin played in together was the first of the year on November 7.  They are arguably 2 of the best players in the league and one or the other missed 6 of the games against Charlotte this season.

When healthy I still contend that Hershey is as talented as any team in the AHL.

And they are healthy now.

Check back later today for my prediction...a hint...Bears will win. 

Like I would ever say anything else!!


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Caps previews, League news, Other thoughts

If you are here looking for Preview #1 of the Bears/Checkers series you can scroll down the page or click here to see the preview now.

Okay well I did not intend to post again before tomorrow's Preview #2 discussing some of the players we will see over the next 4-7 games.  But then I found all these interesting links and wanted to share!

First of all, the NHL playoffs begin tonight.  That includes the Caps.  If you are excited about the Caps chances this year and are looking for some good series previews I encourage you to check out some of these links.  They are all worth the read and will get you ready for game 1 tonight.

Capitals/Rangers: Breaking Down the Match-up (Japers Rink)

Another Rematch with Another Old Rival (On Frozen Blog)

The "E" Word (Dump 'n Chase)

Sweet are the uses of adversity – Duke Senior (Chirps from the Ledge)


Now that you are hyped for the Caps series lets return to the AHL and get you hyped for the Bears if you weren't already.

The following image was created by the folks at Chasing Checkers, a Charlotte Checkers blog.  They did their series preview post (view here) and this was the image they created for the post...

It's just not right.  How much would you love to see that 4 game sweep now?!?  LET'S GO BEARS!!!
Now on to some frustrating news.  In my opinion anyways. 
Last year Hershey won 60 regular season games.  A record.
This season Hershey drew 392,005 fans.  A record.
Hershey won 32 playoff games the last 2 seasons.  A record.
Those might stand a while.  The AHL's Board of Directors announced today some schedule changes for the AHL beginning next season.
1.  76 game regular season.
2.  Longer season by days (one week added).
3.  First round becomes 5 games instead of 7.
I have nothing against a shorter season for the most part.  The league cited the wear and tear on prospects for the reasoning and I think it is fair.  But no team will win 60 and (more than likely) no team will draw 390,000+ fans in 2 less home games.
The reason for lengthening the season is to eliminate ALL 4 in 5's.  So no more Wed, Fri, Sat, Sun weekends for next season.  Obviously that is better for the players but the 4 in 5 surrounding Thanksgiving was always fun.  In the end this will surely lead to better hockey, fewer injuries, and better development for the young guys.
The final item is the one that bothers me the most.  7 game series are the ONLY WAY IT SHOULD BE!  Period.  I can see shortening the regular season (as far as number of games) but shortening the playoffs too?  I know I's only 2 games.  But...its ONLY 2 GAMES! 
I am sure these changes will seem insignificant down the road but for now they offer both positives and negatives in my eyes. 

Here is the article discussing the moves.
Now back to the good news.
Sweetest Hockey on Earth is welcoming all Bears fans to their tailgate on Sunday afternoon.   They will be near light post 96 starting at 2pm (unless it rains in which case it is cancelled).  Sounds like a good time that I intend to check out.
Check back tomorrow for more series previews!! 

Bears vs Checkers....preview #1


The playoffs are almost here.  The NHL playoffs start tonight and the Bears start up tomorrow!  Awesome.

After an 80 game preseason the real meaningful season is finally here.  A possibility of 28 games and 16 wins is all that stands in the way of the Calder Cup.

In 05-06 it was Norfolk in the first round.  In 08-09 it was Philadelphia.  Last year it was Bridgeport.

This year it is Charlotte.  In case anyone has forgotten...they were Albany last year.  Last April the Albany River Rats swept the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the 1st round of the AHL playoffs.

Then they ran into a buzz-saw in Hershey and were swept in the 2nd round of the AHL playoffs...the Division finals.

But don't think for a minute that Hershey dominated the series.  3 of the 4 games went to OT.  Goals were easy to come by for both teams.  Overall Hershey scored 21 in the 4 game series while the Rats scored 15.

After a summer move from Albany to Charlotte the new look Checkers have a very similar look to the old River Rats.

The 15 goals scored by the River Rats in the Hershey series last year were scored by 8 different players.  6 of those players are on this years team.  Those players are Drayson Bowman, Nick Dodge, Zac Dalpe, Oskar Osala, Chris Terry, and Zach Boychuk.

Last year 4 of those players were rookies...Bowman, Dalpe, Terry, and Boychuk.

This team is not to be taken lightly.  They are roughly the same team as last season with more experience.  That is a dangerous thing.

Let's take a glance at the teams from this past season.  I have looked through a bunch of the stats and found some that I think tell a little story.

Sure you can look at the one most important stat up until this point.  Hershey finished with 100 points this season....Charlotte managed 97.  So Hershey gets the higher seed and is therefore considered the odds on favorite to move on.

But after considering the overall season stats I would say...not so fast.

I was just on facebook and looked at the AHL fan page (find it here) and they have polls up for each and every series for people to vote on.  Over 50% of people think Hershey will win this series in 5 games.

Only about 20% actually think Charlotte will win at all.

I think people are overlooking how talented this Charlotte team is.

So...back to the comparison:

Let's start with some records....

Bears Checkers
Overall 46-26-3-5 44-27-2-7
Home 21-14-2-3 22-13-1-4
Road 25-12-1-2 22-14-1-3
Scoring 1st 38-6-2-5 32-6-1-2
Allowing 1st Goal 8-20-1-0 12-21-1-5
Leading After 1 28-2-1-4 24-3-1-0
Tied After 1 14-7-1-1 14-10-0-7
Trailing After 1 4-17-1-1 6-14-1-0
Leading After 2 32-0-1-3 31-2-1-2
Tied After 2 12-4-0-1 10-3-0-4
Trailing After 2 2-22-2-1 3-22-1-1
Outshooting Opp 25-18-0-3 24-15-1-0
Outshot by Opp 20-8-3-2 19-11-1-7

So what can we gather from these?  Well...the first goal is going to be very important but the most important stat will be who leads at the end of the 1st two periods.  Neither team loses very often when they have a lead at the end of a period.

One thing I do take from this is that Charlotte might have had the better season considering these numbers.  Obviously Hershey did better overall and on the road while the Checkers did better at home.

But when scoring 1st the numbers get a little more misleading.  Sure, Hershey had 38 wins when scoring first compared to Charlotte's 32.  Unfortunately with the additional games they scored first in they only won 74.2% of those games while Charlotte won 78% of their games when they scored first.

And when they give up the first goal Hershey is 2nd as well.  Charlotte won a little over 30% of their games when allowing the 1st goal...Hershey only won about 27%.

It definitely makes the first goal in these games a little more important...doesn't it?

Now let's take a look at the special teams...

Bears Checkers
Power Plays 365 381
PP Goals 66 80
Overall PP% 18.1 21.0
Home PP% 20.3 24.2
Road PP% 15.5 17.8
Times Shorthanded 393 340
PP Goals Allowed 66 56
Overall PK% 83.2 83.5
Home PK% 84.1 84.6
Road PK% 82.4 82.6

A couple of months ago Hershey was one of the premier teams in the AHL both on the power play and the penalty kill.  But by the end of the season they were not in the top 10 in either category.

Across the board Charlotte had a better season as far as special teams go.

The best news here...Hershey wasn't healthy much of the season.  When they were...they were exceptional on the power play and penalty kill.  Hopefully that returns.

Now some offensive numbers...

Bears Checkers
Goals Scored 255 265
Goals per game 3.19 3.31
Shots per game 30.2 32.6
Goal Diff (1st) +20 +4
Goal Diff (2nd) +3 +15
Goal Diff (3rd) +21 +3
Shot Diff (1st) +144 -50
Shot Diff (2nd) +1 -17
Shot Diff (3rd) +74 +56

Finally some good news in the overall comparison.  Hershey is much better in the 1st and 3rd periods than the teams they play against.  As luck would have it the Checkers aren't as good in those periods.

Obviously shot differential isn't a great stat to explain a teams abilities but I think it does offer an idea to how good a team is in their own zone.  Hershey keeps teams to the outside and they block a lot of shots.

That is obviously a good thing.

And finally a few defensive numbers...(not nearly as many relative stats here)

Bears Checkers
Goals Allowed 214 243
Goals Allowed per game 2.68 3.04
Shots Allowed per game 27.6 32.9

And this is where the Bears really made their mark this season.  When healthy they were as tough to score on as any team in the league.  For much of the season they led the league in goals allowed (or were in the top 2 or 3) but injuries on defense and in goal definitely took there toll down the stretch.

So what...if all these stats mean?

No one knows.  That's the best part of the playoffs.  No matter what you know (or think you know) about a team you never really know anything.

Records, stats, and other the other measurables mean less during playoff hockey then any other time or sport.  The best teams in the leagues during the regular season rarely win in the playoffs.

That makes it suspenseful and that makes it so great to watch.  Every minute you are on the edge of your seat hoping that your team can pull out the win.

During the regular season there are definitely moments when you feel that way.  But in the end it is basically 80 preseason games.

In the playoffs the emotion is the same whether it is game 1 or game 7 (ok maybe not but you get the point).  If you drop game 1 you are only 3 losses away from the ultimate end to your season.

Bears fans have been incredibly privileged the last 5 seasons.  We have seen 3 teams win the Calder Cup and another team come up just short in the finals.  4 out of 5 seasons Hershey has played hockey well into June.

Will it happen again?  I will let you know my feelings on Thursday.

For now I leave you with one final table of stats.  These are the head to head numbers between the teams this season.  We all know by now that Hershey and Charlotte split their 8 game season series 4-4.  You probably also know that each team went 2-2 at home and on the road.

So it was pretty much perfectly even...right?

Maybe be the judge:

Bears Checkers
Goals For 21 25
Goals per game 2.6 3.1
Shots per game 32.9 30.5
PP Goals 6 7
Overall PP% 20.0 15.9
Overall PK% 84.1 80.0

Hmmm...sure the Checkers scored more but otherwise they weren't better at all when playing Hershey head to head.  Hershey had more shots, had a better power play, and had a better penalty kill.

Which stats are more important?  The overall season or the head to head?

We find out beginning Thursday.

Tomorrow morning I intend to have another preview up discussing the players that we will see playing for Hershey and Charlotte.  Check it out.