Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bears Shutout Pens, Prepare To Do It Again

Last night had to feel good for the Bears.  The Baby Pens have pretty much dominated the Bears for the past year plus.  The Pens entered last nights game with a 10-3-0-1 record against the Bears since the start of the 2010-11 season. 

The 3 losses were all up in Wilkes-Barre.  Any success the Bears have had against the Pens has come on the road.  Even the shootout win came in Wilkes-Barre back in November.

And by success I mean barely.  All 4 Hershey wins have been 1 goal victories. 

Until last night.

The Bears traveled up I-81 last night to end Christmas for the Pens and their fans with a 6-0 torching of Brad Thiessen and the Baby Pens. 

I wouldn't call it a dominating performance as the score sheet indicates it wasn't.  The Pens actually out shot the Bears 28-23 and appear to have dominated the 2nd period, with a 9-3 advantage in shots.  But I didn't see or listen to the game so I can't verify these assumptions.

In the end the Bears scored 3 in the first and 3 in the third to hand the Penguins their worst loss in a long time.  Looking back through the past few seasons I only see a couple losses by even 5 goals for the Pens.  Both came against Hershey in 2009-10.  Otherwise the majority of their losses are by 1 or 2 goals.

Last night had to feel good for the Bears.  Over the past year plus they have managed to beat just about every team and have been one of the better teams in the AHL.  The Baby Pens have had their number though.

The Penguins have been struggling for a while now and while Brad Thiessen started the season off wonderfully he has definitely cooled down.  In his last 10 games he is 2-6-2 with a 3.62 goals against average and a .844 save percentage.

Those numbers are bad.  Last night his coach had this to say:
“I thought our goaltending was OK,” Hynes said. “I think we’ve gotta have better goaltending if we’re going to beat a team like Hershey.” 

Tonight the Pens come to Hershey where they have not lost since March 27 of 2010.  Bryan Helmer was still wearing the 'C' in Hershey then.  Jason Bacashihua was in net for the Bears.  Alexandre Giroux scored the game winner. 

It's been a while.

The Penguins seem ripe for picking though.  Beyond the 6-0 beating they took last night they have lost 3 straight (all at home) and have only won 7 games since November 11, a span of 18 games. 

The Bears on the other hand are heading in the opposite direction...up.  In the month of December the Bears are 9-2.   They have also taken over sole possession of first place in the division and lead the Admirals and Pens (tied at 37 points) by 4.  And they have taken over first place in the Eastern Conference, which is more important than the division crown this year.

Tonight is going to be an exciting game in Hershey.  The Pens are going to be looking for redemption.  The Bears are going to be looking to finally knock off the Pens on home ice.  And the building is going to be rocking. 

The Giant Center is sold out and will likely be the loudest it has been this season.  I am excited.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bears Enter Holiday Break on High Note

Entering last nights game the Bears were 2-0-0-1 against the Syracuse Crunch this season.  They had outscored them a collective 13-4 in those 3 games.

Make that 3-0-0-1 and the score is now 18-6.

Kyle Greentree scored a goal in his first game back in the lineup and the Bears earned their 8th victory of December and officially took over the #1 spot in the East Division.

Now the Bears get a short holiday break as they won't practice until Monday and don't play again until Tuesday night in Wilkes-Barre.

For the first time since the middle of October the forward lineup looked like the one we all expected to see coming out of camp.  Cody Eakin returned to the lineup on Sunday and Greentree returned from a broken wrist last night. 

Due to that pesky veterans rule, Graham Mink was the healthy scratch last night.  With that move the Bears ran with 3 lines that are probably best referred to as 1A, 1B, and 1C. 

The lines last night were:

Greentree - Aucoin - Bourque
Micflikier - Potulny - Ford
Kane - Eakin - Hanson
Mitchell - Carroll - Rechlicz

(Thanks to the folks over at Sweetest Hockey on Earth for providing the lines)

Looks like a deep talented lineup.

Combined the top line has 26 goals and 69 assists on the season.  And Greentree has played in 5 games.

Combined the 2nd line has 24 goals and 51 assists this season.  And Potulny has only played in 16 games.

Combined the 3rd line has 17 goals and 19 assists this season.  And Eakin has only played in 12 games.

That's 67 goals and 139 assists amongst Hershey's top 9 forwards.

Oh and that doesn't include Mink's 11 goals and 14 assists.

67 goals.  By 9 guys.  (If you add Mink you have 78 goals by 10 guys.)

The Hamilton Bulldogs have 60 in 28 games.  The San Antonio Rampage have 66.  Albany and Lake Erie have 70.  Chicago and last seasons Calder Cup Champion Binghamton Senators have 72. 

Yes, those numbers are for entire teams.

Overall the Bears have scored 111 goals.  Good for 2nd place in the AHL behind only the Norfolk Admirals. 

The offense is solid.  One of the best in the question about it.

The defense...not so solid.  The Bears have allowed more goals (88) than 21 other teams in the AHL.  21.  That means that there are only 8 teams that have given up more goals than Hershey so far this season.  All but one of them has more regulation losses than wins.

The lone team with more goals allowed than Hershey AND a winning record...

The Eastern Conference leading St. John's Icecaps.  They have allowed 89 and have scored 106.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bears get 4 points out of 6

For 20 minutes last night it looked like Hershey was going to take sole possession of 1st place in the East Division.  The Bears were up 3-1 against Norfolk at Giant Center at the end of the first period. 

In fact, they were up 3-1 after the second period too. 

And then they gave up 5 goals to lose 6-3.  5 unanswered goals and only 1 came on the power play.  One was an empty netter as well. 

That leaves 3 even strength goals...all scored in the final 16 minutes of game action.

You had the sense that it was coming.  It seemed to be one of the typical Bears games this season.  A relatively dominant performance over the first 20 minutes followed by 40 minutes of ineptitude in the offensive zone. 

The Bears had 11 shots in the first period...3 of them goals.  They totaled 14 shots the remainder of the game.  And very few of them were what most people would deem "quality" chances.

At the other end the Bears stopped playing defense as well.  Brett Flemming got caught flat footed on Norfolk's 2nd goal (first of the 3rd period) and from there it just seemed like Hershey couldn't get to the loose pucks and when they did, they couldn't get the puck out of their own zone.

I hate to call out Flemming since he was only on the ice for 1 of the 5 goals against in the 3rd period but his misstep is the one that seemed to open the floodgates. 

One player, other than Braden Holtby...who I personally think was left out to dry by his defense, was on the ice for 4 of the 5 goals. 

Keith Aucoin.

I can't sit here and say that he was directly responsible for any defensive lapses but according to the scoresheet he was out there for most of the goals against.  And generally, in most defensive schemes...including the Bears', the center is expected to help the defensemen down low.  Whether Aucoin was doing that or not is something I can't say with certainty, but the odds are against him.

Holtby did what he could and for a long stretch he actually kept the team in the lead (game) to be honest.  The Admirals came out firing in the 2nd period with Braden making multiple big saves.  Even in the 3rd period he made some key saves...just not enough.

These lackluster 2nd and 3rd periods are beginning to be troublesome for the Bears.  Or so it would initial look at the stats doesn't look too terrible...

Goals Scored Per Period:

Hershey - 43
Opponent - 22

Hershey - 32
Opponent - 24

Hershey - 30
Opponent - 35

Prior to last night Hershey was even with their opposition in the 3rd period.  Then they gave up 5.

Overall...not as bad as I was expecting to be honest.

And the records aren't terrible either...

When leading after the 1st period Hershey is 12-2-2-1.  No team in the league has more wins or more points when they take a lead into the first intermission.

When leading after the 2nd period Hershey is even better....14-2-1-0.  Again, no team in the league is better in wins or points.

So, do the Bears 2nd and 3rd period struggles even exist?  Are they actually doing fine and it just seems like things are going downhill over the last 40 minutes?

The initial statistical review suggested that it is a misconception.  They have managed to hold their first period leads in the majority of games this season.

But a deeper look at the statistics shows that there is a problem here. 

First up...record when scoring first.  Hershey has scored the first goal 23 times this season...out of only 29 games.  That is 4 more than the next closest team in the league. 

That's great!  And Hershey is 13-5-3-2 in those games.  Again...the 13 wins is good...tied for most in the league.

But that is only 31 points in games they have scored first in.  That is a points percentage of .674.

That ranks 21st in the league.  20 teams are better than the Bears when scoring first.


So yes, there is a problem.

Oh, and it gets worse.

In games where Hershey is either tied or trails after the first period the Bears are a combined 4-6-1-1.  There are ZERO teams with fewer wins in that situation.  That means there are 29 that have more wins when tied or trailing after 1 period than the Bears.

To give the Bears a positive here...they have only been trailing after 1 period 3 times this year.  That is tied for fewest in the league.

Unfortunately that only brings us to their record after 2 periods...

When trailing or tied after the 2nd period the Bears are only 2-6-2-2.

2 wins.  Only 2 teams have fewer...Chicago and Rockford (they each only have 1 win).

If you combine the two (which likely combines games as teams may trail for an entire game but lets do it anyway) the Bears are a combined 6-12-3-3 when tied or trailing after the 1st and/or 2nd period.  There is 1 team with fewer wins...Chicago.

And when I say that Hershey is trailing in this category, I don't mean by 1, 2, or even 3 wins.  No, there are multiple teams with 20 wins in these situations.  That is 14 more than the Bears.  Norfolk has 19 wins.  Binghamton...the Eastern Conference bottom dwellers...has 13 wins...7 more than Hershey.

So yes, there is a problem with Hershey's performances in the 2nd and 3rd periods.  Generally speaking though, the performance we saw last night was an aberration and not part of this more complex problem.

Either the Bears 1st period scoring margin, currently a +21, needs to grow even higher or the Bears better start figuring out how to buckle down and protect leads or come back from deficits.

My guess...Calder Cup Champions do not have records like this.  In the playoffs the Calder Cup Champ will have to overcome deficits, squeek out close games (Hershey is only 7-3-3-2 in 1 goal games), and hold on to leads once they get them.

Right now the Bears do one thing well.  They score early and often (tied for 2nd in the league in goals scored).

It's time for the Bears to begin scoring when the game reaches its critical moments.  1st period goals are great.  3rd period goals are better. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bears Take 2 of 3 Last Weekend

The Bears started the weekend off pretty well...picking up a 5-3 regulation victory in Hartford against the Connecticut Whale. 

Then things went downhill for a bit.  They hosted the Baby Pens, who didn't have to travel the night before, to Giant Center and they subsequently defeated the Bears 4-2. 

The 4-2 score makes it seem closer than it probably was.  (I was unable to attend so I am going off of the score sheet and what I heard from a couple people).  The Bears controlled the play for the first period and then took a 1-0 lead about midway through the 2nd period.

And that's when the Bears momentum ended and the Pens started.  Over the next 12-13 minutes of game action, end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd, the Baby Pens scored 3 goals.  They added an empty netter with about 2 minutes to play to make it 4-1.  The Bears scored with 40 seconds to go to make it seem like a close game at the end.

So, Wilkes-Barre continues there dominance of Hershey in Central PA.  More on that in a minute.

But Sunday saw the Bears rebound to pick up a 6-3 win over the Norfolk Admirals.  Hershey scored 3 goals on the power play (6 chances) and picked up an empty net goal late to preserve the win. 

Again, the final score doesn't tell the whole story.  Hershey scored 4 in the first period and then Norfolk started playing better hockey.  At the end of the 2nd it was 4-3 Bears and most people in attendance (myself included) would tell you that the outcome was still in doubt.  It was again looking like a strong 1st period would be spoiled by weak 2nd and 3rd periods.

However, Tomas Kundratek (more on him soon) picked up his 4th of the season about 5 minutes into the 3rd and from then on there was little (less anyways) question as to who would win this one. 

Norfolk managed only 6 shots in the 3rd period in what was perhaps Hershey's best late game performance this season.

After the weekend the Bears sit 2 points behind the Baby Pens with one game in hand on the flightless water-fowl.  And 2 games coming up against them in a couple of weeks.

Unfortunately one of those games is in Hershey (12/28 if you were curious).  The Bears have not beaten the Baby Penguins on Giant Center ice since March 27, 2010.  That is the end of the 2009-2010 season when the Bears lost a total of 6 home games all season.

Wilkes-Barre and Hershey have faced off 8 times in Hershey since that game.  The Bears are 0-6-2-0 in those games and have been outscored 34-17. 

The Pens have failed to score less than 4 goals only twice in the last 8 at Giant Center.  One was this year, the first meeting at GC back in October, and the other was a game last spring that went to overtime.

The Bears have failed to score more than 2 goals a whopping 6 times.  They scored 4 earlier this season in an overtime loss and managed 3 in one game last spring.

That is fairly impressive domination. 

Another note about this weekends games...

I mentioned before that Tomas Kundratek scored his 4th of the season on Sunday.  With the Whale he played in only 7 games and recorded a measly 2 assists to start the season.  Since joining Hershey he has played in 11 games and has 4 goals and 2 assists.  Not too bad for a 3rd pairing defenseman.

Francois Bouchard, who was traded to Connecticut for Kundratek, has 2 goals and 2 assists in 14 games with his new team. 

I think most in Hershey felt good about the trade considering Bouch's lack of production last season, but how many really expected Kundratek to actually be outscoring him a month later?

Bears get yet another 3 in 3 this upcoming weekend with games against Norfolk (Friday and Sunday) and Bridgeport.  More coming later this week.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

4 Straight Wins...Baby Pens in Town

For the first time in 2011-12 and the first time since last January the Bears have won 4 straight games. 

For the first 33 minutes of the game last night there were 0 goals.  In the final 27 minutes there were 8 goals.  Fortunately 5 of them were scored by Bears.

Hershey scored 4 straight to open the scoring (2 in the 2nd, 2 in the 3rd) and had a 4-0 lead halfway through the 3rd period.  And then things started to get a little more interesting.  The Whale scored 3 goals in a 5:30 span to make it a 4-3 game with just over 3 minutes to play.

The Bears hung on and added an empty netter with 1 second left to preserve the victory. 

The win moves the Bears into first place in the East division as they are now tied with Wilkes-Barre and Norfolk with 31 points.  The Bears hold the current tiebreaker as they have gotten to 31 in 1 fewer game. 

Lucky for Hershey they can stake overall claim to the number 1 spot in the division with 2 more victories this weekend.

Tonight the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins come to Giant Center.  It is sure to be a physical and intense game.  The last time the teams played the Bears left Wilkes-Barre Township with a 3-2 shootout victory after a postgame celebration that ended in a standoff between the teams.

The Pens didn't play last night so they are rested and ready for the Bears.  But this isn't the same Penguins team that was tearing up the AHL back in October/November.  During one stretch earlier they had won 8 games in a row which included 3 wins against the Bears.

Since that run ended though they are 4-5-0-3.  Their typical stellar defensive play and goaltending has been slightly lackluster and the offense just hasn't been there.  They have given up 4+ goals 5 times in that stretch and have failed to score at least 3 goals a total of 6 times. 

This will be the 6th meeting of the season with 6 more to come including 2 more this month.  So far the Pens control the season series having won 3 of the contests to the Bears 2. 

Should be a good one in Hershey tonight.  

Friday, December 9, 2011

Bears Begin a Tough Stretch This Weekend

I just had a great post written.  It had a look at the upcoming schedule and in-depth team previews for the games coming up this weekend. 

And then it disappeared.  Gone.  No trace of it.

So, instead you get this...

The Bears have their second 3 in 3 in as many weekends beginning tonight in Hartford against the Whale.  The Bears then return home for dates against Wilkes-Barre and Norfolk.

In fact this is just the beginning for the Bears.  Before the calendar turns to 2012 the Bears will play 10 more games.  8 are against teams currently ahead of them or tied with them in the standings.  Tonight's game, 3 against Wilkes-Barre, and 4 against Norfolk. 

In addition to that the 2 "easier" games are against Bridgeport and Syracuse.  2 teams that have beat the Bears within the past month. 

7 of the games are on home ice.  Which, one would think, should be a good thing.  Except the Bears are only 5-3-2-1 at home this season.  Total up the losses and that is below .500 (5-6). 

Last weekend was a good start for the Bears.  They picked up 3 wins and are now in the midst of only their 2nd 3 game winning streak of the season.  The last one?  The first 3 games of the season.

This will be a telling 3 week stretch for the Bears.


There, that's all you get.  I had so much good stuff in that post too.  Check back later today, tomorrow and/or Sunday...if I have time I will type up some new posts with that information.

Monday, December 5, 2011

3 games, 3 cities, 3 nights...3 wins

That was an impressive weekend of hockey from the Hershey Bears.  On Friday they were in 3rd place in the East division...4 points out of first.

Today, they are leading the division, albeit tied in points with Wilkes-Barre and Norfolk. 

In 3 games the Bears allowed 4 goals and scored 14.  They out shot the opposition 115-82.

The power play went an amazing 4 for 9 on the weekend.  That's 44.4%.  Impressive.

Even better...the penalty kill successfully killed off 16 of 17 chances.  94.1%.

The goalies played great.  The defense was stellar.  And the

The move the coaching staff made heading into the weekend (Mink down to the 3rd line) definitely paid dividends. 

Matt Pope showed that he can produce at this level with 2 goals and 2 assists on the weekend.  Ryan Potulny showed that he was a great addition this offseason and is back healthy from early season surgery with 2 goals and 3 assists.  Matt Ford, also back from injury, scored 2 and added 2 assists.  And Jacob Micflikier, who hadn't scored since November 11 finally got back in the goal column with 1 on Sunday and also added 3 assists. 

And that was just the 2nd and 3rd lines.

Keith Aucoin had 2 goals and 4 assists on the weekend and Chris Bourque had 4 assists and has extended his points streak to 11 games.

From 4th to 1st in the division and from 8th to 3rd in the conference (3 points out of first) in one weekend.  That was productive.

Next up is a true test though.  Another 3 in 3 with games against Connecticut (2nd in the conference), Wilkes-Barre, and Norfolk. 

This past weekend was great.  This upcoming weekend will be the true gauge to show where the Bears are right now.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Weekend Preview: Bears get 3 in 3

This weekend the Bears get 3 games in 3 nights for the first time since the last weekends of October.  And they better get used to them as they have them the following 2 weekends as well.

Yesterday I talked about the goalie issues surrounding this team right now which are obviously making it hard for this team to win on a consistent basis. 

Even with that being considered though the Bears are in decent shape.  Remember...I said DECENT.

The Situation:  Hershey currently sits in 8th position in the Eastern Conference...a playoff spot. 

The Good News:  They are only 4 points back from 1st in the division and only 5 points back from the top spot in the Conference.

The Bad News:  They are only 7 points from being in dead last in the division/conference.

This weekend is a good chance to start moving up and stop the downward slide they have found themselves in since their first 3 in 3.  They had managed 11 points in 7 games heading into their first 3 in 3 of the season.  Since then they have lost 9 games and won 4, earning 12 of a possible 26 points. 

Not good.

Tonight they visit Syracuse...a team below them in the standings.  A team they destroyed 7-0 back in October and a team they took to a shootout just a couple weeks ago.  This is a game the Bears SHOULD win.

Tomorrow night they welcome Portland...a team below them in the standings.  A team that is playing very well right now.  They have collected at least a point in 7 straight games and have won 6 of them.  This is a game that teams with Calder Cup aspirations SHOULD win.

Sunday they visit Bridgeport (at 3 in the freaking afternoon)...a team directly ahead of them in the standings.  A team that has only one twice in their last 6 games.  A team that only has a 5-4-2-0 record on home ice.  This is a game the Bears SHOULD get a point in.  (seriously...traveling 4 hours after a 7:00 game for a 3:00 game on the back end of a 3 in 3...getting a point would be a win)

So at the end of the weekend the Bears should be sitting with at least 28 points and in a better position then they entered it. 

We shall see.

If you are watching, listening, or attending the games this weekend here are some names to keep in mind.  (oh and the Bridgeport game will be on TV if you get the channels...I do not).

For Hershey:

For the Connecticut game this past week Matt Ford took Boyd Kane's place on the top line and I was excited to see how it would work out going forward.  Well, Kane is back on the top line and Ford is back to the second line. 

Graham Mink was moved to the 3rd line in an attempt to balance out the scoring from the top two lines.  I like the shuffling and the trying to get more offense but I think the wrong guys are being moved.  But I will wait until after the weekend to pass too much judgement.

Keith Aucoin has 9 assists...9! his last 4 games.  Nice.

Chris Bourque has a point in 8 straight games, collecting 5 goals and 9 assists in those contests.

The player I am most looking forward to seeing is Matt Pope.  He was brought back on his pro tryout after Sjogren took his ball and went back to Sweden.  Down in South Carolina he has 7 goals and 12 assists in 15 games...he should be able to produce something in Hershey if given the opportunity.

And of course there are the goalies, which I discussed yesterday.  Dany Sabourin is expected to get the start tonight, Braden Holtby tomorrow, and then Sunday's starter is TBD but I would suspect Sabourin considering the travel scenario.

For Syracuse:

Kyle Palmeiri (12-6-18) and Patrick Maroon (8-11-19) are the leading scorers for the Crunch.

Nick Bonino has a 5 game point streak in which he has 3 goals and 4 assists.

Rookie Peter Holland has 2 goals and 4 assists in his last 3 games.

Jean-Francois Jacques has 2 goals and 2 assists in his last 3 games.

For Portland:

Dean Arsene will make his triumphant return to Giant Center on Saturday night.  This will be Deano's first game back in Hershey since departing after the 2008-09 season.  It will be good to see him and I am sure the crowd will show their appreciation during introductions.

Andy Miele is the AHL's top rookie for November and team leading scorer with 7 goals and 13 assists on the season.  In November he had 4g and 9a in only 10 games.  2 goals and 3 assists have come in his last 2 games.

Matt Watkins has 3 goals and 4 assists in his last 4 games.

For Bridgeport:

Tim Wallace is the team leader in points (9-9-18) and had all 9 of his goals during the month of November...including 5 goals in his last 5 games.

Rookie Scott Howes has only played in 4 games for the Sound Tigers but he has 3 goals and an assist in those games.

Enjoy the games...


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bears Goaltending Woes

The Bears have 3 games in 3 nights in 3 cities this weekend.  They start off the weekend tomorrow night in Syracuse, return home for a Saturday tilt against Portland, before finishing the weekend in Bridgeport at 3:00pm.

While injuries, recalls, and departures have surely had an affect on the Bears this season the biggest storyline has been the goaltending.  Back in the summer I figured that goaltending would be a question mark for the Bears this season...come playoff time, NOT the regular season.

But here we are, a quarter of the way through the season and the goalies have the current numbers:

Braden Holtby -
5-5-1 | 2.71 gaa | .889 save %

Dany Sabourin -
4-4-1 | 3.21 gaa | .897 save %

Just to clarify how odd those numbers are...consider their career numbers (entering this season):

Holtby -
42-18-4 | 2.30 gaa | .918 save %

Sabourin -
78-57-6 | 2.53 gaa | .915 save %

Even last years numbers could be looked at:

Holtby -
17-10-2 | 2.29 gaa | .920 save %

Sabourin -
14-9-0 | 2.45 gaa | .908 save %

So what seems to be troubling the goaltenders this season? 

Last week I had the notion that maybe splitting time evenly between the two was causing some problems.  The general opinion about goaltenders is the more work they get, the better they are.  Since Coach French has decided to alternate games with the goalies this year, neither can truly get in a rhythm and stand out.

So I looked at last years stats...comparing the times when each goalie was the undisputed #1 and a stretch where they alternated just about every game.  (I count any 3 game stretch as undisputed #1 territory).

As the #1 goalie:

Holtby -
7-3-1 | 2.95 gaa | .904 save %

Sabourin -
7-4-0 | 2.57 gaa | .914 save %

Solid win-loss record but average to below average measurables. 

Now, splitting the opportunities (happened from the end of November through January...some times the guys got 2-3 straight but both were healthy and mostly split games evenly):

Holtby -
6-5-1 | 1.80 gaa | .937 save %

Sabourin -
7-3-0 | 2.30 gaa | .912 save %

Pretty similar win-loss record, but a significant improvement in the measurables.

So, apparently that theory is toast.  These goalies play better when they are alternating then when they are given the #1 role to themselves. 

So, any other theories?

How about this one since it seems to come up from time to time.  Holtby is pissed about being in Hershey after he played so well for the Caps last season. 

Possibly, but I am not convinced.  Last season he had 3 or 4 separate callups that resulted in playing time.  2 of them were extended (3 or more games played) and one of those came in November 2010.  He played fine after that...1.80 gaa and .937 save percentage in the 2 months after he returned.

The talk intensified after his callups in March when he went 6-0-0 with a 1.03 gaa and a .962 save percentage for the Caps.  But even after that he was solid after his return from that in April, until the playoffs of course.

No, the defining mark for Braden seems to be February 1, 2011.  Remember that he injured himself shortly before the All-Star break at the end of January and missed some time after it...

From the start of the 2010-11 season until 2/1/11 -
12-5-2 | 1.76 gaa | .938 save %

From 2/1/11 until now (including playoffs) -
12-14-1 | 3.03 gaa | .888 save %

Now that doesn't speak to everything as he was pretty good for the Capitals in March of last year as I mentioned above.

So, is it possible that Braden is still suffering some effects of the injury that held him out then?  I would say it is possible.  He didn't play in the All-Star event and only played 3 games from 2/1/11 - 3/7/11.  And that just happens to be his worst extended stretch of recent memory...he won 2 of the games but offered up a paltry 3.57 gaa and a .876 save percentage.

Sure, he rebounded with the Caps for a short while but he came crashing back to earth for the Bears after that.

It has been about 10 months since the injury so I won't put too much faith in that theory but it isn't out of the question.

But that doesn't help explain Sabourin's rough start...oh wait...yes it does.  Remember that around the same time (mid-January) Sabourin had his ligaments torn up thanks to pest Louis Robitaille taking him out in a game.  He had reconstructive surgery and missed the rest of the season and a good chunk of his off-season as well.

And remember that many athletes who have serious knee injuries can take a year or two to completely recover physically and MENTALLY from that type of injury.  Playing goalie is already hard on the there any possibility that it is affecting his game right now...I think so.

So, both goalies suffered injuries last January (I don't think Holtby's was never confirmed but I believe it was a knee as well) and both have played questionable since then.  Hmmm.....

But what about one more theory...that the Hershey defense hasn't quite been up to par lately.

I think the numbers do kind of support that.  And I can assure you that watching some of the games this season supports that.

This season is a bit more easy to understand.  Recently all Bears teams have had a somewhat slow, positionally sound, veteran presence on the blueline.  For years it was Dean Arsene, then it was Bryan Helmer and Greg Amadio.  Last season it was Lawrence Nycholat and Brian Fahey. 

Except you know what happened around the end of January of 2011?  Nycholat went out with an injury and only played one more game (in the playoffs) the rest of the season.

More than likely the ailment currently hindering the Bears goaltenders is a compilation of the above items and possibly others.  I don't think the questionable defense can be overstated and the injuries from last season seem to fit the timeline of good/bad play.  But in the end only one thing is certain...something is wrong and it needs fixed.