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.
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 seem...an 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.