Lots has happened since I have posted so let's examine it a bit:
Cody Eakin was recalled to Washington.
I watched most of his first game and he looked good for the Caps. I was a bit surprised they called him up considering they didn't "need" him, but you knew it was coming at some point this season. He will probably be back, depending on injuries to the Caps, but there is no telling when that will be.
DJ King is a Bear.
DJ wanted more playing time. Simple as that. The Caps tried placing him on waivers to see if anyone would steal him away but no one did. For anyone who doesn't know...King has generally been a fighter/instigator in his career. He is a veteran, but falls into the exempt veteran status (or whatever its called) in the 260-320 games played. Same as Kyle Greentree. So while Greentree is out there is no harm in him dressing for games.
Who knows what the long term intentions are. My guess...they are hoping he showcases well so somebody picks up his contract and steals him on re-entry waivers. If that doesn't happen...it could get interesting if he stays in Hershey as that would just add another body to worry about.
Francois Bouchard is gone. Tomas Kundratek is a Bear.
I was somewhat surprised the Caps even tendered Bouch an offer this past summer. His production had slipped badly last year and he had never come close to reaching his full potential. Hopefully the change of scenery will do him good and get him refocused. Being in an organization like Washington/Hershey can't help a lot of young guys feel they have a real shot. Not the forwards anyways.
Kundratek comes over from the Connecticut Whale and is in only his 2nd pro season at the age of 21 (22 this December). Hockey's Future.com pegs him as a solid puck moving, defensive defenseman with a good shot. The suggestion from them is he could have an NHL future if he continues to progress and gets stronger. There is some thought that he could develop like a Patrick McNeill for the organization.
Bears have struggled a bit of late.
Over the last 2 weeks the Bears have played a total of 5 games. That is 10 possible points. The Bears have 5...and 4 of them came against the Binghamton Senators.
It isn't a terrible stretch, but I was expecting more consistency from this team this year. The injuries and recalls have surely hurt though. I think that stuff has kind of highlighted a glaring weakness in the organizational depth...not a whole lot of young offensive talent in the pipeline. Sure there are a couple of Russian forwards that could make an impact down the road but that's about it.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised as the same weakness was there last year...to a point. Last year some of the injuries were to the "young" prospects like Andrew Gordon and Steve Pinizzotto. This year it is the veterans getting hurt (Kyle Greentree and Ryan Potulny) and there aren't any young kids to step in and take their place. At least not many.
But I am getting off topic. Hershey has started out the 2011-12 season eerily similar to how they completed the 2010-11 season...at least in terms of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Last Friday the Bears traveled up 81 after having not played for a few days...and they got whooped 4-0 by the Baby Pens.
That came on the heels off losses to Adirondack and Springfield the weekend before. Luckily there were 2 games sandwiched in there against the Senators which the Bears swept (although the first one...a couple Sundays ago was a little close for comfort). But they should win those games...the Senators are the 2nd worst team in the Eastern Conference right now.
The last time I posted here the Bears were 1st in the East Division. Now they are 3rd. Sure they are only 2 points out of first and they only played 5 games in 2 weeks but still.
Something isn't clicking for this team right now. I honestly haven't seen enough of them yet to place a finger on it but something isn't right.
It's still early though. 12 games in...64 to go. Plenty of time to right any problems.
So that's the last 2 weeks in a nutshell. Now...how about tonight's game.
The Baby Pens come back down to Hershey tonight for the 4th meeting between the clubs this season. Wilkes-Barre won 3-1 in Hershey back on October 22 in the only other meeting at Giant Center in 2011-12.
Currently these are two teams on completely different paths. The Baby Pens started out the season struggling and found themselves in the bottom half of the East Division standings for a little while, winning only once in their first 5 games. But over their last 7 games they are perfect. 7-0-0-0. That includes 2 victories over the Bears as well as the rest of the East Division.
During this streak the Baby Pens have given up more than 2 goals just once. All combined they have allowed 8 goals in 7 games with 2 shutouts. And they have scored 25 over the same span. They aren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard (less than 4 goals per game) but they didn't last year either.
Many people expected the Pens to struggle a bit more this year and to fall in the standings a bit. Apparently goaltender Brad Thiessen didn't get the memo. In 11 games this season, which includes the last 7 victories, he has allowed only 19 goals. That is a 1.82 goals against average. His save percentage is at .929.
Those numbers are actually an improvement over his numbers from last year. Pretty good goalie they have up there right now.
That doesn't mean they are without their problems though. Especially coming into this game. Eric Tangradi, their leading goal scorer (7 so far), was recalled to the Pittsburgh Penguins yesterday. That leaves the Baby Pens without one of their go-to scorers. Only 2 Pens players have more than 3 goals on the season (Bryan Lerg is the other with 6). However, depth is their key as they have gotten goals from 15 different players, of which only 4 haven't scored at least 2. The 2010-11 Pens also had considerable scoring depth.
This doesn't mean the Pens are the same team as last year. And it doesn't mean this is the same Bears team which will be pushed around by their northerly neighbors.
Hershey boasts one of the best 1-2 goalie combinations in the league which includes Braden Holtby and his current 100+ minute shutout streak. Now, from what I have seen Dany Sabourin is getting the start tonight so the shutout streak isn't really relevant. Dany is the only Hershey goaltender to beat the Pens this year, but he was also pulled on the 4th after giving up 3 goals on 10 shots in Wilkes-Barre.
Offensively the Bears probably have as much or more top end scoring talent even with the injuries to Potulny and Greentree. 3 different Bears find themselves in the top 12 of AHL scorers at this point in the season (Chris Bourque, Keith Aucoin, and Jacob Micflikier). The Penguins can't match that.
If Hershey is going to compete with the Baby Pens tonight they will need to take advantage of the scoring depth and get some shots passed Thiessen.
Make no mistake...this is an important early season contest. Yes, they play again in 2 weeks. Yes, they play another 8 times after tonight. But the Bears have struggled against average or better teams the past 2 weeks and need a good performance to get themselves for a number of very winnable games over the next 2 weeks.
Considering the Pens just put it to them last Friday I think they will be ready.
LET'S GO BEARS!!!!
record ~ 7-3-2-0 | 16 points
standings ~ 3rd in East Division
most recent game ~ 3-0 Win vs Binghamton, 11/9
last 5 games ~ 2-2-1-0
home record ~ 3-1-1-0
goals for ~ 40
goals against ~ 31
home power play ~ 37.0% (2nd)
home penalty kill ~ 95.7% (2nd)
record ~ 8-2-1-1 | 18 points
standings ~ 1st in East Division
most recent game ~ 4-2 Win @ Norfolk, 11/9
last 5 games ~ 5-0-0-0
road record ~ 7-0-0-0
goals for ~ 40
goals against ~ 25
road power play ~18.2% (15th)
road penalty kill ~ 85.3% (9th)
last time teams met - This is the 4th of 12 meetings between the teams this season. Hershey won the first in Wilkes-Barre but has lost the last 2. Last Friday the Pens won 4-0 in Wilkes-Barre.
Players to watch:
LW Chris Bourque (17) - he still leads the team in goals (6) and is tied for 2nd in points (14) but after recording a point in the first 8 games he has failed to record another one since. That is 4 games with no points.
C Keith Aucoin (11) - he has taken over the points lead as he now has 17 (3g, 14a) in 12 games. He only has 1 goal (zero assists) against the Pens this season.
F Jacob Micflikier (18) - he is tied with Bourque for 2nd in points with 14 (5/9) but hasn't recorded a single point against the Pens this season. He does, however, have 1 goal and 4 assists in his last 3 games.
F Brian Gibbons (9) - the rookie is tied for 3rd on the team in points with 10 (3/7). 2 of his 3 goals have come against the Bears and he has an assist against them too.
RW Colin McDonald (13) - tied with Gibbons for 3rd in scoring with 10 points (3/7). He has also produced against the Bears scoring 1 adding 4 assists. Half of his points have come in the 3 games against Hershey.
F Bryan Lerg (19) - he is the active leader in goals (6) and leads the team in points with 13. Against Hershey he has 1 goal and 2 assists and is a +4 in the last 2 games.