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....
|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|
|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...
|PP Goals Allowed||66||56|
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...
|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)
|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 anything...do 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 not....you be the judge:
|Goals per game||2.6||3.1|
|Shots per game||32.9||30.5|
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.