Thursday, April 19, 2012

Bears vs Penguins...first one to 3 wins series


Typically in sports, questions about teams are answered during the regular season.  Unfortunately, in minor league sports, things don't always work out the way they are expected to.  With recalls, loans, and trades, sometimes teams never get 'answers'. 
At the beginning of the season the Bears looked like a legitimate Calder Cup contender.  They had 2 goalies who would start for most teams, a defense that, while not exceptional, was definitely strong enough, and an offense that most considered the best in the league. 

Now, the Bears have two goalies that have combined for 7 starts in the AHL this season.  Those 7 starts have resulted in 7 losses by the way. 

The offense has been decimated by recalls and injuries the past month or so.  Keith Aucoin and Cody Eakin remain on recall to Washington and it is unlikely that either will be back until at least game 3 next Wednesday night...if then.  Young Eakin hasn't been in the Caps lineup so far this postseason so the option is there to send him back to Hershey for the playoffs.  However, I think that is unlikely. 

In addition to those two, Jacob Micflikier hasn't played since March 9 and Boyd Kane, DJ King, and Graham Mink have missed games the past few weeks with injuries.  Ryan Potulny has also been banged up in some games and hasn't been practicing 100% of the time either.  And Christian Hanson was injured in a game on February 18 and I don't believe he has done anything since then.

The Bears roster of late has looked more like a college team than an AHL team as a number of players were signed to amateur tryout agreements and were given a rare opportunity at playing time with meaningful games left to play.  Some of the guys have looked good...others have struggled. 

The good news is that the players in Hershey seem to be getting healthy and fewer of the college guys are expected to play meaningful minutes in the postseason.  Micflikier has practiced recently and King, Mink, and Kane all played in games this past weekend.  Hanson is another story, but apparently a return has not been ruled out.  As of Tuesday, he is officially out for games 1 and 2...anything after that is a guess I would imagine.
So the question is...are the Bears good enough to challenge for their 12th Calder Cup this spring? 
As it stands  The roster as of right now is definitely not good enough.
How about when all the players in Hershey are healthy and a goalie returns from Washington?
I think the Bears can give the Baby Pens a run with the roster they have now.  As long as they get healthy and a goalie returns.
But you can't convince me that they will get through round 2 without reinforcements from Washington.
That isn't happening until game 3 at best.  So let's not get ahead of ourselves.  The immediate concern is the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.  The first round, best of 5 (still think that is stupid) series begins this Friday.  In case you haven't seen it, here is the schedule:
  • Game 1 - Friday, April 20 - 7:05 - in Wilkes-Barre
  • Game 2 - Saturday, April 21 - 7:05 - in Wilkes-Barre
  • Game 3 - Wednesday, April 25 - 7:00 - in Hershey
  • Game 4 - Friday, April 27 - 7:00 - in Hershey (if necessary)
  • Game 5 - Saturday, April 28 - 7:05 - in Wilkes-Barre (if necessary)
The Bears and Pens played 12 times during the regular season.  Wilkes-Barre won 7, the Bears 5.  Some of those were overtime or shootout, but honestly...who cares.  A loss is a loss.
It was a pretty even series too.  4 of the games went to extra time and 9 of the games were decided by 2 goals or less, with 6 being decided by 1 goal.
Both teams scored 38 goals, 3.2 per game.  Scoring was higher in Hershey than in Wilkes-Barre but again scoring was even...the Pens scored 22 to Hershey's 21 while at Giant Center, but the Bears scored 17 to the Pens 16 in Wilkes-Barre.
So now the differences:
Hershey was the stronger team in the first period...outscoring the Pens by 5 overall (2 in Hershey, 3 in WB).  But the Penguins were the stronger team in the second period...outscoring the Bears by 4 (all in Hershey).  The third period was pretty even with 14 Bears goals to 15 Wilkes-Barre goals....both teams were better on their home ice in the third period.
And special teams was definitely different.  Hershey converted on 31% of their power plays on home ice but only 17.1% on the road.  Wilkes-Barre only went 11.1% at Giant Center and a slightly better 17.6% on home ice.
That's the season series in a nutshell.  It was closer than it felt because of Wilkes-Barre's domination the past couple of seasons.  Up until February 5 the Bears hadn't beaten the Pens in Hershey in multiple seasons.  Then they won the last 2 home games against the Pens including a 5-1 beating on February 12 (after Aucoin's recall). 
Let's dig a little deeper and figure out which team has the upper hand going into the series:


Wilkes-Barre has their top 2 goalies ready to go.  Scott Munroe went 19-10-3 on the season with a 2.52 goals against average and a save percentage of .907.  Brad Thiessen went 23-15-2 with a 2.82 gaa and .887 save percentage. 
Thiessen played in 9 of the 12 games against Hershey this season going 5-3-1 with a 2.86 gaa and .884 save percentage.  Pretty similar to the rest of his season.  He was in goal for both of Hershey's blowout wins as well.
Munroe only played in 3 games and went 2-0-1.  But his measurables were worse then Thiessen's...3.48 gaa and .878 save percentage. 
The expectation is that Thiessen will get the first chance, but who knows for sure.
In Hershey things are a little bit of a question mark.  Obviously.  But we aren't going to consider anything except for Dany Sabourin and Braden Holtby.  Neuvy practiced in full yesterday so there is a good chance he will be ready to back up Holtby tonight against the Bruins which would allow Sabs to come back to Hershey.
Dany went 18-12-5 with a 2.76 gaa and .909 save percentage on the season.  Unfortunately he was weaker against the Pens...6 games played, 5 started...4 of those were losses (one in a shootout) and only one was a win...that was the first game of the season.  His measurables?  4.07 gaa with a .855 gaa.
Now, Dany has been better of late.  In March and April he was 8-3-2 with a 2.17 gaa and .926 save percentage.  Those are good numbers.
Obviously Dany is capable of being the guy...but Braden has been a stud against the Pens this year. 
Should Braden come back for game are his numbers against the Pens:
7 starts...4-3...gaa of 2.00 and a save percentage of .926.  And he was exceptional in 3 starts in Wilkes-Barre...1.44 gaa and a save percentage of .939.
Unfortunately Braden won't be in Hershey for games 1 and least.  So...


Defense is such a hard thing to judge.  They have so much influence over the goaltending numbers and yet, there is really no way to truly judge a defenseman at this level without looking at every single game and every single shift. 
Wilkes-Barre is expected to run with a group of defensemen that looks like this:  Alexadre Picard, Robert Bortuzzo, Cody Wild, Alex Grant, Joey Mormina, and Philip Samuelsson.  Simon Despres would be in the lineup but he was just recalled to Pittsburgh and may or may not be back. 
Combined those 6 players (not counting Despres) played 47 games against the Bears this year, scored 4 goals, added 11 assists, and finished a combined +2.  Individually, Alex Grant was the best with a +7 rating and 6 assists in 9 games against the Bears this season.  Bortuzzo played in only 6 games and finished with 1 assist and a -3 rating. 
There isn't an offensive stud among them and the Pens finished the season middle of the pack (15th) in goals against per game.  An average group I believe.
Hershey is a different story.  We are going to look at the Bears top 5 defenseman as those are definitive.  Patrick McNeill, Kevin Marshall, Sean Collins, Julien Brouillette, and Tomas Kundratek.  The 6th will probably be Cameron Schilling, but I could see Patrick Wellar get a chance as well. 
Looking at the top 5 though...47 games played against the Pens...8 goals, 13 assists and a combined +1 rating.  McNeill is actually the teams 3rd leading scorer against the Pens this year with 1 goal and 9 assists in 12 games.  But he was a -6 and 8 of those points were on the power play...which tend to shrink in the playoffs.
Kundratek was pretty solid as well with 4 goals and a +6 rating in 8 games against the Pens in 2011-12.  Wellar, should he get a jersey, was a +3 with 2 assists as well so he did well. 
Overall, the Bears defense...I better than Wilkes-Barre's.  Especially when you consider the more aggressive system in place that calls for the defensemen to pinch more often. 


The Baby Pens leading scorer on the season was Ben Street who had 27 goals and 30 assists and averaged .80 points per game.  The Bears had 5 players (including Aucoin) who averaged .88 or better per game.  So keep that in mind when looking at the numbers below...Hershey is a bit more top heavy than the Pens.
Wilkes-Barre saw 9 different forwards play in 10 or more games against the Bears this season.  All 9 of them are expected to get jersey's during the playoffs as well.  The anticipated line combinations for the Pens are (the names listed in italics are the 9 who played in 10+ against Hershey):
Nick Petersen - Ben Street - Geoff Walker
Bryan Lerg - Cal O’Reilly - Paul Thompson
Jason Williams - Brian Gibbons - Colin McDonald
Ryan Craig - Zach Sill - Brandon DeFazio
Eric Tangradi is a candidate to return should the big Pens get eliminated this weekend, but he surely won't be in the lineup for game 1.
11 of the 12 players mentioned above scored at least one goal against the Bears this season.  Only Cal O'Reilly, who only played 1 game against the Bears this season, didn't score. 
No player had more than 3 goals but 7 of the 12 had 3 goals (Peterson, Street, McDonald, Walker, Williams, Lerg, DeFazio). 
The leading scorers against the Bears were Street (3g, 8a), McDonald (3g, 7a), and Lerg (3g, 8a). 
Just a note...Tangradi scored 3 and added 3 assists in only 7 games against the Bears. 
The Pens have had a very similar lineup and has gotten production from all of them against the Bears this season. 
Hershey on the other hand has seen many different players make appearances.  But there has been some consistency as well as 7 players have appeared in at least 10 of the games between the teams.  Although one of those players is Christian Hanson...who isn't going to play in games 1 and 2.
Hershey's anticipated lines...keep in mind that this is my interpretation based on practice sessions...are (again, players with 10+ games played in the season series are in italics):
Kyle Greentree - Ryan Potulny - Graham Mink
Boyd Kane - Jacob Micflikier - Chris Bourque
Barry Almeida - Mike Carman - Matt Pope
DJ King - Andrew Carroll - Garrett Mitchell
Hershey does not have the scoring balance of the Pens though.  Only 8 of the above players have scored a goal against the Pens in 2011-12 and only 3 of them (Greentree, Micflikier, and Potulny) have 3 or more goals.  And Greentree got 2 of his in the last game between the teams.
Leading scorers in the series (among forwards) are Bourque (2g, 10a) and Potulny (6g, 6a).  Kane, Micflikier, and Greentree all have 6 points.
Just a note...Aucoin had 2 goals and 5 assists in 8 games and Eakin had 3 goals and 1 assist in 7 games this season.  Should they return.

Random Stats and Thoughts

Scoring Margin:

Team1st2nd3rd OvertimeOverall

This is a bit different than the season series between the teams which saw Wilkes-Barre play much better in the 2nd period and Hershey was actually better in the 3rd than their season overall. 
What to take from this...minimal...but keep it in mind if/when the Bears jump out to a first period lead.  They do that often and many times fail to hold on.
Special Teams:

TeamPPPKPP vs PK vs

The first two columns are overall for the season.  Last 2 are for the season series.
The Bears had the #1 ranked power play during the season and their penalty kill was #4. The Pens had the #10 power play and #22 penalty kill.
So you would think that the Bears would have a large advantage here...right?  Well...check out the numbers for the last 10 games:

Of late the Pens have been very good both a man up and a man down.  In fact, it gets even better for the Pens.  On home ice (which they get 3 times, if necessary, this series) they have faced 22 short handed situations over the past 5 home games...they have killed off 21 of them.  That's 95.5% kill rate.  Pretty good.
More bad news for the Bears?  They are only scoring on 16% of their power plays at home in the last 5 home games and are allowing power play goals on 25% of the allowed chances on the road in their last 5 road games. 
Obviously you can throw many of these numbers out the window when the goalie situation calms down in Hershey and (if) guys like Aucoin return from Washington.
But it is something to keep in mind.
Record When Scoring First:

Team# FGRecordWin %

Nobody scored the first goal more than Hershey this season.  And no one had more losses (including SO and OT) after doing so than the Bears.  Wilkes-Barre, meanwhile, was top 5 in winning the games where they scored the first goal.
In the season series the Pens scored the first goal 5 times and won 4 of those games.  The Bears scored the first goal 7 times and won only 4 of those.  So the season averages pretty much held up.
Home vs Road:

TeamHomeRoadHome VsRoad Vs

Here is the great equalizer for the Bears in my opinion.  The Pens are simply put...not good at home.  Most teams are great at home, average on the the Bears.  But the Pens are not.  Under .500 winning percentage at home on the season and only .500 vs the Bears this season.

So it really is strength vs strength and weakness vs weakness in this series as far as home/road performance goes.  Hershey is strongest at home, Wilkes-Barre strongest on the road.  Hershey is weaker on the road, WB is weaker at home.

I honestly think that this helps the Bears more than anything else.  Knowing that they can win in their building will definitely help heading into the series. 

Will it be the difference?  Maybe.

My Pick

Tim Leone is a true journalist so he has to keep a somewhat subjective view of the team and the league.  He picked the Pens to beat the Bears in 5 games. 

I am not a journalist and don't have to keep a subjective view.  I am picking the Bears in 4.  And here is why...

The Caps will lose 2 of their next 3 and will be eliminated from the NHL playoffs by the end of the day on Sunday.  This is not necessarily what I want (I am rooting for the Caps every second), but without Nicky Backstrom tonight and with the Bruins capitalizing more often on the Caps defensive and goaltending lapses, I don't see this series going 7 games.  And I don't see the Caps winning it.

So, Hershey would split the games in weekend with Jacob Micflikier playing 2nd line center (definite offensive improvement over what the other options have been) and then Aucoin and Eakin will return for games 3, 4, and if necessary, 5.

Earlier this week I said that Hershey's biggest problem was at 2nd line center...not anymore in my opinion. The last time Hershey had a offensively gifted 2nd line center...the Bears won 7 straight. 

Now, if the Caps at least force a game 7 or should they win the series outright, I think the Bears would need the 5th game just to have a chance at the series. 

The Bears are a much better team then they have been the past couple of weeks.  They will show it in round 1.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fabulous blog...thank you.

And hope is starting to bubble up with the return of Eakin and Sabs and MicFlickier and Mink. Could we request Orlov, too? LOL.

Whaddaya think? Could both teams keep the season alive? See y'all on Wednesday!