Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bears lose to Norfolk...4th straight loss

Tomorrow I will have a post about the Caps inactivity at the deadline and how I feel about it...as both a Bears fan and a Caps fan.

Then, at some point this week I will discuss the Keith Aucoin / Waivers situation that we are fast approaching.

But today I want to talk about this past Saturday's game and where the Bears are right now. 

Saturday night, the Bears lost 4-3 in regulation to the Norfolk Admirals.  The Ads currently sit in first place in the division and in the conference. 

It was Hershey's 4th straight loss (3rd straight in regulation), and 5th loss in the last 6 games.  A tough stretch no doubt.

The Bears have played 12 games in February with one to go.  All of them have been played without arguably the best player in the AHL this year, Keith Aucoin. 

Obviously when you are without a player of that caliber it is going to have an affect on your team.  And truthfully the team has struggled this month.  They are 4-6-0-2 in their 12 February games to date. 

Not good.

But I don't think the Bears are in as much trouble as one might assume. 

Let's discuss.

This past Saturday the Bears gave up 4 goals.  I would argue that all of them were bad luck rather than bad play.

Goal 1 - this is the only one that I honestly feel might have been bad play.  Braden Holtby didn't see the shot...simple as that.  He was screened and a weak wrister got by him.  However, how many times are you going to see a shot that weak/slow get by a goalie at this level....not very often.  Yes, Braden has struggled at times this season, but that is a goal that he stops 9 out of 10 times.

Goal 2 - This was just bad luck and maybe some bad positioning.  Braden made the save on a point shot and directed the rebound to the corner.  Unfortunately, two Bears were standing that direction and the puck didn't make it to the corner and instead dropped right in front of the crease.  Now Holtby is out of position as the puck was 'supposed' to be in the corner at this moment allowing for a relatively easy goal for Norfolk.

Goal 3 - Braden played the puck behind the net.  I know for many of you that is a serious no-no considering the season he has had but I didn't see anything terribly wrong with the play.  There was some contact and Braden couldn't get back to the crease to make the stop.  Again, how many times are goals like this scored?  Braden handles the puck 10 times a game and I would say there have been fewer than 5 goals scored this season based on those decisions.

Goal 4 - Great play by Norfolk.  Deflection goals are part of hockey, but this one was special.  The Admirals forward got a piece of the puck and it went straight down at a 45 degree angle and bounced between Holtby's pads. 

In my opinion all of these goals can be attributed to bad luck or good luck for the opposition.  These are the kinds of things that happen over the course of a season.  And usually they all happen at the same time for a period of time.  Just like these are the things that happen in your favor when you are on a roll. 

Hershey has scored 3.4 goals per game on the overall season.  And for the season they are allowing 3.0 goals per game.

In February the Bears have scored a putrid 2.3 goals per game and have allowed 3.2 goals per game. 

Much of the lower goal scoring is the result of a below average power play - by Bears standards. 

From October through January the Bears power play was converting on 29.6% of their chances. 

Since February 3rd the Bears have converted only 19% of their power play chances.  That is obviously much worse than previously, but in all honesty it isn't that bad.  If that were the Bears mark all season they would be sitting in 10th place in the league.  Average.

Obviously we know what the problem is...no Keith Aucoin to lead it. 

But it would appear as though that isn't the case, at least of late.  In the first 4 games Keith missed (one in January, first 3 February games) the Bears converted 0 of their 15 opportunities.  In the next 4 games the Bears converted 4 of 21 (or 19%).  But in the last 5 games the Bears have converted on 7 of 26 chances (or 26.9%), which would be #1 in the league.

So in all honesty, the power play isn't the issue right now.  It was at the beginning of the month, but they have figured it out.

I think more than anything this comes down to two things...luck and chemistry. 

Chemistry, specifically line chemistry, is important in hockey as guys that are used to playing on the same line together are generally going to know how the guy with them plays, where he is going to go in certain situations, and what he needs to adjust in his own game for someone else.

Think about a quarterback and his receivers in football.  A quarterback who has been throwing to the same receiver for multiple seasons is going to need to communicate less with that particular receiver.  There is a comfort level there of knowing what each other is going to do.

Same is true for hockey lines.  Unfortunately for the Bears the removal of Keith Aucoin from the equation has a domino effect on every line.  More so than losing a Christian Hanson type player.  Sure Hanson is good, but his injury only affected the 3rd and 4th lines.  But Coiner's recall has affected every single line.  So all 12 forwards are probably playing with someone they haven't spent much time familiarizing themselves with in regards to their playing style.

That takes time.  But it is coming.  And now that the power play is picking back up to pre-Coiner recall production the rest of the offense will follow.

As for luck, it is just something that the Bears need to work through.  Fluke goals, lucky bounces, and momentum are all things that generally work themselves out over the course of the season.  Some weeks everything is going your way.  Other weeks you can't seem to catch a break.

The breaks will return for the Bears.

The Bears sit in 5th in the conference.  They are still closer to 1st in the conference then missing the playoffs.

They don't raise Divisional or Conference championship banners in Hershey.

Only Calder Cup banners.

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