Thursday, April 14, 2011

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.


No comments: