Thursday, November 17, 2011

Weekend Preview...Bears visit Crunch, host Devils

Last weekend was not a good one for the Bears as they dropped both games (one in OT) and looked a little lost on the ice. 

This weekend sees two more games in an attempt to right the ship and get the W-L record tilting in the right direction again. 

The Bears started the season 5-1-1-0.  That was almost a month ago now.  A increasingly distant memory.  In the 7 games since the Bears are only 2-3-2 and currently reside in 3rd place in the East Division.  Not exactly what many anticipated. 

But that's ok.  You don't win championships in November.  There is plenty of time to make up points and move back towards the top of the standings.

This weekend is a good chance to begin that move.

Friday night brings a trip up to Syracuse to face the 4th place Crunch.  Syracuse will be looking for some retribution after getting embarrassed 7-0 at Giant Center last month.  In fact, the Syracuse game was the 7th game of the season  and the 5th win before things started to unravel for the Bears.

Like the Bears, the Crunch has struggled since that game going 3-4-1-0 in their 8 games since their visit to Hershey.  At this point in the season neither team is where they want, or expected, to be in the standings.  The Crunch were thought to be a strong contender in the East Division, but have so far failed to meet expectations.

There is plenty of talent on the team though.  Four players are averaging over a point per game including Kyle Palmieri who has 9 goals in 9 games and Patrick Maroon who leads the team with 15 points in 13 games.

Goaltender Iiro Tarkki seems to have found his game since getting pulled in Hershey back in October.  Since then he has posted a 2.13 goals against average and a .931 save percentage while going 3-3-0 since then.  While it is no guarantee that Tarkki starts against the Bears it would seem to make sense to me to give the kid a chance to redeem himself.

The Bears will have to work hard for a victory against the Crunch.  Something they have struggled to do consistently of late.

Saturday night welcomes the Bears back to Giant Center against the Northeast Division leading Albany Devils.  This will be the 2nd of 4 meetings between the former East Division rivals in 2011-12.  Hershey won in Albany 4-1 back on October 21.

While the Crunch has struggled since the Bears beat them, the Devils have gone the opposite route.  They went into the first game against Hershey with a 1-4-0-0 record and pretty much played like that record against the Bears.

However, since that game the Devils are 7-1-1-1.  Surprisingly their only regulation loss during that stretch came against the bottom-dwelling Binghamton Senators.  Otherwise they have either won or at least gotten a point in every game they have played since losing at home to the Bears in October.

Now, while that is impressive let me rain on Albany's parade a bit...5 of those wins came on home ice.  Only 3 of their 10 games (and only 4 of their 16 overall) have been played on the road this season.  In those games they are only 2-2-0-0 with one of the wins coming in overtime.  On the road they have been outscored 12-7.

So this isn't an experienced road team at this point in the season.  Whether that means they are a bad road team or not remains to be seen since it is such a small sample size, but it is the perfect chance for Hershey to take advantage.

The Devils will not have played since last Sunday at game time Saturday night.  So, on one side of the argument they will be well rested and won't have traveled the night the Bears will have to do.  However, on the other side of the argument...they will possibly be a little reserved and a little rusty for the beginning of the game.

Either way the Bears need to be ready to play.  The Devils don't appear to have a "go-to" scorer, but they seem to have some decent balance.  Rookie Joe Whitney leads the team in goals, 5, and points, 10.  After that you have 10 guys with 2 or more goals and another 5 with 1. 

Back in October Jeff Frazee got the start in goal against the Bears.  His numbers on the season aren't exactly wonderful (3.10 gaa, .882 save %) and it would appear that the Devils are currently looking for someone else to step up.  Recently rookie Keith Kincaid has been the option in net.  He has started 4 of the last 6 games including 2 last weekend.  And he has been impressive in those games...going 3-1-0-0 with a 1.74 gaa and a .945 save percentage. 

For the Bears....

Dany Sabourin is expected to start in Syracuse with Braden Holtby getting the start Saturday at home.  Neither goalie has stood out at this point in the season, but neither has looked dreadful either.  One of them needs to step up and become the "number 1" option.

Defensively, it appears that Sean Collins is still injured and will not play this weekend.  Tomas Kundratek made his Hershey debut last weekend and looked pretty good for a guy who just joined the team and learned the system.  Expect to see familiar faces on the blue-line for the games this weekend. 

Offensively we all know who the big scorers are and they know that they need to do more.  But there are a couple of names that haven't been thought of in the offensive light so far this season that need to become more of a scoring threat. 

Mattias Sjogren has shown flashes of offensive brilliance but his 3rd/4th line role has prevented him from making that more consistent.  Similarly, Andrew Carroll has shown offensive flashes this year and in previous years, but his role as agitator and pest (which he does very well) has limited his offensive upside.  (Very similar to former Bear Steve Pinizzotto actually.)  And Matt Pope, just signed to a pro tryout contract (25 game deal that doesn't commit the Bears for any length of time), has been solid for South Carolina in the ECHL this season with 6 goals and 11 assists in only 13 games.

Typically when scorers get recalled from South Carolina there is some hesitation to give them too big a role in Hershey due to possible defensive limitations (do the names Travis Morin or Michael Dubuc ring any bells) so the jury is still out on how this will work.  However, Pope has played in the AHL before and has been featured in a more defensive role with those AHL teams.  In fact, he hasn't played regularly at the ECHL level since 08-09 and has been an AHL regular since then. 

Those 3 players, Carroll, Pope, and Sjogren now make up Hershey's third line and are expecting to bring a more offensive mindset to the game this weekend. 

I for one am excited to see a 3rd offensive line because the top two aren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard of late.

Should be two tough games this weekend for the Bears. But two games that they should (I repeat...SHOULD) win. We shall see if they can.


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