Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bears Go 2-2; Sjogren Goes Home

Last night the Bears finished their 4 games in 7 nights stretch around the Thanksgiving holiday.  It started out well enough with a win over Providence last Wednesday night and then a tough shootout win over Wilkes-Barre on Friday night.

And then it went down hill. 

Saturdays game ended with a 5-4 loss as the Bears blew a 2 goal lead and couldn't hold on after tying the game late in the 3rd.  Then last night they lost 4-2 (one empty netter) after again tying the game at 2 with less than 10 minutes to go.

These good starts and late game collapses are beginning to become the norm this year.  The Bears have outscored their opponents 30-17 in the first period so far this season.  But in the 2nd period they are being outscored 18-20 and in the 3rd it is 18-21. 

It doesn't look that bad and in all honesty it isn't the worst in the league.  But it needs to get better.  Norfolk is currently a +14 in the 3rd period (32 for, only 18 against).  Wilkes-Barre is actually worse than Hershey in the 3rd (-5), but they are a +13 in the 2nd (28-15) to make up for it.

The Bears are one of only 7 AHL teams to give up more goals than they score in both the 2nd and 3rd periods.  The other teams...Grand Rapids, Hamilton (-16 in the 3rd), Lake Erie, Providence, San Antonio, and Texas.  Now take a look at the standings and see where those teams are...NONE of those other teams would be in the playoffs as of right now.  And the Bears would be the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference...barely.

Coach French tried to shuffle up the lines last night in an effort to get some more offense, moving Matt Ford to the top line in place of Boyd Kane.  Kane was the veteran scratch last night and didn't make the trip to Connecticut.  Which is kind of a shame considering he must have been well rested after earning 53 penalty minutes over the course of the 2 previous games.

I like the effort to adjust the lines.  While I am not certain that was the right move to make I am looking forward to seeing how the adjustment works after a few games together.  So hopefully French leaves the changes in place now.

And he will have to make more line adjustments as well.  Mattias Sjogren has decided to return to Sweden to play hockey.  Can't say as though I blame him, but it is unfortunate.  Supposedly, according to his agent, he was told that he would only spend a few games (if any) in Hershey.  Yet his performance has left a decent amount to be desired (in my opinion) and he wasn't likely to get recalled anytime soon.  Returning to your home country to make much more money seems like a simple decision and hopefully things work out for him.

As for the Bears, they recalled Matt Pope again after just releasing him from his tryout contract a couple days ago.  Sjogren wasn't pulling down time on the top lines or that many minutes at all so it isn't a huge replacement to make, but it is another body down.

With Kyle Greentree still sidelined, Cody Eakin still in Washington, and now Sjogren returning to Sweden, this Bears team is down a full line from their projected lineup at the beginning of the season.  Add to that Dmitry Orlov who is also still in Washington (and earning some power play time from new coach Dale Hunter).

We were all expecting a deep and talented team that would rival any AHL team in 2011-12 and we haven't had a chance to see it just yet.  With the coaching change in Washington there is no telling what the plan is for Eakin or Orlov.  John Erskine just returned to the lineup and Mike Green is expected to return sooner than later so one would think Orlov would be on his way back at some point.  Eakin is a tougher call as I think he would be exactly what Hunter is looking for in a player...someone that shows up to work every single game and puts in 100% effort no matter what the situation.  Once (if) Jay Beagle is ready to return one would think that there is less reason to keep Eakin up there, but who knows.

The Bears, like any other team, needs to adjust on the fly.  So far, they haven't done so. 

This weekend presents another opportunity for them though.  3 games in 3 nights...2 of which are against teams below Hershey in the standings (Syracuse and Portland). 

A quarter of the season is now over and there is reason to have legitimate concerns about this team.  Fortunately there is still time to remedy the problems and alleviate any and all concerns. 

But that time frame shrinks with every game.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

GameDay Preview: Bears vs Bruins

This will be the first (and maybe only) weekend where Bears fans truly feel the effects of the shorter/longer/revamped AHL schedule.  In years past the Bears would play 4 games in 5 nights around Thanksgiving with home games the Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday and a road game Friday night.  Honestly I was hoping they would keep the 3 home games and do away with the Friday road game but they did not for 2011-12.

Instead the Bears will play 4 games in 7 nights as they travel to Connecticut on Tuesday.

Things have not been going well for the Bears of late though.  Their last win came 2 weeks ago on Wednesday the 9th when the beat Binghamton at home. 

In fact the Bears have only twice in their last 9 games...both against Binghamton at home. 

But I am feeling confident tonight.  I feel a win coming. 

Ryan Potulny and Matthew Ford are both expected back in the lineup tonight for the first time in a while.  Potulny hasn't played since the 2nd game of the season due to a sports hernia that he may have suffered last spring but never had looked at. 

Ford hasn't played since November 4th against the Pens.  He has 3 goals and 3 assists in 11 games played this season and his return will be very good for the teams offensive productivity.

Maybe the return of these players will mean DJ King will be a healthy scratch.  King was reassigned by the Capitals to Hershey because he and his agent wanted him to play more.  It is an understandable desire, but I wish it would have happened somewhere else. 

He has played in 5 games, dating back to the Binghamton win on the 9th, and is a -6 in those games including an embarrassing -4 against the Baby Pens back on the 11th.  If you take out the win over Binghamton he is -7 in his last 4 games. 

And last week I saw two separate incidents which make me question his motives in Hershey.  The first was after one of his penalties expired.  Typically guys come out of the box and if his line is not on the ice he skates to the bench for a change IMMEDIATELY (if the situation call for it). 

Last Saturday he came out of the box with the Bears possessing the puck in their own end with minimal rush from the Devils.  The Hanson-Micflikier-Mink line was on the ice...except for Mink.  So what did King do?  He stood at the blue line waiting for a pass and then proceeded to join the rush while Mink sat on the boards waiting for his change.  And yes Mink was up and waiting...this was not an instance when Coach French didn't call for the change.  King just didn't come to the bench.

The other incident was during a delayed penalty on the Devils.  Generally, watch for it tonight if you don't believe me, the Bears (or any team) will try to get their best offensive players on the ice if they have the opportunity.  Last Saturday Braden made it to the bench and the Bears possessed the puck in their own end and many players changed as the Rechlicz-Carroll-King line was on the ice.  Carroll and Wrecker went off...King stayed on. 

Obviously I am not on the bench (or near it to be honest) so I am not 100% certain that he isn't being told to stay out...but somehow I strongly doubt it.  It appears that King is of the mindset that he should be getting more minutes in Hershey as well and it is costing the Bears opportunities and games.

Up until this point injuries and recalls (Cody Eakin remains in does Dmitry Orlov) have forced the Bears to play guys they typically don't give regular minutes too.  With the return of Potulny and Ford tonight the Bears finally have enough healthy bodies where they don't have to do that. 

King is an enforcer...just like Rechlicz.  Except Joel has been the better player in that role this season in games with and without King.  If an enforcer is used I hope it is Wrecker with DJ King sitting up in the rafters. 

Either way it is likely that, at the most, only one of the two will be on the ice at Giant Center tonight.  Which is good news for the Bears and bad news for the Bruins.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Bears Drop 2 in Shootouts

The Bears entered this weekend having not participated in a shootout in the 2011-12 season to date.  They left the weekend 0-2 in shootouts.

Friday they lost to Syracuse in Syracuse.  Wasn't there, didn't watch, didn't listen.  Here are a couple links if you want more on that game:

Tim Leone
Sweetest Hockey on Earth

Saturdays game was back at Giant Center and I was unlucky enough to attend.  Just so we start this out right let me give you the facts:
  • Hershey lost 6-5 in the shootout to Albany,
  • Hershey took a 2-0 lead in the first 12 minutes,
  • Hershey came back from 1 goal deficits 3 times,
  • Hershey went 3 for 5 on the power play,
  • Hershey killed off 3 of 4 penalty kills,
  • Hershey finished with 33 shots...same as Albany.
Oh and Braden Holtby made 3 questionable plays in the first period (one led to a goal)...BUT HE WAS NOT TO BLAME FOR THE LOSS.

By the end of the game the crowd was "cheering" every time Braden made a save and yelling as soon as he touched the puck or, in some cases, even started to leave the crease.

For those of you not in attendance let me recap the 3 plays:
  1. Braden makes an ill-advised pass from the end line across his crease to a defenseman on the opposite goal resulted,
  2. Braden makes an ill-advised attempted clear up the middle and hits a Devil player in the goal resulted,
  3. Braden plays the puck behind the Bears net and gets trapped by two Devils forwards before turning it over...and the Devils scored.
The first two plays were bone-headed but he got lucky.  No harm done.

The last play was just unlucky.  Should he have cleared the puck faster?  Yes, I will agree with that.  But it wasn't like his defensemen were giving him anywhere to go with it.  They were standing damn near right beside him the entire time.  It was a bad play, but it did not decide the game.

From that point on it seemed the crowd was against Mr. Holtby.  The three goals that followed that sure didn't help.

But let's explore those for a second:
  1. Albany player skates down the wing throws a pass to the front and it is deflected in by a Devil's forward (Gelinas according to the score sheet), 
  2. Albany player skates down the wing (sound familiar yet) throws a pass to the front and it is deflected in by a Devil's forward (Bernier according to the score sheet),
  3. Albany player gets the puck beyond the end line and passes to a WIDE OPEN Tim Sestito standing at the tip of the goal crease. 
The first two were good plays by the Devils that could have been prevented, in my opinion, by a defenseman.  Had someone tied up the stick of those players they more than likely would not have scored.

And the last goal...unbelievable.  It wasn't even a penalty kill...nope this was 5 on 5 (read: everyone should be covered) hockey and the 2 defenseman on the ice at the time (McNeill and Wellar according to the score sheet) were honestly just standing on either side of Sestito.  Both could have touched him if they reached over there and yet neither did. 

To blame Holtby for any of those goals is ludicrous.  Two of them were impossible to stop tip ins that probably shouldn't have happened, but in truth they were both nice plays by Albany.  The last one...that was just plain poor defense. 

So while I know it is easy to blame a goalie when a team gives up 5 goals it was surely not all Braden's fault in this one. 

I have much more I want to say about the goaltending situation (among other things) in Hershey this season but I will save it for another day when I have more time.  Obviously the situation is lacking right now, but I have a theory that I want to look into before I offer an opinion.

In addition to that...there is a Wednesday game this week.  Preview coming soon.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Weekend Preview...Bears visit Crunch, host Devils

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

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

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

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

This weekend is a good chance to begin that move.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the Bears....

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 14, 2011

Bears Drop 2 at Home

2 home games...2 losses.  Sure, one of them came in OT but they were both losses nonetheless. 

First up, Bears vs Pens:

We can focus on the positives if we want to...
  • The game went to overtime...first time in 8 games the Pens even gave up 1 point,
  • The Bears scored 4 goals against a Pens team that had given up only 8 over the last 7 games total,
  • Hershey rallied from 1 goal deficits twice, and
  • Take out 30 seconds of the second period and Hershey wins by 1.
Or we can look at the negatives...
  • Hershey gave up 2 goals in the final 30 seconds of the second period,
  • Wilkes-Barre controlled the play from the opening faceoff,
  • A lack of hustle to the loose pucks, and
  • What appears to be an overall lack of communication on the ice.
Which would you prefer to look at?  Me, I feel like focusing on the negatives today. 

First of all you have to score when you come in 2 on none on the penalty kill, which the Bears did once.  If you are going to win games against teams as good as the Baby Pens you have to score on those.

And you can not give up goals at the end of periods.  Sure, from time to time you will give up a goal at the end of a period...even the Pens gave one up to the Bears at the end of the 1st period Friday night (although I think if thats the NHL it gets reviewed and overturned for coming after the period was over...just sayin).  But you can not give up 2 goals at that point.  That is embarassing effort by a team who's motto is "No Rest". 

While those non-goals and goals against were definitely huge points in the game, they aren't my biggest concern.
Anytime there was a loose puck the Penguins seemed to get to it.  Battles in the corner...the Pens won those.  Neutral zone play...controlled by the Pens.  I didn't think the Penguins controlled the puck the whole game, which is good, but they controlled the tempo and style of play with ease.

For long stretches it seemed like the Bears were all just standing around watching other players make plays...typically Penguin players. 

Which brings us to...communication.  Time after time it looked like Bears players were waiting for a teammate to get to a loose puck.  They didn't want to leave their position to get the puck because they thought someone else would. 

To me that is a simple breakdown in communication.  Considering the veterans on this team you would think this would be second nature.  Maybe it has to do with all the new faces but we are now 15 games into the season...if you haven't started talking to your teammates by now, when are you going to?
Are some of these things injury/recall related?  Maybe.  Kyle Greentree, Ryan Potulny, and Matthew Ford are all out with injuries while Cody Eakin remains in Washington.  That means increased roles for Joel Rechlicz, newcomer DJ King, Maxime Lacroix, and rookie Garrett Mitchell.  I am not suggesting that they can't handle it or don't deserve it, but when you continuously play with different players the first thing to diminish will be things like going after loose pucks and communication.

But that shouldn't be an excuse.  It should be resolved during practice.

It sure as hell didn't get any better by Sunday night...Bears vs Sound Tigers:

Last night the hustle was definitely better.  For the first 10 minutes and honestly for about 90% of the game the Bears controlled the play.  They were the team getting the loose pucks and they were controlling the play. 

The effort was definitely better.  (Which is good considering how much energy they must have had left after the poor effort on Friday).

But you know what I noticed...a lack of communication.  **In the interest of full disclosure, I sit in section 103 so I am no where near the bench to hear any discussion going on there (players yelling to teammates, coaches coaching, etc.).**

All night I heard the Sound Tigers last night.  All game long I heard players telling each other what was going on and where they were.  The Bears?  Didn't hear a peep.  And I am not that much closer to the Sound Tigers bench but you could hear them clearly from where I was sitting.

I am not saying the Bears weren't talking...I am sure there is some communication going on.  All I am saying is that it would appear that a bit more would be helpful.

You know what else would work...a change in the lineup.  I know that all problems can not be solved by changing the lines but I think these problems could be.

The key to setting your lines is to find the guys that work best together.  I don't attend practice so obviously the coaching staff sees more than I do.  On that level you have to assume that Coaches French and Mann have considered that in their line makeups.

The next thing you have to consider is roles.  Keith Aucoin is a playmaker, he is going to pass the puck 75% of the time.  Kyle Greentree is a shooter, he will shoot 75% of the time.  Boyd Kane and Graham Mink are grinders, their strategy is to get to the front of the net and cause havoc and get rebounds. 

In general, and in my own non-professional opinion, a line should be made up of a playmaker, a shooter/scorer, and a grinder.  This allows for goals from many different setups and actions.  Rebound goals are more likely because you have the grinder and the shooter while "pretty" goals are also likely with a playmaker and a shooter.

The problem with Hershey's lines right now is they aren't balanced.  Chris Bourque has a great slap-shot, but he isn't a pure scorer, he has always been more of a playmaker who would prefer to pass first and shoot later.  I think Jacob Micflikier is the best shooter/scorer on the team right now (Greentree would be up close but he is hurt).  My top line would be Micflikier, Aucoin, and Mink.  Move Bourque to the second line with Hanson and Kane or Mitchell. 

After that the big problem for the Bears is a lack of scorers/shooters.  As much as Francois Bouchard didn't earn the playing time, he was a shooter/scorer that could have played a bigger role with Greentree and Ford out with injuries.

In the end I didn't think the Bears played badly last night.  The lines just didn't click that well.  Shots from the outside were rarely getting through and their goalie, Anders Nilsson, is huge and clogged up the crease pretty well.  He did give up lots of rebounds but they are many times hard to corral.

Hershey should have won last night.  Friday night they were lucky to get a point.  Last night they were unlucky not getting some bounces. 

The injuries will eventually work themselves out.  Ford, Greentree, and Potulny will be back...some sooner than others, and will return to the lineup and help Hershey's depth and balance.  Until then the coaching staff needs to make the changes that will help this team win.  Having Bourque and Aucoin on the same line isn't working.  Bourque has 1 goal and 0 assists in his last 7 games.  You can't win with your top winger producing like that.

Obviously the offense isn't the only problem, but it's the only one that I think gets solved by a simple shuffling of players.  Defense...that's a topic for a different day.

This Bears team is still very talented.  They are built, like the 05-06 team, for the spring...lots of grinders and, hopefully, lots of ugly goals.  It is way too early to worry...but it is never to early to try different things and adjust on the fly to see what might work when the games are more important

Friday, November 11, 2011

GameDay Preview: Bears vs Baby Pens

Wow, it has been a while since I posted here.  The last two weeks have been something, between snow storms knocking out power, getting sick, and being incredibly busy at work I am glad the weekend is here.  Power is back on, I am getting healthy again, and the work load...well it's still there, but that's okay.

Lots has happened since I have posted so let's examine it a bit:

Cody Eakin was recalled to Washington. 

I watched most of his first game and he looked good for the Caps.  I was a bit surprised they called him up considering they didn't "need" him, but you knew it was coming at some point this season.  He will probably be back, depending on injuries to the Caps, but there is no telling when that will be.

DJ King is a Bear.

DJ wanted more playing time.  Simple as that.  The Caps tried placing him on waivers to see if anyone would steal him away but no one did.  For anyone who doesn't know...King has generally been a fighter/instigator in his career.  He is a veteran, but falls into the exempt veteran status (or whatever its called) in the 260-320 games played.  Same as Kyle Greentree.  So while Greentree is out there is no harm in him dressing for games.

Who knows what the long term intentions are.  My guess...they are hoping he showcases well so somebody picks up his contract and steals him on re-entry waivers.  If that doesn't could get interesting if he stays in Hershey as that would just add another body to worry about.

Francois Bouchard is gone.  Tomas Kundratek is a Bear.

I was somewhat surprised the Caps even tendered Bouch an offer this past summer.  His production had slipped badly last year and he had never come close to reaching his full potential.  Hopefully the change of scenery will do him good and get him refocused.  Being in an organization like Washington/Hershey can't help a lot of young guys feel they have a real shot.  Not the forwards anyways.

Kundratek comes over from the Connecticut Whale and is in only his 2nd pro season at the age of 21 (22 this December).  Hockey's pegs him as a solid puck moving, defensive defenseman with a good shot.  The suggestion from them is he could have an NHL future if he continues to progress and gets stronger.  There is some thought that he could develop like a Patrick McNeill for the organization.

Bears have struggled a bit of late.

Over the last 2 weeks the Bears have played a total of 5 games.  That is 10 possible points.  The Bears have 5...and 4 of them came against the Binghamton Senators. 

It isn't a terrible stretch, but I was expecting more consistency from this team this year.  The injuries and recalls have surely hurt though.  I think that stuff has kind of highlighted a glaring weakness in the organizational depth...not a whole lot of young offensive talent in the pipeline.  Sure there are a couple of Russian forwards that could make an impact down the road but that's about it. 

I guess I shouldn't be surprised as the same weakness was there last a point.  Last year some of the injuries were to the "young" prospects like Andrew Gordon and Steve Pinizzotto.  This year it is the veterans getting hurt (Kyle Greentree and Ryan Potulny) and there aren't any young kids to step in and take their place.  At least not many.

But I am getting off topic.  Hershey has started out the 2011-12 season eerily similar to how they completed the 2010-11 least in terms of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.  Last Friday the Bears traveled up 81 after having not played for a few days...and they got whooped 4-0 by the Baby Pens. 

That came on the heels off losses to Adirondack and Springfield the weekend before.  Luckily there were 2 games sandwiched in there against the Senators which the Bears swept (although the first one...a couple Sundays ago was a little close for comfort).  But they should win those games...the Senators are the 2nd worst team in the Eastern Conference right now.

The last time I posted here the Bears were 1st in the East Division.  Now they are 3rd.  Sure they are only 2 points out of first and they only played 5 games in 2 weeks but still. 

Something isn't clicking for this team right now.  I honestly haven't seen enough of them yet to place a finger on it but something isn't right. 

It's still early though.  12 games in...64 to go.  Plenty of time to right any problems.

So that's the last 2 weeks in a nutshell. about tonight's game.

The Baby Pens come back down to Hershey tonight for the 4th meeting between the clubs this season.  Wilkes-Barre won 3-1 in Hershey back on October 22 in the only other meeting at Giant Center in 2011-12.

Currently these are two teams on completely different paths.  The Baby Pens started out the season struggling and found themselves in the bottom half of the East Division standings for a little while, winning only once in their first 5 games.  But over their last 7 games they are perfect.  7-0-0-0.  That includes 2 victories over the Bears as well as the rest of the East Division. 

During this streak the Baby Pens have given up more than 2 goals just once.  All combined they have allowed 8 goals in 7 games with 2 shutouts.  And they have scored 25 over the same span.  They aren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard (less than 4 goals per game) but they didn't last year either.

Many people expected the Pens to struggle a bit more this year and to fall in the standings a bit.  Apparently goaltender Brad Thiessen didn't get the memo.  In 11 games this season, which includes the last 7 victories, he has allowed only 19 goals.  That is a 1.82 goals against average.  His save percentage is at .929. 

Those numbers are actually an improvement over his numbers from last year.  Pretty good goalie they have up there right now.

That doesn't mean they are without their problems though.  Especially coming into this game.  Eric Tangradi, their leading goal scorer (7 so far), was recalled to the Pittsburgh Penguins yesterday.  That leaves the Baby Pens without one of their go-to scorers.  Only 2 Pens players have more than 3 goals on the season (Bryan Lerg is the other with 6).  However, depth is their key as they have gotten goals from 15 different players, of which only 4 haven't scored at least 2.  The 2010-11 Pens also had considerable scoring depth.

This doesn't mean the Pens are the same team as last year.  And it doesn't mean this is the same Bears team which will be pushed around by their northerly neighbors.

Hershey boasts one of the best 1-2 goalie combinations in the league which includes Braden Holtby and his current 100+ minute shutout streak.  Now, from what I have seen Dany Sabourin is getting the start tonight so the shutout streak isn't really relevant.  Dany is the only Hershey goaltender to beat the Pens this year, but he was also pulled on the 4th after giving up 3 goals on 10 shots in Wilkes-Barre. 

Offensively the Bears probably have as much or more top end scoring talent even with the injuries to Potulny and Greentree.  3 different Bears find themselves in the top 12 of AHL scorers at this point in the season (Chris Bourque, Keith Aucoin, and Jacob Micflikier).  The Penguins can't match that.

If Hershey is going to compete with the Baby Pens tonight they will need to take advantage of the scoring depth and get some shots passed Thiessen.

Make no mistake...this is an important early season contest.  Yes, they play again in 2 weeks.  Yes, they play another 8 times after tonight.  But the Bears have struggled against average or better teams the past 2 weeks and need a good performance to get themselves for a number of very winnable games over the next 2 weeks.

Considering the Pens just put it to them last Friday I think they will be ready.


Hershey Bears

record ~ 7-3-2-0 | 16 points
standings ~ 3rd in East Division
most recent game ~ 3-0 Win vs Binghamton, 11/9
last 5 games ~ 2-2-1-0
home record ~ 3-1-1-0
goals for ~ 40
goals against ~ 31
home power play ~ 37.0% (2nd)
home penalty kill ~ 95.7% (2nd)

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
record ~ 8-2-1-1 | 18 points
standings ~ 1st in East Division
most recent game ~ 4-2 Win @ Norfolk, 11/9
last 5 games ~ 5-0-0-0
road record ~ 7-0-0-0
goals for ~ 40
goals against ~ 25
road power play ~18.2% (15th)
road penalty kill ~ 85.3% (9th)

last time teams met - This is the 4th of 12 meetings between the teams this season.  Hershey won the first in Wilkes-Barre but has lost the last 2.  Last Friday the Pens won 4-0 in Wilkes-Barre.

Players to watch:


LW Chris Bourque (17) - he still leads the team in goals (6) and is tied for 2nd in points (14) but after recording a point in the first 8 games he has failed to record another one since.  That is 4 games with no points.
C Keith Aucoin (11) - he has taken over the points lead as he now has 17 (3g, 14a) in 12 games.  He only has 1 goal (zero assists) against the Pens this season.
F Jacob Micflikier (18) - he is tied with Bourque for 2nd in points with 14 (5/9) but hasn't recorded a single point against the Pens this season.  He does, however, have 1 goal and 4 assists in his last 3 games.

F Brian Gibbons (9) - the rookie is tied for 3rd on the team in points with 10 (3/7).  2 of his 3 goals have come against the Bears and he has an assist against them too.
RW Colin McDonald (13) - tied with Gibbons for 3rd in scoring with 10 points (3/7).  He has also produced against the Bears scoring 1 adding 4 assists.  Half of his points have come in the 3 games against Hershey.
F Bryan Lerg (19) - he is the active leader in goals (6) and leads the team in points with 13.  Against Hershey he has 1 goal and 2 assists and is a +4 in the last 2 games.