Monday, February 28, 2011

Caps make 2 moves

The Washington Capitals sat quietly most of the day but did pull off two trades before the deadline today.

1.  Acquired Dennis Wideman from Florida for a 2011 3rd round pick and Jake Hauswirth.
2.  Acquired Jason Arnott from New Jersey for a 2012 2nd round pick and David Steckel.

First let me offer my opinion of the moves.

Apparently the Caps are more concerned about the injuries to Tom Poti and Mike Green then most people thought.  Wideman is an offensive defenseman who is a -26 this season for the struggling Panthers.  I don't mind this deal though as Hauswirth was a project at best and a 3rd pick is about the same.

The Arnott deal bugs me a bit more though.  As a Bears fan this is great news (more on that in a minute) but as a Caps fan I feel that this is yet again a move that isn't quite enough to get them to where they want to go.  Maybe I am wrong but Arnott has not done much in New Jersey this year (13g, 11a in 60+ games) and is 36. 

The one thing he does bring is significant playoff experience which will surely help.  But is he really going to become a productive 2nd line center?  Who knows.  Maybe the Caps will let Johansson stay on the 2nd line and place Arnott on the third line.

Either way I think the price was a little steep although picks are definite question marks and it isn't like Steckel was improving lately. 

I do feel like they upgraded from Steckel to Arnott but that wasn't the move that needed to be made in my opinion.  Hopefully I am wrong and the Caps have a long playoff run ahead of them.

But now on to more important things...

How will these moves affect the Bears?

First the Wideman trade. 

The odds of another defensemen getting recalled to Washington are slim now.  Which is good.  Wideman gives the Caps plenty of bodies which should allow them to manage injuries without recalls.

It could actually result in Tyler Sloan being sent to Hershey permanently but I am not sure that will happen.  It won't right now as with Sloan they only have 7 healthy defensemen but once Green and Poti get healthy they won't need the 9th guy. 

Whether you see that as a good thing or not I don't know.  I think Sloan is about on par with everything else the Bears have at this point.

Now the Arnott trade.

This is great news for Hershey and bad news for Mathieu Perreault.  More than likely Perry will be rejoining the Bears permanently.  Obviously not what he wants to hear but definitely something Bears fans will be happy to see as far as on-ice results.

I just don't see any room for Perry on the Caps roster anymore.  The addition of Marco Sturm earlier this weekend via waivers already clouded his future there.  Now with the addition of Arnott it closes that door. 

Nicklas Backstrom is #1 center, Arnott/Johansson #2, Johansson/Arnott #3, and Boyd Gordon/Jay Beagle #4 most nights.  You could also see Brooks Laich slide to 4th line center if necessary.

Obviously the #4 center position is still open but I don't think Perry fits that role. 

Currently the Caps roster stands at 15 forwards, 9 defensemen, 2 goalies including injured players Poti, Green, and Eric Fehr.    That means they have 26 players with 3 23.  That is the limit and that number does NOT include Perreault.  And Fehr is closer to returning as he has been cleared for contact during practice. 

Basically the Caps added 3 players over the past 3 days and only lost 1.  Someone has to leave and Perry wasn't exactly lighting the world on fire with the Caps lately.

The only other options for the Caps would be to send DJ King to Hershey (he cleared waivers today) and move Perreault or Johansson to wing.  I wouldn't expect that though.  They have already stated that King won't be coming to Hershey and technically Perreault is a Bear right now as he was sent down on Saturday. 

So to recap...the Bears lost no one and likely gained Perreault and while Beagle may not return any time soon (if ever) it has to be considered a gain for the Bears if Perry does in fact report to Hershey.  He is more of an offensive threat which is the main area Hershey has struggled with of late.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bears play well, beat Devils for 5th time

First of all let's get this out of the way...Mathieu Perreault is technically a Hershey Bear again.  But he is not going to play today and in my opinion will never play for Hershey or Washington again. 

The main reason to take a player that was your 2nd line center a couple games ago and put him on the bench (or in the minors) and stipulate that he won't play is because you don't want him to get hurt.  And that means they want to move him.

Perry is talented, no one will deny that.  On another team in another system maybe he sticks in the NHL but there are too many centers in the Capitals system to allow him to sit and wait.  It would make more sense for the organization to include him in a deal for a more consistent and more proven player.

My what the Florida Panthers do.  I think Stephen Weiss is one of the best players available and I think the Caps COULD be interested.  But it might cost too much.

If the Caps make a trade I would definitely expect Perreault to be a part of it. 


No on to the game last night.

Best effort I have seen from the Bears since the January 29th game against Charlotte.  The score was 4-3 but it wasn't really that close in my opinion. 

Hershey controlled the play from the beginning of the game.  They registered 19 shots in the first period and tried to put the pressure on the Albany Devils from the opening whistle.

Albany did get the first goal of the game and I will be honest...I was worried at that point.  But Hershey picked up only their 6th win of the season when they allow the first goal thanks to goals by Boyd Kane (2 of them), Francois Bouchard, and Steve Pinizzotto.

Personally I didn't think the offense was lights out amazing last night.  They did enough to get the job done.  The area where I saw the most improvement was the physical side. 

And by physical I don't mean huge hits that knock a guy down...those are rare.  But lately the Bears weren't even touching the other team.

Last night there was few if any times where a Devil went for a loose puck in the corner that a Bear wasn't punishing him for it.  And that makes a HUGE difference in a game.

The effort level all over the ice was better for Hershey.  Keith Aucoin at one point dropped to block a shot.  The defense was solid after a shaky start.  Jared DeMichiel struggled at times but still picked up the win in only his 2nd career AHL start.  Dmitri Orlov showed great poise and looked very controlled all game long...he is definitely a player to keep an eye on.

The power play scored twice.  The 5 on 4 power play goal was their first since February 6th (they scored a 5 on 3 on Wednesday night). 

The penalty kill shut down the Devils opportunities. 

To put it simply the Bears played like they can and have during most of the season.  Instead of caving after they fell behind and instead of giving in when the fluke 2nd goal occurred at the end of the second they came out in the 3rd and played like they wanted to win. 

For the first time in a while the Bears played like they wanted the win more than the opponent.

Now they have to show that they can string together a few good games. That begins this afternoon as they visit the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

It is a tough turn around.  Last night's game finished at about 9:30 and Hershey faces off today at 3:00.  17.5 hours in between with a 4 hour bus ride incorporated.

Fortunately for the Bears they are playing Bridgeport.  They currently reside in 27th of the 30 AHL teams with only 49 points.

Last week Hershey beat them 6-4 at Giant Center in a game that Hershey didn't play that well in despite the score.

After that game Bridgeport won 2 straight before losing their most recent two games including a 5-0 loss to division leading Manchester last night.

Overall the Sound Tigers are 2-12-0-1 in their last 15 games. 

This is the type of game that the Bears HAVE to win.  You can't show up flat against a team at the bottom of the standings.

The Charlotte Checkers have closed the gap on the Bears to only 2 points.  1 game currently separates the 2nd place Bears and 3rd place Checkers.  And it isn't much further to 4th place Binghamton (7 points). 

Games against bottom dwelling teams are games you can not lose this late in the season.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

Caps make moves; Bears welcome Devils

The Caps have made a couple moves today.  No trades yet but some moves that do affect Hershey.  The Caps claimed winger Marco Sturm off waivers from the Kings while waiving D.J. King.  That could have an effect on Hershey in two ways.

1.  It gives the Caps more forward depth which could mean players returning to Hershey.
2.  If King clears waivers he would likely report to Hershey.

But that isn't all the Caps did today.  They recalled Jay Beagle yet again.  He is expected to play tonight in place of Mathieu Perreault who has been falling out of favor quickly due to a lack of production and consistency.

This could also signal that a deal is close involving Perry.  It has been mentioned often that if the Caps were to trade for a 2nd line center than Perreault could be a piece to move.  He likely isn't in the Capitals long term plans with other players like Cody Eakin and Marcus Johansson more likely to fill the 2nd and 3rd line center positions moving forward.  Yet he still has ability and could benefit from a fresh start and more consistent linemates.

There is no word on anything at this point but the benching of Perreault does raise some flags at least. 

That is all of the moves as of now but if anything else happens you will be sure to find a response here.


The Bears are back at it this weekend with 2 games.  Tonight the Albany Devils visit Giant Center and then tomorrow at 3pm the Bears will play the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on the road.

That is a tough travel schedule.  Bridgeport is about a 4 hour bus ride from Hershey.

But first things first the Bears need to get back to their winning ways.  They have alternated wins and losses over their 7 games.  Based on that pattern the Bears should win tonight.

The Devils come in playing well of late.  They have won 4 of their last 7 games and only 1 of the losses was by more than a goal.  They have scored 23 goals in the 7 game stretch and have allowed 22.  So 7 games and the majority of them have been close. 

They are surely hoping that some of that success translates into a win tonight as they will be looking for their first win of the season against the Bears.  In 4 matchups so far the Bears have won them all.

But we all know that Hershey hasn't been playing as well of late and yet again their starting goalie, Braden Holtby, is out with an injury.

Todd Ford and Jared DeMichiel will be the goalies for the coming weeks and I would expect DeMichiel to make his Giant Center debut tonight after Ford's rough first period on Thursday.  But then again maybe Coach French decides to put Ford back in to show confidence in him.

Either way I think we will see more of DeMichiel over the next couple weeks than his previous stay in Hershey where he made only 1 start.

Hershey Bears
record ~ 36-19-1-3 76 points
standings ~ 2nd in East Division
most recent game ~ 4-1 Loss @ Lake Erie, 2/24
last 5 games ~ 2-3-0-0
home record ~ 18-10-0-2
goals for ~ 196
goals against ~ 150
home power play ~ 22.0% (6th)
home penalty kill ~ 85.6% (5th)

Albany Devils
record ~ 22-30-1-3 48 points
standings ~ 6th in East Division
most recent game ~ 5-2 Loss @ Springfield, 2/25
last 5 games ~ 3-1-1-0
road record ~ 13-11-1-1
goals for ~ 144
goals against ~ 199
road power play ~15.2% (22nd)
road penalty kill ~ 78.3% (25th)

last time teams met - Fifth meeting between the teams this season with Hershey controlling the season series 4-0-0-0.  So far Hershey has won by a combined 19-10 but 3 of the games were by a combined 4 goals.

Players to watch:

C Keith Aucoin (11) - He leads the team in points with 56 but his points per game has dipped from about 1.5 points per game a couple weeks ago to only 1.33 points per game now.  He has failed to record a point in the 5 games Hershey has lost over the past 8 games. 
RW Francois Bouchard (22) - He has only 8 goals and 18 points on the season but he started out the second half great scoring 4 times in 8 games (including 2 against Albany).  But since then he has 0 zero goals and only 2 assists in his last 11 games.  The team needs more production from him.
LW Boyd Kane (12) - One of the few Bears carrying his weight over the recent stretch.  He has 3 goals and 4 assists in the last 5 games.  Unfortunately 3 of those games were losses.

C Steve Zalewski (15) - Came over from Worcester earlier this month.  Has played only 7 games for the Devils but has 5 goals and 1 assist in those game.  Only had 4 goals for the Sharks prior to the move.
C Adam Henrique (17) - Tied for the team lead in goals with 17 and second on the team in points with 34.  He has 4 goals and 3 assists in his last 7 games.
C Matt Anderson (22) - Leads the team in points with 39 and assists with 22.  Also tied for the team lead in goals with 17.  He has 1 goal and 6 assists in his last 7 games. 


Friday, February 25, 2011

Short road trip was unkind to the Bears

Hershey won in a shootout on Wednesday night.  Excellent.  2 points and a step in the right direction.

Or not.

Braden Holtby was injured during the shootout and is listed as week to week.  Now injuries in hockey are always guesses but when a player is listed as week to week that is not good.  Andrew Gordon has been listed as day to day for a few weeks now.  Hopefully Braden returns sooner than later.

So the Bears recalled Jared DeMichiel from South Carolina to back up Todd Ford last night in Cleveland.  Good thing he arrived too.  Ford gave up 3 goals in 40 seconds in the 1st period and was not heard from again.  Hershey ended up losing 4-1 on the night.

But that wasn't all they lost.  Johann Kroll was injured during the game and is not expected to return before the postseason.

That obviously isn't as big a subtraction as Holtby but considering how the Bears have gone through defensemen this season it surely is a concern.

It isn't all doom and gloom on the blueline as Brian Fahey and Sheldon Souray returned to lineup while Dmitri Orlov practiced with the Capitals while the Bears were away and is expected to play at some point this weekend.

So while the Bears lost Kroll they technically gained Orlov, Fahey, and Souray.  I think they will be okay.

But the goaltending is definitely a concern.  It isn't like this team is lighting it up offensively right now.  They have scored about 2.6 goals per game since Gordon went down with his injury.  That is 29 goals in 11 games.  And that includes the 5 goals against Manitoba and the 6 against Bridgeport.  You take those out and things are even worse...2 goals per game.

And yet the Bears are still sitting in 2nd place in the East Division and still #3 in the league as far as points go.  That is somewhat remarkable considering they have gone 3-5 over their last 8 games.

Personally I think what is most troubling about the team this season is that when they get down they don't come back.  Last year and the year before it just felt like they were never out of it.  Obviously that has to do with the amazing talent level of those teams but this years team isn't a bunch of no body's. 

They are only 3-13-0-0 when trailing after the 1st period.  3 wins when they are down after one.  That isn't good.  They are worse when trailing after 2 periods...2-15-1-1.

They are absolutely dominant when scoring first.  In 59 games the Bears have scored the first goal 39 times.  That is the most in the AHL. 

In those 39 games they are 31-4-1-3 with 66 points. 

That means in the other 20 games when they have given up the first goal they are only 5-15-0-0. 

Obviously you want your team to do well when they score first.  That is fact it is great to see.  But when you are only winning 25% of your games when you don't score first you have a problem.

Just to compare with some other top teams...

Manchester has won 88.5% of the games (26 of them) in which they have scored first (that is first in the league, Hershey is #2 at 84.6%).  Which means are winning almost 40% of their games when they don't score first.  Not perfect but still better than Hershey.

Wilkes-Barre has won 82.9% of their games when scoring first (35 times).  That means they are winning 56% of their games when they give up the first goal.

Charlotte...winning 33.3%
Binghamton...winning 27%
Norfolk...winning 33.3%
Portland...winning 43%
Connecticut...winning 23.3%

So there you have the 8 playoff teams from the Eastern Conference as it stands right now.

Hershey is 7th of 8 when they don't score first.

And looking at the records when trailing after a period shows that Hershey is also 7th of the 8 teams in this category.  Hershey has a grand total of 5 wins when trailing after the 1st or 2nd periods.  Only Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has fewer with 4 but they have only trailed after 1 in 10 games with 2 wins (Hershey has trailed in 15 games winning 3) and have only trailed after 2 in 13 games with 2 wins (Hershey has trailed 19 times winning only 2).

It has to concern you a little bit.  On paper (when healthy) they rival any team in the conference but when looking at the records Hershey might be a weaker team (mentally at least) than the other 7 playoff teams.  They don't seem to have the ability to overcome when faced with a deficit.

My main reason for looking at these numbers was because of the Bears effort last Sunday against Charlotte (I actually left early from GC, which I never do, because of the horrible play) and apparently their effort last night.  Now let me say this about last night's game...I didn't watch or listen to it so I don't have an opinion of my own and maybe someone will correct me on this but after reading the review from the folks over at Sweetest Hockey on Earth I got the impression that Hershey wasn't truly pushing with everything they had after falling behind early:
During the second period, the Bears were able to mostly hold the Monsters back, but unfortunately Lake Erie did find the score sheet once again. The game might as well have been only two periods long. The third was the epitome of quiet. No scoring, no penalties, no fun. Some flashes of offense, a hit or two, but really nothing to write home about. We really only needed the first period to decide this one.
And the scoresheet confirms that as Hershey mustered only 4 shots in the 3rd period. 

Last years team would have come out flying in the third period looking to get something back.  This year's team doesn't appear to have that same attitude and energy.

And that, more than the injuries, offensive struggles, and goaltending, is what scares me the most.  Last year during the Calder Cup Finals I was confident that Hershey could come back from 2 games down. 

This year's team...I am worried.  Lately they have preferred to roll over and die instead of fighting back.  Definitely not the type of hockey you want to be playing as you get closer to the playoffs.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bears on the road for 2

The Hershey Bears are in Canada right now getting ready to play the Toronto Marlies.  Then tomorrow night they will be in Cleveland to play the Lake Erie Monsters.

Both teams are in the AHL's North Division.  Toronto sits in 4th with 65 points while the Monsters are in 3rd with 66 points.

The Bears are looking for a little retribution on this short road trip.  Both the Marlies and Monsters have already won in Hershey this year.  Both by a 3-2 score with the Lake Erie game decided in a shootout. 

Hershey will have some additional weapons at their disposal for the two games but neither of them is Russian.  Andrew Joudrey and Brian Fahey are expected to play, Joudrey tonight and tomorrow with Fahey getting in the lineup tomorrow (maybe tonight).

That's big news considering some of the injuries that the club has been dealing with.  Joudrey's return is allowing the team to consider moving Brian Willsie back to where he started the season, on the 1st line.  Willsie has mainly played 2nd line center since Mathieu Perreault was recalled to Washington.

With Jay Beagle's return last week and Joudrey getting healthy there is now a little more depth at center which will allow Willsie to return to the top line.  Steve Pinizzotto has spent the last couple games at that position but it has really been a revolving door since Gordon went out. 

Hershey needs more production from the top line as Keith Aucoin has been held without a point in 4 of the last 6 games....all Hershey losses.  Hopefully (if they make the move) Willsie will help with that.

It is another tough stretch for the Bears this week.  But not as difficult as the previous 5 in 7 and definitely not as tough as the stretch in March.

3 games in 4 nights in 4 different cities is challenging.  After tomorrow nights game the Bears will return to Hershey for a day off and then a Saturday game against Albany.  Then they are back on the bus for a trip to Bridgeport for a 3:00 matinee on Sunday. 

As the team gets healthy and fresh bodies arrive from Russia there should be enough energy to get some quality performances this weekend.

Dmitri Orlov is expected to play this weekend, possibly on Saturday night against the Devils.  He signed a PTO contract on Tuesday and has been practicing with the Bears.  Due to not having a visa though he couldn't travel to Toronto with the team and is unlikely to join them in Cleveland.

He is looking to become the 2nd straight Bears rookie defenseman to win the World Juniors and a Calder Cup in the same year.  John Carlson accomplished the feat last year when the USA took the Juniors crown while Russia won the tournament this year.

His play will likely speak for itself over time but the language barrier is a bigger problem for the immediate future.  But unlike Semyon Varlamov who did not have anyone but his father in Hershey to help with the language Orlov has Dmitri Kugryshev.  Obviously that won't help on the ice as they will have separate shifts but it should accelerate the learning curve a bit. 

Any defensive depth is helpful for the Bears this season.  After a very strong start the defense has succumb to numerous injuries of late.  Both Lawrence Nycholat and Fahey have missed considerable time lately and Nycholat is not expected back anytime soon.  Add to that Sheldon Souray's latest saga with the waivers and his injuries early this year. 

With Patrick McNeill also missing time at the start of the season you start to wonder what this unit would look like if everyone was healthy and playing at the same time.  Considering the Bears are still one of the best teams in the league in goals allowed per game (4th with 2.53), a full unit of defenseman could make this a unit that no team wants to face come playoff time.


Fahey - Nycholat
McNeill - Orlov
Souray - Collins
Wellar - Miscovic

Who sits in that bunch?  All are solid players that bring something to the table and have contributed this year. 

Hopefully we will get to see it at some point but for at least the next 2 games Nycholat, Orlov, and Souray will remain on the sidelines watching.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bears lose for 4th time in last 9 days

Listless.  Apathetic.  Disengaged.  Lethargic.  Unmotivated.  Pitiful.  Hapless.  Bored.  Inconsistent.

Those are all very good descriptions of how the Bears played last night.  I think the most accurate word to describe their performance from the past week (have only won 2 of their last 6 games) would be...


Every player seems to be out there by himself.  Defensemen aren't picking up their responsibilities and wingers are routinely out of position.

Maybe some of that is due to an added pressure of being so inconsistent over the the past 6 games but there really is no excuse for it.

Sure they are missing a few players.  Two points to that...

1.  Who isn't?  The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins were at one point missing their top 7 scorers.  Every single one of them and yet they beat the Bears 7-1 last Sunday.
2.  Who is Hershey really missing?  3 of their top 6 defensemen and 1 of their top 9 forwards (not counting Perreault since he has been gone for a while now).  Fahey, Nycholat, Souray, and Gordon.  That really isn't that much. 

Sure those 4 all bring some offensive presence, Gordon most of all, but in the end the players that are subbing in for them bring their own abilities and should be able to generate more than they have. 

If you throw out Saturday's game where Hershey scored 6 on what is arguably the worst team in the league at the current moment then the Bears have scored 14 goals in their last 7 games (20 in their last 8 if you count the Bridgeport game).

For a team that was the highest scoring team in the league not long ago they sure have fallen.  This morning they still sit in 3rd overall with 3.37 goals per game.  In 7 of their last 8 (not counting the odd 6 game outburst again) they have scored 2 goals per game. 

2.  Per game.

No team in the league...any league...could maintain that kind of production and expect to win. 

Luckily for the Bears they still sit in playoff position.  A good position in fact, 2nd in the East Division.

The sad part is that last week there was still hope of catching the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for the division lead.  Hershey was within 6 points a couple times with plenty of game remaining.

Now they are 10 points back with no games in hand.  While there is obviously still time to catch them it is increasingly unlikely.  In fact I think the only possible way would be if Hershey swept the 4 remaining games against the Pens.  Which, if you look at the season to date, is unlikely to happen. 

But that's okay.  You don't have to win the division to win the Calder Cup. 

Nope all you have to do is make the playoffs and then play your best hockey of the season.

And as bad as the Bears have played over the last week or so they are still considered a strong contender for another Cup. 

This recent display is nothing more than a hiccup on the way to the postseason.

Hershey still sits in 2nd place in the East division.  They are 4 points ahead of 3rd place Charlotte with a game in hand.  And maybe just as importantly at this point, they are a full 13 points ahead of the first team that will miss the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, Worcester.  (Remember that since the East Division has 8 teams if the 5th place team has more points than the 4th in the Atlantic then they make the playoffs in the Atlantic division).

So Hershey is still in okay position.

But they need to start playing better sooner than later.

That starts with getting some players back healthy.  Brian Fahey and Andrew Joudrey were thought to be ready to return this past weekend but neither saw action.  They will likely be ready for this week's 4 games in 5 nights that begins on Wednesday and ends Sunday.

Sheldon Souray should be back soon.  Not sure of the injury that supposedly kept him out late last week but he was placed on re-entry waivers on Saturday but he cleared today so I believe he is still being loaned to the Bears and is likely to participate this weekend in the games barring an injury.

Other injured players, Trevor Bruess, Nycholat, and Gordon, are going to be out longer.  Last I heard none of the 3 were practicing.  According to one report I heard, Bruess had surgery recently and is out of action for another 6 weeks minimum.  Gordon and word.

But reinforcements are beginning to trickle in.  Dmitri Orlov, the Caps 2nd round pick in 2009, is in Hershey and is expected to sign a tryout contract as early as today.  He could see action this week.

The NHL trade deadline is one week from today.  Will Hershey get additional players?  Will the Bears lose players?  Anything can happen at this point.  Rumors are flying all over and the Caps are continuously involved in them.

Things can surely change by then but there is a chance that Mathieu Perreault would be returning to Hershey once the deadline passes.  Assuming of course that he is still a part of the organization.  Personally I think he will be part of a package for a 2nd line center if McPhee makes a move but time will tell.  But if the Caps do go get a 2nd line center and he is not dealt than I would say it is likely that we will see Perry back in a Bears uniform this spring.

And down the road the Bears are likely to see another Caps prospect, Cody Eakin.  Eakin plays in the WHL and their regular season ends in mid-late March.  The playoffs then start and once that is done he is likely to join Hershey's roster. 

He played in Hershey last postseason when he dressed for 5 games, as well as 4 regular season games.  But he continues to develop and almost made the Caps out of camp.  He isn't a traditional goal scorer in the Giroux or Greentree mold but I would say he is more of a grinder in the Willsie, Beagle, and maybe even Gordon mold.  Which is obviously a good thing.

So there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.  This team will improve.  I personally believe we are seeing the worst this team can offer right now.

Hopefully by Wednesday the players that remain decide to recommit themselves to the system and style of hockey that they are in need of. 

Playing a little more physical.  Getting to the front of the net.  And maybe the most important...just being in the correct position when on the ice.

Start playing together as a team instead of trying to do it yourself and things will start to happen.

I don't know about any of you but I still believe 100% in this teams ability come playoff time.  They will be ready.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bears and Checkers face off for final time during regular season tonight

The Bears are likely getting the Checkers at the right time.  The Checkers leading scorer (and 3rd in the AHL), Jerome Samson, is on recall to the Carolina Hurricanes. 

And he was on a tear after the All-Star break.  He played in 4 games after the break, scoring 3 goals and adding 6 assists.

Charlotte went 3-0-0-1 during those games scoring a combined 18 goals.  Since he was recalled they have gone 2-2-0-0 and have scored only 8 goals.

Big difference.

But this is still a team the Bears can't take lightly.  They currently sit right behind the Bears in the standings with 68 points.  A Bears regulation loss would mean that Charlotte is only 4 points back of Hershey for 2nd in the East.  Definitely not something the Bears want.

A Bears victory would give them an 8 point cushion and plenty of breathing room.

Hershey could see some reinforcements tonight to help.  Andrew Joudrey and Brian Fahey were thought to be possibilities for the Bears for the weekend but they have yet to see action.  That could come tonight.

Despite his struggles last night (and possibly because of them) I would also expect to see Braden Holtby get the start again in goal.  After a performance like last night you want to get him right back out there and work off more of the rust. 

It kind of goes without saying (but I will say it anyway) but Braden will play a crucial role for the Bears the rest of the season so the sooner he returns to All-Star form the better.

Here are some other roster news and notes:
  • Sheldon Souray was placed on re-entry waivers yesterday meaning that IF a team were to claim him they would owe only half of his salary for the remainder of this year and only 2.7 million next season.  The waiver process ends Monday so nothing will be known until then but rumor has it the Caps might be interested.
  • Dmitri Orlov has arrived in the States.  He got in last night.  There is still uncertainty as to his eligibility but expectations are that he will join the Bears sometime sooner than later.  He is an offensive defenseman who would add some very valuable defensive depth to the Bears.  It will be good for him to get in some regular season work over the next 2 months so that he is ready for the Calder Cup playoffs.  
Hershey's power play is still struggling.  After going 0 for 4 last night they have failed to score a power play goal in 7 straight games, going 0 for 27 during that stretch. 

Unfortunately for the Bears it doesn't get any easier tonight.  Charlotte brings with them the 5th overall penalty kill in the league.  They kill off a little more than 85% of their penalties.  On the road that is about the same but actually closer to 86%.

Hershey might need a power play goal tonight to pull off the win.  The league's #3 home power play unit is going to have to show up. 

So who guess is the team that leaves the first period with the lead.  And based on overall numbers...Hershey has a pretty good chance.  (see just below for reasons)

Fun with stats for the game tonight:
  • Charlotte is 16-2-1-0 when leading after 1 period (7-0-1-0 on the road)
  • Hershey is 21-2-0-2 when leading after 1 (13-1-0-2 at home)
  • Charlotte has a -1 goal differential in the first period
  • Hershey is +20 in 1st period goal differential
  • Charlotte is #3 in the AHL with 3.40 goals per game
  • Hershey is #2 in the AHL with 3.43 goals per game
  • Charlotte is #23 in the league allowing 3.21 goals per game
  • Hershey is #4 allowing only 2.48 goals per game
  • Charlotte is only 9-6-0-0 when outshooting an opponent on the road
  • Hershey is 7-1-0-1 at home when being outshot 
  • Charlotte is #2 in the AHL averaging 33.21 shots per game
  • Hershey is #7 averaging 31.27 per game

Hershey Bears
record ~ 35-17-1-3 72 points
standings ~ 2nd in East Division
most recent game ~ 6-4 Win vs Bridgeport, 2/19
last 5 games ~ 2-3-0-0
home record ~ 18-9-0-2
goals for ~ 192
goals against ~ 139
home power play ~ 22.8% (3rd)
home penalty kill ~ 86.2% (5th)

Charlotte Checkers
record ~ 31-20-2-4 68 points
standings ~ 3rd in East Division
most recent game ~ 3-2 SO Win @ Adirondack, 2/19
last 5 games ~ 2-2-1-0
road record ~ 16-9-1-0
goals for ~ 194
goals against ~ 183
road power play ~ 16.2% (18th)
road penalty kill ~ 85.8% (9th)

last time teams met - This is the 8th and final meeting between the teams during the regular season.  Hershey has gone 4-3-0-0 against the Checkers to this point this season, including a 1-0 win right before the All-Star break on January 29.

Players to watch:

LW Kyle Greentree (37) - Third on the team in goals with 20.  He has 5 goals and an assist against Charlotte this season.  But 4 of those goals came in the first 2 meetings back in the beginning of November.
LW Boyd Kane (12) - Playing on the top line with Aucoin has been good to Boyd.  He has 2 goals and 3 assists in his last 2 games.  Against Charlotte this season he has 2 goals and 2 assists.
RW Steve Pinizzotto (13) - Given the opportunity Pinner can definitely play some offense.  Playing on the top line last night he scored 2 and added an assist.

LW Jacob Micflikier (18) - Second on the team (1st among active players) in goals (22) and points (45).  He has 4 goals and 3 assists against the Bears this season.
LW Chris Terry (25) - Third on the team (2nd among active players) in goals (21) and points (44).  He has 4 goals and 2 assists against Hershey in 2010-11.  He also has a goal and 3 assists in his last 2 games.
C Zack Boychuk (11) - Second on the team in assist with 26 and tied for the team lead in power play goals with 8.  He has 7 assists against the Bears this season.


Bears defeat Sound Tigers 6-4

It definitely wasn't a game to write home about.  But at this stage of the season a win's a win.

After struggling to find their offense over the past few games the Hershey Bears erupted for 6 goals on 28 shots.  Steve Pinizzotto scored 2, Boyd Kane scored 2, Patrick McNeill had 1, and tough guy Joel Rechlicz scored his first career AHL goal.

But all was not perfect at Giant Center last night.  Braden Holtby made his first start since January 29th and looked real rusty.

If it wasn't for the offense there is a real possibility that Holtby would have been pulled in this one.  Bridgeport starting goalie Mikko Koskinen was pulled after allowing 4 goals on 11 shots but Holtby had allowed 3 goals on 6 shots at one point.

And none of the goals were what one would call unstoppable.

Holtby eventually settled down and finished the game with 15 saves to pick up his 13th win of the season.

It was an uneven night all around for the Bears...
  • Some of the top players seemed to lack urgency and effort.  Kyle Greentree, Brian Willsie, Keith Aucoin, and Jay Beagle all appeared somewhat disinterested during the game.  Not a whole lot of hustle by the bunch but they all had moments.
  • Careless turnovers led to goals often.  The first goal will most likely be blamed on Holtby as he tried to clear the puck but instead passed it right to a Sound Tiger who put it in the net.  But in reality Jay Beagle started the bad play with an ill-advised pass in the offensive zone which led to the rush at the other end.
  • Defensive lapses were often as well.  The penalty kill allowed the 4th Bridgeport goal and it shouldn't have happened.  The Sound Tiger player (Ullstrom) was basically standing by himself on the far post for what felt like an eternity.  The closest player too him was Beagle but he was a good 10 feet away until the pass was made which he gently put in the back of the net.  
Overall the Bears were fortunate to be playing the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.  Against a better team this likely would have resulted in a loss for the Bears.

So far this weekend the Bears have outscored the opposition 8-7 and have picked up 2 of a possible 4 points.  That would be an okay weekend against the likes of Wilkes-Barre and Charlotte.

But this has been against 2 of the worst 7 teams in the AHL.

It is simply not good enough.  Today the Charlotte Checkers visit Giant Center and Hershey better be ready.  The Checkers are only 6 points back of 2nd place Hershey with Norfolk another 2 behind them.

The playoffs are still 2 months away and there is still lots of hockey to play.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bears drop decision in Rochester; Welcome Sound Tigers to Hershey

Well that was not the way you want to start an important weekend.  The Bears gave up 3 goals in the first 25 minutes of the game last night and were unable to recover.

Hershey did score twice to make the score look more respectable but in the end it was still a 3-2 loss to a last place team.

Tonight the Bears return to Giant Center and welcome a former East Division rival.  The Bridgeport Sound Tigers visit Hershey tonight for the first time since last April when the teams met in the first round of the playoffs.

Bridgeport is not the same team as they were when they made the playoffs last spring.  They currently reside in the cellar of the Atlantic Division and are not thinking playoffs at this point.

Things weren't so bad too long ago for the Sound Tigers.  Just a few weeks ago they sat at 19-19-3-3 and were hopeful to make up some ground and make a run at the playoffs. 

But since their last victory on January 22 they have gone 0-9-0-1 and are now aiming to just get a win.  They currently own the 3rd worst record in the AHL and are close to falling even lower.

During this stretch they have allowed 3 or more goals in 9 of the 10 games and have scored 2 or fewer in 7 of the 10. 

They got close to a win on Wednesday night when they managed to force a shootout against the Springfield Falcons before losing.

The Bears aren't exactly coming into this game playing that well either.  They have lost 3 of their last 4 games and the goal scoring that carried them through much of January has dried up substantially.  They have scored only 8 goals over their last 4 which is almost 1.5 goals per game below their season average.

Many things are contributing to the slide but all are just excuses that you can't have at this point in the season.  Now is the time to turn on the engine and make that push to the playoffs. 

Hopefully some of the injured players return over the next few days.  Andrew Joudrey, Brian Fahey, and Braden Holtby could all be back as early as tonight. 

But the player Hershey is missing the most is probably Andrew Gordon.  Gordo hasn't played since February 5 against Manitoba.  Since then Hershey is 4-3 but has been outscored 20-19 in those 7 games. 

The area where they miss him most is on the power play.  Since he went out Hershey has had 29 power play opportunities. 

They have 2 goals.

2 for 29 in their last 7 games on the power play and that includes a stretch over the last 6 where they haven't scored any.  During the last 6 games they have gone 0-23 on the power play.

Winning games is tough when you can't score with the extra man. 

Hershey Bears
record ~ 34-17-1-3 72 points
standings ~ 2nd in East Division
most recent game ~ 3-2 Loss @ Rochester, 2/18
last 5 games ~ 2-3-0-0
home record ~ 17-9-0-2
goals for ~ 186
goals against ~ 135
home power play ~ 23.1% (3rd)
home penalty kill ~ 87.3% (3rd)

Bridgeport Sound Tigers
record ~ 19-28-3-4 45 points
standings ~ Last in Atlantic Division
most recent game ~ 4-3 SO Loss @ Springfield, 2/16
last 5 games ~ 0-4-0-1
road record ~ 6-17-0-3
goals for ~ 144
goals against ~ 179
road power play ~ 19.4% (8th)
road penalty kill ~ 78.7% (24th)

last time teams met - This is the first of two meetings between the teams this season.  They last met during the 1st round of the 09-10 Calder Cup Playoffs where the Bears won the series 4 games to 1 on their way to the Calder Cup. 
Players to watch:

C Keith Aucoin (11) - He averages an absurd 1.42 points per game but has only 1 point in his last 4. 
F Brian Willsie (37) - Still the team leader in goals (23) but he also leads the team, and the league, in power play goals with 14.  Only has 2 goals and 1 assist since Gordon left the lineup.
C Jay Beagle (21) - Came on last night scoring a goal and assisting on the other.  He is going to need to continue his sharp play to help the Bears win.

LW Eric Castonguay (45) - Has spent most of the season with Reading of the ECHL but has played in 4 games (the last 3) for the Sound Tigers and has 3 goals and 1 assist in those 4 games.  2 goals and 1 assist in the last 3.
LW Justin DiBenedetto (9) - Leads the team in goals with 13 despite only playing in only 34 games this season.  8 of those goals have come during their losing streak so you know he is playing hard.
RW Rhett Rhakshani (10) - Leads the team in points with 34 and is 3rd on the team with 10 goals.  But he hasn't been performing of late with only 5 assists (no goals) in his last 12 games.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Bears getting healthier as they head to Rochester

Some good news coming out of Bears camp this weekend...the Bears are getting healthier (kinda).

Braden Holtby, Andrew Joudrey, and Brian Fahey are all anticipated to return to action this weekend.  Holtby made the trip to Rochester and will back up Todd Ford tonight while both Joudrey and Fahey stayed in Hershey but could (COULD) play this weekend.

At the same time though Sheldon Souray did not make the trip to Rochester and is out with an upper body injury.  No word on what exactly that is but he won't play tonight for sure.

No real update on any of the other players including Andrew Gordon and Lawrence Nycholat...they still aren't practicing.

So Hershey begins this weekend even more short handed than they were on Tuesday but by the end of the weekend things could be returning to a bit of normalcy.

Tonight the Bears head up to Rochester to take on the North Division bottom dwellers for the 4th and final time this season.

So far the Bears are 2-1 against the Americans.  The first two meetings between the teams were close 1 goal games but the 3rd meeting (back on January 22) resulted in a 5-1 Hershey win.  Hershey has scored 11 to Rochester's 7 in those contests.

The Americans come into tonight's game having won 3 straight games while the Bears rebounded nicely after a subpar weekend to win on Tuesday night.

Rochester is actually one of the worst home teams in the AHL having collected only 23 of their 53 points on home ice despite having played 5 more games at home than on the road.

In contrast Hershey is actually better on the road than at home collecting half of their 72 points on the road despite playing 2 fewer road games than home.  Although their goal differential is definitely much weaker on the road (+14) compared to at home (+38).

Hershey follows up this road contest with home games on Saturday and Sunday against Bridgeport and Charlotte, respectively.  Not exactly a gauntlet kind of weekend.  Of the 3 games only 1 team is currently in playoff positioning as both the Sound Tigers and Americans reside in the cellar of their respective divisions.

In all honesty this is likely one of the easiest weekends remaining for the Bears and it is probably not too exaggerated to say that if they want to catch the flightless water fowl they need to sweep the weekend set and pick up all 6 points.

Hershey Bears
record ~ 34-16-1-3 72 points
standings ~ 2nd in East Division
most recent game ~ 2-1 Win @ Norfolk, 2/15
last 5 games ~ 3-2-0-0
road record ~ 17-7-1-1
goals for ~ 184
goals against ~ 132
power play ~ 21.1% (5th)
penalty kill ~ 85.3% (6th)

Rochester Americans
record ~ 24-26-3-2 53 points
standings ~ Last in North Division
most recent game ~ 6-4 Win vs Worcester, 2/16
last 5 games ~ 3-2-0-0
home record ~ 10-17-1-2
goals for ~ 149
goals against ~ 173
power play ~ 20.1% (7th)
penalty kill ~ 79.9% (24th)

last time teams met - Hershey won 5-1 on January 22.  This is the 4th and final regular season meeting between the teams with Hershey owning a 2-1 record.
Players to watch:

C Keith Aucoin (11) - After not recording a point in Hershey's 2 losses last weekend the Bears leading scorer (15g, 39a) scored the game winner on Tuesday.  He has 3 goals and 5 assists against the Americans this season. 
F Brian Willsie (37) - Leads the team in goals (23), second on the team in assists (27), and points (50).  He only has 1 goal and 1 assist in his last 4 games but he does have 2 goals and 2 assists in 3 games against the Amerks this season.
C Jay Beagle (21) - While he only has 1 assist since returning from Washington he is invaluable in other areas.  Getting some offense to go along with the defensive play would definitely help a thin Bears team tonight.

RW Bill Thomas (20) - Has 11 goals and 16 assists in only 37 games so far for the Americans this season.  He has scored in 3 straight and has a 4 game points streak going with 3 goals and 2 assists in those 4 games.
C Chris Taylor (12) - 4th on the team in points with 30 (8g, 22a) he has scored in 2 straight games.
D Clay Wilson (5) - 2nd on the team in points with 39 (8g, 31a) he has been red hot of late.  7 (yes 7) assists in his last 3 games. 


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Is the East Division the best in the AHL?

First lets cover last nights game.  Hershey responded to their lacking performance from Sunday with a significant 2-1 victory over the hosting Norfolk Admirals.

It was Hershey's 3rd victory (in 3 tries) over the division rivals this season.

And they did it with only 5 defensemen dressed.  Patrick McNeill received his first NHL call up earlier in the day and left Norfolk for Anaheim prior to the game.  He will be with Washington as long as Mike Green is listed as questionable or day to day. 

Josh Godfrey was recalled from South Carolina to take his place but he did not arrive in time to play in the game. 

So the Bears went with 13 forwards and 5 defensemen.  And it worked.

Sean Collins picked up his 4th of the season late in the first period and Keith Aucoin added the game winner, his 15th of the year, with only 18 seconds to play in the 2nd period.

Todd Ford stopped 29 shots.  The penalty kill killed off 4 power plays.  And the team limited one of the AHL's top scoring teams (and top shooting teams) to only 1 goal and 30 shots.

Hershey is now 15-3-1-2 overall when being out shot by the opponent.  That is a pretty impressive stat if you think about it.  It says a lot about how well the defense and goaltending has been this season.

Next up is yet another 3 in 3 this weekend.  A trip up to Rochester on Friday followed by home games against Bridgeport and Charlotte on Saturday/Sunday.

More on that later this week.


Last night while watching and listening to the game I heard John Walton talk about how strong the East Division is.  I have been meaning to look into this for a while just to see how good the division is for a while. 

Looking at the standings and the stats you would think the East Division must be pretty good.

Wilkes-Barre is #1 in the league overall while Hershey is #2.  After that you have respectable teams in Charlotte (66 points, 9th overall), Norfolk (65 points, 10th), and Binghamton (62 points, 14th). 

Those 5 teams are also in the top 8 in goals per game.  And 4 of them are in the top 12 in goals allowed per game (Charlotte is 23rd). 

Everything looks good.  Then you consider the bottom three teams in the division.  Albany, Syracuse, and Adirondack.  They are the 3 worst teams in the league by points and winning percentage.

That really brings down the division a bit, don't you think.

Also consider the other divisions and their competitive balance.

The North Division sees Manitoba in 1st with 64 points and Toronto in 5th with 59 points.  Sure 4 of the East division teams would lead that division but they have played a better overall schedule.

Now the West Division.  Houston leads with 68 points.  Chicago sits in 7th with 60 points.  8 points separates the top 7 (of 8) in the division. 

Hershey trails Wilkes-Barre by 10 and they are in 2nd.

Okay but maybe the top part of the East Division is just that good.  Maybe they are beating up on everyone else including their lowly East Division brethren.

Partially.  Overall the top 5 in the East Division are 35-16-4-3 against the Atlantic division and 16-7-1-3 against the North Division.  (None of the top 5 have played a West Division opponent this season).

But that is only part of the story.  Consider that neither Charlotte nor Norfolk have (or will) play anyone outside of the Eastern Conference this season.  **By the ridiculous is that?  Honestly, look at their schedules.  Charlotte will have played 28 against the Atlantic Division and Norfolk 24 against the Atlantic...and NONE against the North or West Division.  Balanced?  I think not.**

And consider that 9 of those 16 wins against the North have come against last place Rochester.  And 19 of the Atlantic wins have come against Springfield, Providence, and Bridgeport...the current bottom dwellers of the division. 

That means that only 7 of the wins against the North division have come against the top 6 teams in that division.  And only about half the big 5's wins over the Atlantic have come against the top 5 in that division.

So is the East the best division in the AHL?

I would argue no.  Sure they are probably better than the Atlantic but I would say that both the North and West divisions are better overall than the East.

But at the end of the season only one thing matters.

The best of the East vs the best of the West.

And the East has won the past 2!! 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bears visit Norfolk for first time in 2010-11

Hershey is in Norfolk prepared to take on the Admirals and complete their 5 games in 7 days stretch which has not gone too smoothly.  But the trip can turn out to be a success with a win tonight.  Should Hershey win they will again have gone 3-2 over the 5 games and will sit 8 points behind the Baby Pens with 26 games to play.

After tonight's game Hershey gets a 2 day break before playing 3 more times this weekend.  And the schedule after that doesn't get easier.

The Bears have no more than 2 days off between games until the 3rd week in March.  It will be a much deserved break when it arrives.

But in the interest of taking things one game at a time....


This will be Hershey's first of four trips to Virginia this season to face the Admirals.  Norfolk has made 2 trips to Hershey this season and by a combined 5-1 they have 2 losses to show for it.

The Admirals have won 3 of their last 4 after losing 6 straight to close out January. 

They are a talented offensive team.  10 different players have double digit goals including former Bear, defenseman, Troy Milam.  (Johan Harju is on recall currently so the active number is 9 players).

This will be a good rebound game for Hershey.  Surely they are upset by the outcomes this past weekend and they need to get back on track. 

Looking up in the standings is always the goal but you have to be aware (at least a little) of what is behind you. 

Currently Hershey is closer to being in 5th place (8 points out) than 1st place (10 points).  Norfolk sits in 4th, only 5 points behind the Bears.  A loss tonight puts Norfolk within 3 points and sets up an exciting finish at the wrong end of the standings.

27 games to go.  Anything can happen still. 

Hershey can absolutely still catch the Pens (although that took a hit on Sunday) but they can also still miss the playoffs.

Now for some fun with stats:
  • Norfolk has lost 8 games in overtime, by far the most in the league (next closest is 4)
  • Hershey has lost only 1 game in overtime
  • Norfolk is 3rd in the league with 3.45 goals per game
  • Hershey is 4th at 3.43
  • Norfolk is 13th in the league allowing 2.77 goals per game
  • Hershey is 3rd at 2.47
  • Norfolk outscores their opponent by 20 in the 3rd period (4th in the league)
  • Hershey by 23 in the 3rd period (tied with 2 others for the best in the league)
  • Norfolk leads the league in shots per game with 34.25
  • Hershey is 7th at 31.40
  • Norfolk is only 10-3-5-2 when out shooting their opponent at home
  • Hershey is 7-2-1-1 when being out shot on the road

Hershey Bears
record ~ 33-16-1-3 70 points
standings ~ 2nd in East Division
most recent game ~ 7-1 Loss @ Wilkes-Barre, 2/13
last 5 games ~ 3-2-0-0
road record ~ 16-7-1-1
goals for ~ 182
goals against ~ 131
power play ~ 21.5% (5th)
penalty kill ~ 85.1% (6th)

Norfolk Admirals
record ~ 27-15-8-3 65 points
standings ~ 4th in East Division
most recent game ~ 4-0 Win vs Syracuse, 2/12
last 5 games ~ 3-1-1-0
home record ~ 12-5-5-3
goals for ~ 183
goals against ~ 147
power play ~ 17.5% (16th)
penalty kill ~ 83.7% (13th)

last time teams met - Hershey won 2-0 on January 2nd and 3-1 on December 26.  This is the 3rd of 8 meetings between the teams and the first in Norfolk.

Players to watch:

C Keith Aucoin (11) - Coiner has now gone 2 games without a point.  Amazingly that is tied for the longest pointless streak of the season for him.  Hopefully he breaks that streak tonight and adds to his 1 goal and 3 assists against Norfolk this season.
LW Kyle Greentree (37) - Third on the team in goals (20) and fourth in points (45), Greentree has only 1 goal and 1 assist during the current 5 in 7 stretch.  He did score 1 against Norfolk back in December.
RW Steve Pinizzotto (13) - The feisty winger has 12 goals and 19 assists for a total of 31 points this season.  He is 1 goal and 10 points away from tying his career highs (set last season) in both categories.  He has 1 goal and 2 assists in his last 3 games and also scored against the Admirals.

C Marc-Antoine Pouliot (11) - The team leader in points with 46 he also has 15 goals on the season.  He has 3 goals and 4 assists in his last 5 games.
C Blair Jones (9) - Second on the team in points with 40 and the active leader in goals with 16 (Johan Harju is on recall to Tampa Bay).  He has 4 goals and 3 assists in his last 7 games.
RW Alex Berry (27) - One of 10 players (when Harju is active) on the team with double digit goals.  He has 12 goals and 13 assists this season and is also 2nd on the team in penalty minutes with 115.  He has 1 goal and 3 assists in his last 4 games.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Bears struggle; Pens make a statement

Well that was a pretty poor showing this weekend.  It started off well enough with a 4-3 win over Providence but things just went downhill from there.

First, another injury. This time to center Trevor Bruess with a fractured ankle that will keep him sidelined for 3 months.

That makes it 9 players by my count.  9 players out with injuries and reportedly only Maxime Lacroix is possibly going to play tomorrow night in Norfolk.

But that doesn't excuse the effort that Hershey put in on Saturday night or the outcome on Sunday. 

Let's start with Saturday.  Hershey didn't show up to play until the last 10 minutes of the game.  At which point they did make a game of it but it was too little too late as they still fell 4-3.

5 shots.  That's how many shots the Bears recorded in the 2nd period.  And I think only 1 of those came in the 2nd half of the period.  Terrible hockey.

And I actually didn't think the officiating was that bad.  Yes the highsticking call on Willsie was a missed call but the referee doesn't have the luxury of replay to confirm his calls so I can see his misinterpretation while watching it at full speed.

But the call late in the 3rd period on Steve Pinizzotto was dead on.  Referee Jean Hebert was calling a tight game all night long and Pinner absolutely slashed him.  The problem was that Hebert didn't make the call until the Senator player fell to the ice.

That is okay with me.  I think he was basically allowing the play to happen until the player fell.  Would it have been a call during another game with another ref...who knows.  But it was called tight on Saturday night and instead of blaming the ref for the calls just quit slashing the guy.

If you have access to the video on AHLlive go back and watch the final few minutes.  A couple seconds before the player fell Pinner placed a very nice slash on the Senator. 

It was one of many lazy, dumb penalties that Hershey took Saturday night. 

Were some calls missed on the Senators...sure.  But those kinds of things work themselves out over the course of the season.  Don't think for one second that Hershey hasn't been given the benefit of the doubt on calls this year.

The good news on Saturday was that no additional players were injured. 

And in the end it was just Binghamton.  Sure you would want to win that but it wasn't like the Bears lost to the Pens and fell even further behind in the division race.

That would happen Sunday.

I didn't see Sunday's game so I won't say anything about the players effort in that one but the score says everything you probably need to know.


7 goals from 7 different Penguins. 

And you can't use the injuries and call ups as an excuse.  Look at the Pens roster.  They are currently missing their top 7 scorers.

Not 7 of their top 10...their top 7.  That would be like the Bears missing Gordon, Aucoin, Willsie, Greentree, Kane, Pinner, and Nycholat.  Hershey still has 4 of their top 7.

The fact that the Pens had a team to play the game was impressive enough.  The fact that they just flat destroyed the Bears speaks volumes of their desire to win.

And it makes you question Hershey's.

The fact that it was Hershey's 4th game in 5 days doesn't hold any weight either.  The Pens were finishing up a 3 in 3 and a 5 in 7 just like Hershey will be finishing tomorrow night.

It was a statement game by the Pens.  Simple as that.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Bears beat Monarchs, get ready for Bruins

So by a show of hands how many of you really believed the Bears could win in a shootout?  I'll be honest...I wasn't sure they could.  But they proved me wrong last night as Todd Ford won his 4th game of the season over the Atlantic division leading Manchester Monarchs.

The Bears took the critical first period lead and it paid off for them.  Hershey is now 18-2-0-2 in games where they have a lead after the 1st period. (Manchester is undefeated when they lead after one).

Patrick McNeill scored his 2nd goal of the season while Todd Ford made 28 saves (plus 5 more in the shootout) to pick up the win for the Bears.

With the win Hershey trails Wilkes-Barre by just 8 points with 2 games in hand. 

From that game against a division leader on a hot streak to a game against a 6th place team that isn't playing too well.  And the 2nd game in 3 nights away from Giant Center.

The Providence Bruins enter tonight's game residing in 6th place in the Atlantic division.  They really aren't what you would expect from a 6th place team though.  They are only a couple games below .500 and are only 6 points out of the final playoff spot in the division.

At home they aren't dominant but they have won 5 straight on home ice.  In those 5 wins they are outscoring the opponent 15-6.

Overall they aren't playing that well of late though.  They have lost 3 straight and 4 of the last 5 games.  In those 5 games they have recorded 8 goals and have given up 14.  So defensively they are still playing well but the goals aren't being scored.

The Bruins can hang their hat on the fact that they beat the Bears 2-1 back in December.  It was the last game of a 3 game losing streak the Bears were riding. 

Since that game the Bears are 16-2-1-2.

I would say this is a different team now.  And they will surely be looking to avenge the earlier loss.

Some more fun facts:
  • Providence is only 2-6-1-0 against the East division (wins over Albany and Hershey)
  • Hershey is (after Wed nights victory) 4-2-0-0 against the Atlantic
  • Providence is the WORST team in the league for power play success at home - only 8.6%
  • Hershey is #15 in the league in penalty killing on the road
  • Providence is #18 in home penalty killing
  • Hershey is #5 in power play success on the road
  • Providence has been outscored by 20 goals in the 2nd period
  • Hershey outscores the opposition by 13 in the 2nd period (actually their worst period, 22 in the first and 23 in the third)
  • Providence is 28th and 21st in goals for and goals against per game, respectively
  • Hershey is 2nd and 1st in the same categories

Hershey Bears
record ~ 32-14-1-3 68 points
standings ~ 2nd in East Division
most recent game ~ 2-1 SO Win @ Manchester, 2/9
last 5 games ~ 4-0-0-1
road record ~ 15-6-1-1
goals for ~ 174
goals against ~ 117
power play ~ 22.6% (2nd)
penalty kill ~ 85.1% (8th)

Providence Bruins
record ~ 23-24-3-1 50 points
standings ~ 6th in Atlantic Division
most recent game ~ 4-1 Loss @ Charlotte, 2/8
last 5 games ~ 1-4-0-0
home record ~ 10-13-1-1
goals for ~ 124
goals against ~ 157
power play ~ 11.6% (29th)
penalty kill ~ 77.9% (27th)

last time teams met - Providence won 2-1 in Hershey on December 18th.  This is the 2nd and final meeting of the regular season.

Players to watch:

LW Boyd Kane (12) - This might surprise some people...Kane is riding a 4 game point streak.  2 goals and 4 assists in those 5.  Actually has at least one point in 10 of his last 11 (4g, 9a).
RW Francois Bouchard (22) - Has already doubled his scoring total from the first half with 4 goals since the midway point in the season.  Playing with Coiner should help get going again.
C Keith Aucoin (11) - Has at least one point in 12 straight games (3 goals, 16 assists in that time frame).  Has taken over the team points lead (50 points) despite missing 17 games.

C Jamie Arniel (11) - Leads the team in goals (14) and points (32) but the All-Star has not scored a goal since 2010!  He only has 7 assists in 19 games in 2011.
RW Kirk MacDonald (13) - Has 10 goals and 15 assists on the season.  He scored against Hershey back in December and has 2 goals and 4 assists in his last 7 games.
C Trent Whitfield (23) - Has only played in 17 games for the P-Bruins this season and has 4 goals and 5 assists to show for it including 3 goals and 2 assists in his last 7 games.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bears begin tough stretch in Manchester

Hershey begins a long week tonight in Manchester, New Hampshire as they take on the Atlantic division leading Monarchs.

The Bears have 5 games over the next 7 days.  2 against division leaders (Manchester, WB/S), 2 against teams looking to catch Hershey (Binghamton, Norfolk), and 1 against a team that beat Hershey earlier this season but is currently out of the playoffs (Providence).

4 of those games are on the road with only the Binghamton game coming in Hershey.

Keeping pace with the Baby Pens is the name of the game from here on.  The Bears aren't going to just catch and pass them some weekend.  They are going to have to make up a point here or there and then win the head to head matchups.

So wins over Atlantic division foes are always good.  And it would surely help their confidence if said wins were to come over division leading foes like Manchester.

The Bears played host to the Monarchs back on Halloween and finished that game with a 7-3 victory.  But that really doesn't mean much now.

Manchester is quite possibly the most balanced scoring team in the league.  They have 9 different players with 11+ goals.  Hershey only has 6.  None of the Monarchs has more than 16 goals so no one is standing out but that is a lot of guys to keep an eye on.  Every defensive pairing has to be ready to go tonight.

A couple weeks ago the argument could have been made that Hershey had a decided edge in goal over the Monarchs.  Sure, Martin Jones was an All-Star and is having a terrific season but Hershey had Braden Holtby and Dany Sabourin who had been playing fantastic hockey of late.

Now Hershey has Todd Ford and Jared DeMichiel.  Although to be honest, based on the rotation (or lack there of) last weekend I would say the Bears don't even have DeMichiel.

While Ford is definitely a solid goaltender he isn't Holtby or Sabourin and he isn't Jones either.  He has not exactly been dominant in the lower levels either.  He has a career 2.69 goals against and a save percentage just a tick over 90%.  Those aren't bad numbers but those numbers in the AHL would result in about a .500 record.

Hershey needs better play than that this weekend.

The defense can help him too.  This past weekend I saw multiple occasions where a Manitoba forward was left wide open to pick up a rebound and shoot.

To put it simply....that can't happen.  With Dany or Braden in net...maybe you get away with it for a little bit.  But (no offense to Ford) no one is going to mistake Todd Ford for Sabs or Holtby.

Better play from the defense and an exceptional effort from the journeyman goaltender and Hershey can come away from Manchester with a win.

And a lead after 1 would be good too.  Manchester is undefeated this season when they lead after one period...Hershey has only lost 2 in regulation when leading after 1 (2 shootout losses too).

Some more fun facts for tonight's game:
  • Manchester is best in the AHL when scoring first with a .875 win percentage.
  • Hershey is 3rd at .824
  • Manchester is #2 in the AHL in overall points with 67
  • Hershey is 3rd with 66
  • Manchester is 7-3-0-1 against the East division
  • Hershey is 3-2-0-0 against the Atlantic.
  • Manchester has the #4 power play on home ice
  • Hershey has the #4 power play on the road
  • Manchester has the #18 penalty kill at home
  • Hershey has the #18 penalty kill on the road
  • Manchester is #7 in goals scored per game with 3.23
  • Hershey is #1 in goals per game with 3.51
  • Manchester is #9 in goals against per game with 2.71
  • Hershey is #1 with 2.37 goals allowed per game

Hershey Bears
record ~ 31-14-1-3 66 points
standings ~ 2nd in East Division
most recent game ~ 5-1 Win vs Manitoba, 2/6
last 5 games ~ 4-0-0-1
road record ~ 14-6-1-1
goals for ~ 172
goals against ~ 116
power play ~ 22.9% (2nd)
penalty kill ~ 84.9% (8th)

Manchester Monarchs
record ~ 31-16-1-4 67 points
standings ~ 1st in Atlantic Division
most recent game ~ 4-0 Win @ Albany, 2/5
last 5 games ~ 4-1-0-0
home record ~ 17-7-1-0
goals for ~ 168
goals against ~ 141
power play ~ 19.3% (11th)
penalty kill ~ 84.6% (9th)

last time teams met - Hershey won 7-3 on Halloween in Hershey.  This is the 2nd and final meeting of the regular season.

Players to watch:


C Jay Beagle (21) - Hasn't played since 12/12 due to recall to Washington.  He brings with him exceptional penalty killing and the ability to grind out goals.  He has 7 goals and 4 assists on the year.
F Brian Willsie (18) - Has an 8 game point streak (9 goals, 4 assists in those games).  Tied for the team lead in goals (22) and second in points (48).
C Keith Aucoin (11) - Has at least one point in 11 straight games (3 goals, 15 assists in that timeframe).  Has taken over the team points lead (49 points) despite missing 17 games.


C Oscar Moller (10) - Has 13 goals and 21 assists on the year and is leading the team in points per game with .89 ppg.  Has 4 goals and 2 assists in last 5 games.
C Marc-Andre Cliche (22) - Has 14 goals and 15 assists on the season including 6 goals and 7 assists in his last 12 games.
D Viatcheslav Voynov (76) - Leads the team in points with 37 (12 goals, 25 assists).  The All-Star has 3 goals and 2 assists in his last 5 games.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Beagle returning?

Capitals Insider is reporting that Jay Beagle was seen packing up his gear and has possibly being reassigned to the Bears today.

Alexander Semin is set to return to the lineup tonight while Tom Poti is on the mend and hopes to play sometime in the coming weeks.

It will be good to see Beags back in a Bears uniform.  He hasn't played for the Bears since December 12 but he still leads the team in short handed goals with 4.  That also ranks #2 in the AHL.

At a time when Hershey is set to depart on a difficult road trip which will include 1 full day on a bus (24 hours travel time NOT counting the trip home to Hershey from Norfolk next week) this is great news.  Injuries have left players like Keith Aucoin and Brian Willsie playing tons of minutes as they currently register minutes on the penalty kill in addition to their normal 5v5 and power play minutes.

Hopefully we get a confirmation on Beagle's return sometime today or tonight.

UPDATE:  Tim Leone is reporting that the move is official.  Beagle has been reassigned to the Bears.  Welcome back Jay!!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Bears earn 5 points in 3 games

Hershey entered the weekend 11 points behind the league leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the East division.

They complete the weekend only 6 points back with a game in hand.

Bears fans...we have a division battle on our hands!

Playing in front of goalie Todd Ford all weekend Hershey managed a win over Albany, a shootout loss over Manitoba on Saturday, and a handling of those same Moose on Sunday at Giant Center.

If you subtract the last 24 minutes from Saturday's game the Bears outscored the opposition 14-5.  Unfortunately you can't erase those 24 minutes when Hershey allowed 3 Manitoba goals. 

For some reason Hershey took their foot off the gas and stopped playing at both ends of the ice on Saturday night.  They didn't protect their goaltender and they couldn't keep their emotions in check.  Sure there some questionable calls (and no calls) by referee Chris Cozzan but Hershey can't let the referee affect the outcome.

Otherwise Hershey played very well all weekend.  They protected Ford and cleared rebounds and played with plenty of intensity.

And they finished well.  Very well. 

Sunday afternoon Hershey and Manitoba entered the 3rd period tied 1-1.  Both teams felt like they had a chance.  Then the Hershey offense showed up.  4 goals over the next 14 minutes and it was over.  And the Moose knew it. 

First 106 minutes of action between the teams = 48 penalty minutes...
Last 6 minutes = 44 penalty minutes.

Not a bad way to finish a back to back against another top team in the league. 

Now Hershey enters a brutal stretch of games.  Beginning Wednesday Hershey plays 20 games over the next 33 games.  13 of the games are on the road including 5 of the next 6.  And they aren't easy road trips.

This week Hershey travels to Manchester on Wednesday (7hrs, 430 miles), Providence on Friday (2 more hours, 100 miles), back to Hershey on Saturday (6 hours, 350 miles), Wilkes Barre on Sunday for a 3:00 game (almost 2 hours, 100 miles), and then they head to Norfolk for a Tuesday game (almost 7 hours, 650 miles).

Total time on the bus...24 hours.  1350 miles.  Over 7 days. 

That's rather brutal.  Throwing that home game in on Saturday was just mean spirited by the AHL.  If they had no game no Saturday it wouldn't be that bad a trip but a 4 in 5 followed by a Tuesday game, 5 of them on the road...that's tough.

Hershey's depth will be tested this upcoming week.  Andrew Joudrey, Andrew Gordon, Maxime Lacroix, Lawrence Nycholat, and Braden Holtby were all scratched last night due to injury.  With as tough a stretch as Hershey has coming up it will be imperative that some of those guys are ready to go. 

Hershey is 6 points back.  The Baby Pens also play 5 times in 7 days beginning tonight.  The Bears MUST come away with at minimum 6-7 points if they hope to keep pace with the Pens for the division lead.

Can the new goalies hold up?  Will DeMichiel even get to play?  Will Holtby be back?  What about Gordon? 

Plenty of questions...not a lot of time.


Friday, February 4, 2011

Bears visit New Jersey to play the Devils

Tonight the Bears begin their quest towards the playoffs.  Hershey sits 11 points behind the division (and league) leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

But we have already talked about that.

Tonight Hershey will play in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  Wait...what?  Yeah the Albany Devils will play a home game tonight in Atlantic City. 

The Devils are having enough problems this year winning at home (only 7 wins, fewest in the league) let alone having to now travel almost 5 hours for a HOME game. 

I guess this is so all the New Jersey Devil fans in South Jersey can see the future of the organization.  Expect most of the 'future' is currently struggling with the 'present' NJ Devils as they reside in the bottom of the NHL standings.  Of the top 10 prospects in the NJ organization according to only 3 currently play for Albany.

Tough break for the Devils.  The game will be a truly neutral site and might even favor the Bears a bit considering AC is only about 3 hours from Hershey. 

And the Devils could use a break of late.  They have lost 5 of their last 6 and have allowed 4+ goals in 4 of those losses.  They have been outscored 27-13 in that stretch and 6 of their goals came in their one win over Bridgeport. 

That means that in 5 of their last 6 games they have scored a grand total of 7 goals.  That won't get the job done.

Things for Hershey couldn't be going much better.  They have won 6 straight by a combined 26-10.  They rank near the top in most AHL categories including goals per game, goals allowed per game, and power play and they have a team as deep as any in the league.

Just a little while ago they sat 4th in the East division only 2 points ahead of 5th place Binghamton.  Now they are 2nd, 3 points ahead of 3rd and 8 points in front of Binghamton.

Tonight's game in New Jersey is definitely a game that could surprise the Bears.  They just beat them handily 8-3 2 weeks ago and are playing great.  But these are the classic let down games that teams talk about.  Saturday and Sunday welcome a visit from the Manitoba Moose who reside in 2nd place in the North division.  Could Hershey be looking forward to those games?

This is the type of game the Bears HAVE to win if they are going to give the Pens a run for the division title.

Hershey Bears
record ~ 29-14-1-2 59 points
standings ~ 2nd in East Division
most recent game ~ 1-0 Win vs Charlotte, 1/29
last 5 games ~ 5-0-0-0
road record ~ 13-6-1-1
goals for ~ 158
goals against ~ 107
power play ~ 22.2% (3rd)
penalty kill ~ 84.3% (10th)

Albany Devils
record ~ 18-25-0-3 39 points
standings ~ 6th in East Division
most recent game ~ 6-1 Loss vs Rochester, 1/29
last 5 games ~ 1-4-0-0
home record ~ 7-16-0-2
goals for ~ 118
goals against ~ 164
power play ~ 12.1% (29th)
penalty kill ~ 77.4% (28th)

last time teams met - 4th of 6 meetings this season and the final one in Albany (or on the road at least).  Hershey won 8-3 on January 21 and is 3-0 against the Devils this season.

Players to watch:


RW Steve Pinizzotto (13) - He is having a career year offensively with 11 goals and 14 assists through 41 games.  His career high in goals is 13, set last year.  He has scored in each game against the Devils this season and has 3 goals and 2 assists in the 3 games to date.
F Brian Willsie (18) - His 5 game goal scoring streak was snapped last week but he picked up an assist to extend his scoring streak to 6 games.  He had 2 goals and an assist against the Devils 2 weeks ago.
C Keith Aucoin (11) - Has at least one point in 8 straight games (2 goals, 10 assists in that timeframe).  Has only played in 1 of the 3 games against Albany this season and had 2 assists 2 weeks ago.


C Matt Anderson (29) - Leading the team in goals (16), assists (16), and points (32) the AHL All Star has 1 goal and 4 assists in the 4 games since playing Hershey.
C Michael Swift (23) - Tied for the team lead in goals with 16 and second in points (28) he has a goal and an assists against the Bears this season.  He hasn't scored in 6 games, his second longest streak of the season.
C Adam Henrique (17) - The rookie is 3rd on the team in goals (13) and points (27).  He is a top prospect in the organization and has 2 goals and an assists since playing Hershey 2 weeks ago.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

More Goalie Troubles in Hershey

Well this is bad news...Dany Sabourin is out 2-3 months for knee surgery

And Braden Holtby is still battling a sore knee suffered last Saturday against Charlotte.  The injury forced him to miss the All-Star festivities.  At the time I questioned why Sabourin wasn't pegged as a last minute fill in but that is possibly because he wasn't healthy either.

Todd Ford is scheduled to start Friday night in Atlantic City while Jared DeMichiel is apparently in Atlantic City waiting for the Bears to back up Ford. 

It looks like it could be an all South Carolina goalie weekend in Hershey.

This could cause Doug Yingst to pull off a trade or sign a free agent to back up Braden in Hershey for the duration of the regular season.  Even if Dany just misses 2 months that puts Hershey in April. 

If Varlamov or Neuvirth were to go down for any time in Washington Hershey would be left with huge questions should Holtby get recalled. 

I am not saying that Ford and DeMichiel can't get the job done but there is a significant unknown there and will Hershey risk the season on them?

Interesting decision for Yingst.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A look forward to what could impact Hershey's 2nd half

Yesterday I briefly recapped the seasons first half and talked about where the Bears stand now compared to other teams in the league.  Based on that you would have to say that Hershey is in good position moving forward.

But will that continue?  Will they get better?  Or will they possible get worse?  Those are all questions that will be answered over the next few months.

Here are 5 different things to ask or consider when looking at the remainder of the season.  Some of the following items will help Hershey and a couple will hurt.  And one is just a simple answer to a common question amongst Bears fans right now.

1.  The return of Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle.

Obviously this would help the Bears if it were to happen.  Right now the Caps are at 22 players will 3 players on IR (Alex Semin, Eric Fehr, and Tom Poti).  Semin is expected back as early as tonight.  If he returns that would place the Caps at the 23 man ceiling.

Poti could return to practice sometime next week with Fehr returning the following week.  Neither would be back in the lineup immediately but they would be close.

So if we assume (and it really is a big assumption based on how the season has gone) that the remaining Caps stay healthy and Poti and Fehr return in say 3 weeks.  We COULD see Beagle and/or Perreault back in Hershey by the end of the month.

At one time I thought Perreault could beat out Marcus Johansson for the #2 center spot in Washington but that isn't the case as of now.  Perry has only 5 goals and 3 assists in 24 games with the Caps this year.  MoJo isn't any better at 6 and 6 over 38 but he is more likely to get the place because of being higher rated by the organization.

So I no longer think Perry will remain in Washington.  When Semin returns it will be interesting to see how he produces as they did show some chemistry earlier this season.  So we will see.

Beagle is actually more likely to stay but I would say that it is more likely he gets recalled for a playoff push or that he makes the team next year permanently.  He isn't going to provide much offense which is what the Caps need.  They have Bradley, Gordon, Steckel, King, Hendricks, and Laich already and they all play similar games to Beagle's.

In the playoffs Beags is a more interesting idea but assuming there are no more injuries and the Caps actually get healthy...he should be back in Washington.

But that might only be temporary....

2.  The Caps trade for a 2nd line center

There has been speculation since last summer that the Caps would sign or trade for an established 2nd line center.  I would say that as of right now...they 100% will do something.

Plenty of bloggers have offered their opinions in the past few weeks on who is available and who the Caps might target.  I am not going to do that.

The question for Bears fans is...what will it cost the Caps?

And that depends on what they go after.  If you go and get a guy that can fill in for a couple years while the youngsters (Johansson, Eakin, Galiev, Kuznetsov) get ready it will cost you more.

Personally I think there are 3 players that Bears fans should be worried about losing:
  • D Patrick McNeill - he is one of the Caps top rated defenseman and could develop into an NHLer but Washington really doesn't need him anytime soon.  Plus there are younger guys (Dmitri Orlov, Patrick Wey) who have higher upside.
  • RW Francois Bouchard - he has skills, no one can deny that.  He might just need a change in scenery.  He scored 21 goals with 31 assists last year but has only 6 and 8 this season.  He isn't breaking into the Caps lineup anytime soon so he could be trade bait.
  • C Mathieu Perreault - I think he had his shot.  With the young players the Caps have coming up through the minors and Russia there is lots of talent at the position.  He didn't exactly shine with his opportunity and other teams would definitely love to give him a chance.

Personally I think if you packaged the 3 of them together with a middle rounds pick you could probably get yourself a pretty good 2nd line center from a team that is out of the race this season.

I am not going to pretend that I know what teams would ask for or what you would give up but those 3 players look expendable to me.

Pay attention because the trade deadline is coming up...February 28th, 2011 at 3pm.  I 100% the Caps to be active at this time and some Bears (or at least future Bears) could be on the move.

3.  Cody Eakin and Dmitri Orlov

Could these two players join the Bears later this season?  Absolutely.  Eakin joined Hershey late last season for 4 games and then played in 5 more during the playoffs.  He followed that up with a very impressive training camp for the Capitals where he almost made the team.  They decided that he could return to juniors for one more season and see how he improved.

He began the season with Swift Current in the WHL before being traded to Kootenay for 8 different players or picks.  Yes 8.  If I remember correctly it was 5 players and 3 draft picks.  Kootenay is in the playoff hunt and is likely to make it in which will delay Cody joining the Bears.

I expect him to bring energy and depth to the Bears when they need it most.  I would say it is unlikely that we will see him before the Bears regular season is over based on where Kootenay sits in the league but if Hershey manages to stay alive for an extended playoff run we should see Eakin in Hershey this spring.

Orlov is a different case.  The biggest issue is that he plays and is under contract in the KHL which doesn't exactly have a wonderful working relationship with the NHL.  Reportedly he has already said that if he isn't traded to another KHL team for the playoffs he would like to join the Bears for the AHL playoffs.

As of today he has not been traded and currently resides on the last place team in the KHL.  But who knows.  He is a talented offensive defenseman who will likely start his career in Hershey no matter when he comes over.  If it is this season to provide some depth on the blue-line or in the next couple of seasons he will surely develop into a solid player.

During the playoffs it is as much about the depth and effort of the players as it is about the overall skill.  Both Eakin and Orlov show a desire to play for the Bears and will be willing participants to do whatever they can to help the team.  Surely Yingst and French would welcome the players with open arms should they make the move.

4. Capitals Goalies

Lately the Caps goalies, Varlamov and Neuvirth, have struggled to stay 100% healthy.  Each have dealt with minor lower body injuries and have missed time.  But that might not be the bigger issue.

At some point the Caps are going to have to pick one goalie and stick with him.  That goes for the short term and the long term.  You can't have goalies looking over their shoulder every game wondering if they let in a goal will they get to start tomorrow.  It is the same with a quarterback in football...if your starting quarterback is constantly worried about getting replaced after a bad pass he will play more cautious and won't be as effective.

The Canadiens were in that position last season.  Halak and Price were both playing well and they needed to pick one.  They did and it got them to the Eastern finals.  Then they traded him.

The Caps are facing the same situation except theirs goes one step further with Holtby in Hershey.  They have 3 goalies that could all likely be #1's in the NHL now or in the near future.  Eventually they will trade 1 or 2 of them.

Could that be this season?  I doubt it.  I don't think they have decided which 1 or 2 they would like to keep.  Neuvy and Varly have both played extensively at the NHL level but neither has stood out and neither has stayed healthy.  Braden has played a few games in the NHL and has stayed healthy but he hasn't been tested enough in the AHL.  Surely the organization would like to see him as the #1 during the Calder Cup playoffs to see how he handles the pressure.

While I don't think they move one of the goalies this spring it is possible.  Braden has shown that he could be a serviceable goalie right now in the NHL.  And trading one of the young goalies would definitely bring a good second line center or more which the Caps definitely need.

We are probably 1 year to early to worry about this but don't be shocked if it happens this year.  The goalie remaining in Washington would feel much better about his position and they would have a definitive #1 for the playoffs.  Then they could add a veteran backup or bring Braden up to ride the pine for the playoffs (or Dany Sabourin could do that as he would fill both qualities).

5.  Can Hershey catch (and pass) Wilkes-Barre?

This is an easy one to answer...yes.  BUT they have to win at least 4 of the 5 remaining games between the teams.  If they win 4 of those 5 they would pick up 6 points on the Pens overall  and would only need to make up an additional 6 points in their remaining games.

They also have 2 games in hand on the Pens so if they win those they would only need to make up 2 points over the remaining 25 or so games to pass them for the division lead.

Can it be done?  Absolutely.  Will it?  Who knows.  But does it matter?  Not really.  Hershey has won the division 3 of the past 5 years and won the cup twice (the last two).  But they finished 2nd in 05-06 before winning the Cup that year.  Wilkes-Barre won the division that year as well.

As I mentioned yesterday...the Bears currently are the better team stat wise than the Pens in many categories.  The standings is the only difference and that is meaningless once the playoffs arrive.  Records are forgotten and the regular season becomes an after thought.

The Bears are a veteran team that knows what it takes to win in May and June.  16 players on this team have won a Calder Cup at some point...some played minor roles at the time but they know what it takes to get there and what it takes to win.

They are ready!