If you want to see end to end, high scoring hockey then I suggest you get your tickets for the remaining Norfolk - Hershey games because I think this is the kind of hockey you will see for most of the season series between these two teams.
The Bears blew it last night. They were up 2 at the 11 minute mark of the 2nd period before allowing 2 late goals in the 2nd to allow Norfolk back into it. And in overtime the Admirals scored the game winner.
Honestly though, I didn't think the Bears played that badly. Sure there was a long stretch there in the 3rd where the Bears couldn't get the puck into the Norfolk zone, but even with that considered I thought this was a well played game by both teams.
Maybe the goalies struggled a bit but even there I would say that both made big saves and the goals that were scored were good goals. No true cheap goals went in, in my opinion.
Graham Mink, Sean Collins, Chris Bourque, Matthew Ford, and Jacob Micflikier scored Hershey's goals. Goalie Braden Holtby made 22 saves and the Bears earned a point.
But Hershey couldn't stop Norfolk's young stars. Cory Conacher and Carter Ashton combined for 3 goals and Conacher controlled the play much of the night when he was on the ice. Offensively the Admirals are as good as the Hershey Bears in my opinion. Based on talent these teams are about equal at the forward position. Hershey might have more depth and definitely more experience but the Admirals have a stable of forwards that can score on any one, any night.
Most of the time I think you would say that the Bears have better goaltending and a better defensive core than the Admirals but that wasn't the case last night. Jaroslav Janus made 32 saves, many of them timely, and the Norfolk defense played good enough to win.
And Hershey's defense did not. Although, as I said before, I don't think they played badly. The one spot where I think this team COULD struggle at times is in their physical play. Danny Richmond brings a physical presence to the blueline, as does Patrick Wellar, but I don't think you would say any of the others do.
Overall last night there wasn't much physicality at all. In order to slow this Norfolk team down it seems like you will have to hit them and knock them off the puck. The Bears didn't want to do that last night, routinely turning away from taking the body on the forecheck and allowing guys free run through the neutral zone.
That type of play comes with time though as these players are still getting the feel for how one another plays. This was game 4 of the season. Exactly half of the lineup last night was not a part of the 2010-11 team. They are still adjusting to their teammates and the system that Hershey runs.
They will get better.
My Three Stars of the Night:
- Cory Conacher - the best player on the ice last night. 2 goals to show for it.
- Keith Aucoin - 4 assists in the loss.
- Cody Eakin - I thought the best Bear on the ice last night. Hustled at both ends every time he was on the ice.
- Offense | A - What other grade can you give a team that scores 5 times on 37 shots. And honestly they left some on the table. They trailed twice (first time this season they trailed) and rallied back both times. I think a performance like last night wins the game 9 out of 10 times.
- Defense | B - I saw one bad play that led to a goal. The first Norfolk goal was scored because Matthew Ford wasn't playing his man close enough. He saw him and was watching him, but he wasn't "on" him. Outside of that I think the biggest problem was the lack of physicality in their own end.
- Goaltending | B - As I said above, there were no bad goals. I don't see how you fault Braden for any of the goals scored in this game. But in the end you can't allow 6 goals on 28 shots.
- Power Play | B - 25% success rate (2 of 8) is average but they had lots of chances. A couple times they struggled to set up and get shots but that Norfolk penalty kill is uber-aggressive and doesn't allow you any space.
- Penalty Kill | A - they only made an appearance twice and I believe one of those was for a whopping 5 seconds so its a small sample size but they did well.
- Overall | B - I am surprised myself that in a game where the Bears allow 6 goals I find them no worse than a B grade, but you tell me where they played worse than that. Norfolk is a very good offensive team (they have 21 goals in 4 games this season) and they played like it last night. The Bears escaped with a point despite being outplayed for a long portion of the 3rd period. All things considered...it was a good outcome for them. It could have been better...but good nonetheless.