Monday, April 16, 2012

Bears entering playoffs in need of help

8 straight losses.  The last 4 in regulation. 

Outscored 14-7 over the weekend.

On Sunday, the starting goalie for the Bears was Scott Greenham.  Greenham was recently known as the starting goaltender for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.  He recently completed his senior season, during which he played in 33 games going 11-18-4 with a 2.47 goals against average and a .905 save percentage.

Obviously the record and stats are as much about the team as they are the goalie, but did you really think that this could be the goalie for the first round of the AHL playoffs?

At the beginning of the season I felt as though the goaltending would be the Bears biggest question for the playoffs.  I didn't realize I was such a prophet.

Braden Holtby is the new #1 goalie in Washington and Dany Sabourin is the current #2. 

But the goaltending issues are very possible to be resolved by the time game 1 rolls around on Friday.  Michal Neuvirth is getting better and seems likely to be able to at least back up the apparently 'unflappable' Holtby by then.

Which means Dany will be back in Hershey and the goaltending isn't as much of a question anymore.

Does that make you feel better though?

Based on the last 8 games I would say the Bears problems rest somewhere other that between the pipes.  Sure Daren Machesney was brutal this past weekend, but Dany played in 4 of the last 8 games...and remember, they were all losses.

So the Bears problem is located somewhere in the remaining 5 guys on the ice. 

The defense is healthy.  Kevin Marshall returned to the lineup this weekend after being disciplined by the coaching staff for some questionable behavior.  Which means the defense is pretty much at full strength.  While not perfect, not really a problem either.

So that leaves the forwards.  Graham Mink, Boyd Kane, and DJ King returned to the lineup this weekend after missing time.  Minker was out for a while and getting him back is definitely a big deal. 

But it didn't exactly lead to offensive production this weekend.  Mink recorded no points and finished the weekend a -1 with 7 shots.  Kane and King, more role players than Mink, weren't much better.

That leaves Jacob Micflikier as the only Bear who is looking to make his return to the lineup in the first round.  He practiced fully last week but did not make the trip over the weekend.  More than likely that was a precautionary measure more than anything and he will likely be ready to go for Friday night.

Does that solve the problem? 

Not in my eyes.  Getting Miclikier back is definitely a big deal and will absolutely help, but Hershey's problem right now is down the middle.

Currently there are 3 centers on the Bears roster, according to the team roster on  They are Ryan Potulny, Mike Carmen, and Andrew Carroll.  David Civitarese has been playing 4th line center of late so he would be the 4th center for the sake of this argument.

Carroll played in 68 games this season for the Bears and he was absolutely a key member in many regards.  He is a good defensive player who kills penalties and brings a high energy game to the lineup.  But he scored 1 goal and added only 5 assists in those 68 games.  He is currently the 3rd line center. 

At the beginning of the season Christian Hanson and Cody Eakin were playing 3rd line center.  No offense to Carroll...that is a downgrade.

Carmen joined the team in February and played 32 games for the Bears.  He has 7 goals and 5 assists in those games.  Solid for a 3rd line center.  But he is currently the 2nd line center.

At the beginning of the season the centers were Keith Aucoin, Potulny, Eakin/Hanson, and Carroll.  Obviously Potulny and Aucoin are in a different class so I won't even discuss them, but let's take a look at what Christian and Cody did while they were with the Bears. 

Eakin had 13 goals and 14 assists in 43 games.  Hanson had 10 goals and 11 assists in 51 games.  As I said, Carmen's numbers aren't terrible...for a 3rd line center.

Unfortunately for the Bears they are going to have to figure out some way to get through at least the first 2 games against the Pens without a true 2nd-line center.  With the Capitals win over the Bruins on Saturday it guarantees that the series will now go through at least Saturday.  Hershey visits Wilkes-Barre this Friday and Saturday for games 1 and 2.

It would be nice if the Caps would send Cody Eakin back for the Bears games.  He isn't playing for the Caps and while it would surely be nice to have him for practice, I can't imagine there will be much practicing for the Caps during those couple of days.  But I am sure as hell not going to hold my breathe.

I am pretty sure that Coach French also recognizes the problem as last week, according to one of Tim Leone's practice updates, Jacob Micflikier was working as the 2nd line center. 

That might work out as well as Micflik can surely play a Cody Eakin like game.  But it would just be a short term solution.

You could make the argument that the center problem is just a minor hiccup.  But just so everyone is aware, the Bears are 1-6-0-2 since the Bears last had a legitimate 2nd line center in the lineup.  That was Eakin and the only win came against the AHL's cellar-dwelling Binghamton Senators. 

The Bears are going to have to buckle down defensively and play a solid all around game while capitalizing on their opportunities.  I fully expect the Pens to outshoot and out-chance the Bears on Friday and Saturday.  Hopefully the Bears can make the most of turnovers and power plays and get a few lucky bounces.

It's going to be a tough series considering the Bears personnel limitations currently.  But I still have confidence.  Bears in 4.

I will have a full blown series preview (or multiple maybe) later this week so definitely check back often. 


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