First up, Bears vs Pens:
We can focus on the positives if we want to...
- The game went to overtime...first time in 8 games the Pens even gave up 1 point,
- The Bears scored 4 goals against a Pens team that had given up only 8 over the last 7 games total,
- Hershey rallied from 1 goal deficits twice, and
- Take out 30 seconds of the second period and Hershey wins by 1.
- Hershey gave up 2 goals in the final 30 seconds of the second period,
- Wilkes-Barre controlled the play from the opening faceoff,
- A lack of hustle to the loose pucks, and
- What appears to be an overall lack of communication on the ice.
First of all you have to score when you come in 2 on none on the penalty kill, which the Bears did once. If you are going to win games against teams as good as the Baby Pens you have to score on those.
And you can not give up goals at the end of periods. Sure, from time to time you will give up a goal at the end of a period...even the Pens gave one up to the Bears at the end of the 1st period Friday night (although I think if thats the NHL it gets reviewed and overturned for coming after the period was over...just sayin). But you can not give up 2 goals at that point. That is embarassing effort by a team who's motto is "No Rest".
While those non-goals and goals against were definitely huge points in the game, they aren't my biggest concern.
Anytime there was a loose puck the Penguins seemed to get to it. Battles in the corner...the Pens won those. Neutral zone play...controlled by the Pens. I didn't think the Penguins controlled the puck the whole game, which is good, but they controlled the tempo and style of play with ease.
For long stretches it seemed like the Bears were all just standing around watching other players make plays...typically Penguin players.
Which brings us to...communication. Time after time it looked like Bears players were waiting for a teammate to get to a loose puck. They didn't want to leave their position to get the puck because they thought someone else would.
To me that is a simple breakdown in communication. Considering the veterans on this team you would think this would be second nature. Maybe it has to do with all the new faces but we are now 15 games into the season...if you haven't started talking to your teammates by now, when are you going to?
Are some of these things injury/recall related? Maybe. Kyle Greentree, Ryan Potulny, and Matthew Ford are all out with injuries while Cody Eakin remains in Washington. That means increased roles for Joel Rechlicz, newcomer DJ King, Maxime Lacroix, and rookie Garrett Mitchell. I am not suggesting that they can't handle it or don't deserve it, but when you continuously play with different players the first thing to diminish will be things like going after loose pucks and communication.
But that shouldn't be an excuse. It should be resolved during practice.
It sure as hell didn't get any better by Sunday night...Bears vs Sound Tigers:
Last night the hustle was definitely better. For the first 10 minutes and honestly for about 90% of the game the Bears controlled the play. They were the team getting the loose pucks and they were controlling the play.
The effort was definitely better. (Which is good considering how much energy they must have had left after the poor effort on Friday).
But you know what I noticed...a lack of communication. **In the interest of full disclosure, I sit in section 103 so I am no where near the bench to hear any discussion going on there (players yelling to teammates, coaches coaching, etc.).**
All night I heard the Sound Tigers last night. All game long I heard players telling each other what was going on and where they were. The Bears? Didn't hear a peep. And I am not that much closer to the Sound Tigers bench but you could hear them clearly from where I was sitting.
I am not saying the Bears weren't talking...I am sure there is some communication going on. All I am saying is that it would appear that a bit more would be helpful.
You know what else would work...a change in the lineup. I know that all problems can not be solved by changing the lines but I think these problems could be.
The key to setting your lines is to find the guys that work best together. I don't attend practice so obviously the coaching staff sees more than I do. On that level you have to assume that Coaches French and Mann have considered that in their line makeups.
The next thing you have to consider is roles. Keith Aucoin is a playmaker, he is going to pass the puck 75% of the time. Kyle Greentree is a shooter, he will shoot 75% of the time. Boyd Kane and Graham Mink are grinders, their strategy is to get to the front of the net and cause havoc and get rebounds.
In general, and in my own non-professional opinion, a line should be made up of a playmaker, a shooter/scorer, and a grinder. This allows for goals from many different setups and actions. Rebound goals are more likely because you have the grinder and the shooter while "pretty" goals are also likely with a playmaker and a shooter.
The problem with Hershey's lines right now is they aren't balanced. Chris Bourque has a great slap-shot, but he isn't a pure scorer, he has always been more of a playmaker who would prefer to pass first and shoot later. I think Jacob Micflikier is the best shooter/scorer on the team right now (Greentree would be up close but he is hurt). My top line would be Micflikier, Aucoin, and Mink. Move Bourque to the second line with Hanson and Kane or Mitchell.
After that the big problem for the Bears is a lack of scorers/shooters. As much as Francois Bouchard didn't earn the playing time, he was a shooter/scorer that could have played a bigger role with Greentree and Ford out with injuries.
In the end I didn't think the Bears played badly last night. The lines just didn't click that well. Shots from the outside were rarely getting through and their goalie, Anders Nilsson, is huge and clogged up the crease pretty well. He did give up lots of rebounds but they are many times hard to corral.
Hershey should have won last night. Friday night they were lucky to get a point. Last night they were unlucky not getting some bounces.
The injuries will eventually work themselves out. Ford, Greentree, and Potulny will be back...some sooner than others, and will return to the lineup and help Hershey's depth and balance. Until then the coaching staff needs to make the changes that will help this team win. Having Bourque and Aucoin on the same line isn't working. Bourque has 1 goal and 0 assists in his last 7 games. You can't win with your top winger producing like that.
Obviously the offense isn't the only problem, but it's the only one that I think gets solved by a simple shuffling of players. Defense...that's a topic for a different day.
This Bears team is still very talented. They are built, like the 05-06 team, for the spring...lots of grinders and, hopefully, lots of ugly goals. It is way too early to worry...but it is never to early to try different things and adjust on the fly to see what might work when the games are more important