Last night the Bears finished their 4 games in 7 nights stretch around the Thanksgiving holiday. It started out well enough with a win over Providence last Wednesday night and then a tough shootout win over Wilkes-Barre on Friday night.
And then it went down hill.
Saturdays game ended with a 5-4 loss as the Bears blew a 2 goal lead and couldn't hold on after tying the game late in the 3rd. Then last night they lost 4-2 (one empty netter) after again tying the game at 2 with less than 10 minutes to go.
These good starts and late game collapses are beginning to become the norm this year. The Bears have outscored their opponents 30-17 in the first period so far this season. But in the 2nd period they are being outscored 18-20 and in the 3rd it is 18-21.
It doesn't look that bad and in all honesty it isn't the worst in the league. But it needs to get better. Norfolk is currently a +14 in the 3rd period (32 for, only 18 against). Wilkes-Barre is actually worse than Hershey in the 3rd (-5), but they are a +13 in the 2nd (28-15) to make up for it.
The Bears are one of only 7 AHL teams to give up more goals than they score in both the 2nd and 3rd periods. The other teams...Grand Rapids, Hamilton (-16 in the 3rd), Lake Erie, Providence, San Antonio, and Texas. Now take a look at the standings and see where those teams are...NONE of those other teams would be in the playoffs as of right now. And the Bears would be the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference...barely.
Coach French tried to shuffle up the lines last night in an effort to get some more offense, moving Matt Ford to the top line in place of Boyd Kane. Kane was the veteran scratch last night and didn't make the trip to Connecticut. Which is kind of a shame considering he must have been well rested after earning 53 penalty minutes over the course of the 2 previous games.
I like the effort to adjust the lines. While I am not certain that was the right move to make I am looking forward to seeing how the adjustment works after a few games together. So hopefully French leaves the changes in place now.
And he will have to make more line adjustments as well. Mattias Sjogren has decided to return to Sweden to play hockey. Can't say as though I blame him, but it is unfortunate. Supposedly, according to his agent, he was told that he would only spend a few games (if any) in Hershey. Yet his performance has left a decent amount to be desired (in my opinion) and he wasn't likely to get recalled anytime soon. Returning to your home country to make much more money seems like a simple decision and hopefully things work out for him.
As for the Bears, they recalled Matt Pope again after just releasing him from his tryout contract a couple days ago. Sjogren wasn't pulling down time on the top lines or that many minutes at all so it isn't a huge replacement to make, but it is another body down.
With Kyle Greentree still sidelined, Cody Eakin still in Washington, and now Sjogren returning to Sweden, this Bears team is down a full line from their projected lineup at the beginning of the season. Add to that Dmitry Orlov who is also still in Washington (and earning some power play time from new coach Dale Hunter).
We were all expecting a deep and talented team that would rival any AHL team in 2011-12 and we haven't had a chance to see it just yet. With the coaching change in Washington there is no telling what the plan is for Eakin or Orlov. John Erskine just returned to the lineup and Mike Green is expected to return sooner than later so one would think Orlov would be on his way back at some point. Eakin is a tougher call as I think he would be exactly what Hunter is looking for in a player...someone that shows up to work every single game and puts in 100% effort no matter what the situation. Once (if) Jay Beagle is ready to return one would think that there is less reason to keep Eakin up there, but who knows.
The Bears, like any other team, needs to adjust on the fly. So far, they haven't done so.
This weekend presents another opportunity for them though. 3 games in 3 nights...2 of which are against teams below Hershey in the standings (Syracuse and Portland).
A quarter of the season is now over and there is reason to have legitimate concerns about this team. Fortunately there is still time to remedy the problems and alleviate any and all concerns.
But that time frame shrinks with every game.