Sunday, October 23, 2011

GameDay Preview: Bears vs Crunch

Well last night sucked.  It felt just like 2010-11 as the Baby Pens came into Hershey, controlled the play, and left with a solid victory. 

Hershey couldn't solve Pens goalie Brad Thiessen, 27 saves, until late in the 3rd period when the game was pretty much over.  The Pens solved Braden Holtby early as they scored 3 times in the first 31 minutes on their way to a 3-1 victory.

Considering the Bears couldn't beat the Penguins on home ice last year it was a tough game to watch.  Hershey did manage two victories over the Pens in 2010-11 but both came on the road (one in Pittsburgh and another in Wilkes-Barre). 

Boyd Kane picked up the lone Bears goal on a night that all in Hershey are hoping to not see again. 

But enough about last night...what's done is done.  Let's turn our focus to tonight's tilt against the Syracuse Crunch.  By the end of the season the Crunch could be Hershey's biggest obstacle to an East Division crown.

Last season the Crunch finished 6th in the East Division, 15 points out of the final playoff spot.  Last season the Crunch struggled to both score goals (2.71 per game, 24th in AHL) and keep them out of their own net (3.11 per game, 23rd).

They were a young team last season when 4 rookies finished in the top 6 in team scoring.  Many of those players and some additional youngsters are expected to take the next step.

Kyle Palmieri, Nicolas Deschamps, and Nick Bonino were rookies in 2010-11 and all finished in the top 5 in scoring on the team.  Peter Holland and Rick Schofield were late season additions after juniors and college, respectively, who both produced while in Syracuse.  Holland had 3 goals and 3 assists in his 3 games while Schofield had 3 goals and 4 assists in 7 games.  Add to that group rookie Kevin King, a teammate of Cody Eakin's last season with Kootenay, and you have a very young lineup ready to make some noise.

Patrick Maroon is also on the team.  And surprisingly he is still just a young prospect.  It feels like he has been around for years, but while he is already in his 4th AHL season he is only 23 years old as he was drafted out of the NAHL and not a CHL league making him AHL eligible immediately.  Maroon, after coming over from the Phantoms early in the season, scored 21 goals and added 27 assists in 58 games last year.

Add to that Dan Sexton, 9 goals and 8 assists in only 17 games, and Matt Beleskey, 11 goals and 13 assists in only 27 games, and you have another group of players that only spent partial seasons in Syracuse but are definitely offensive forces.

And they didn't rest on these players in the offseason either.  They added veterans Mark Bell, a former 25 goal scorer in the NHL, Nathan Smith, Troy Bodie, and Jean-Francois Jacques to an already deep forwards core.

Defensively they also added pieces...and good ones. 

Kyle Cumiskey, the NHL veteran, Bryan Rodney, Charlotte's captain last year, and Mathieu Carle, from Hamilton, were all brought in to the fold.  They join young Mat Clark and veteran Nate Guenin to make a fairly formidable blue line.

Goaltending is probably the biggest question mark for this team.  Last season Jean-Philippe Levasseur and Timo Pielmeier manned the pipes for most of the season.  Neither goalie had a goals against average under 3 and their save percentages were barely over .900.

Enter Iiro Tarkki and Jeff Drouin-Deslaurius for 2011-12.  Last season Tarkki spent the season playing in the Finnish Elite League and compiled a 22-22-9 record, a 2.44 gaa, and a .919 save percentage in 58 games.  Drouin-Deslaurius was in Oklahoma City, going 17-13-4 with a 2.81 gaa and .906 save %.  Both players could be considered upgrades from 2010-11.

The Crunch have not made the playoffs since 2007-08 but appear determined to do so in 2011-12.  The lineup might lack the depth of some of the other division rivals but the talent is definitely there.  It will be an exciting game tonight and an exciting 5 more between the clubs this season.

Hershey Bears
record ~ 4-1-1-0 | 9 points
standings ~ 1st in East Division
most recent game ~ 3-1 Loss vs Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 10/22
last 5 games ~ 3-1-1-0
home record ~ 0-1-1-0
goals for ~ 22
goals against ~ 19
power play ~ 28.1% (6th)
road penalty kill ~ 87.5% (6th)

Syracuse Crunch
record ~ 3-0-1-1 | 8 points
standings ~ 3rd in East Division
most recent game ~ 3-2 OT Loss vs Lake Erie, 10/22
last 5 games ~ 3-0-1-1
road record ~ 1-0-0-1
goals for ~19
goals against ~15
road power play ~23.5% (9th)
home penalty kill ~ 82.6% (14th)

last time teams met - This is the first of 6 meetings between the teams this season.  In 2010-11 the teams split their 6 games with the road team winning each game.

Players to watch:

LW Chris Bourque (17) - the team leader in goals (4) and points (10) needs to come ready to play tonight.
LW Boyd Kane (12) - the captain and veteran is being asked to step into a bigger role with Greentree and Potulny out of the lineup.  He has 2 goals this season, both on the power play.
C Keith Aucoin (11) - he sits at 2nd on the team in points (9) and leads the team in assists with 7.
RW Kyle Palmieri (21) - leading the team and the AHL in goals with 8 in only 5 games. 
LW Patrick Maroon (19) - second on team in goals with 4 and 3rd in points with 8.
C Nick Bonino (13) - leads the AHL and the team with 8 assists and is 2nd on the team in points with 9.

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