It's been over a month since my last post. That is entirely unacceptable and I fully intend to begin posting regularly here again. We shall see if it happens or not.
Last time I was here I talked about how the Bears appeared to be improving after the cut in coaching staff. They had just gone on a 7-3-0-1 run and were 13-12-1-1 overall and moving up in the standings and statistical categories.
Not so much.
All is not bad though, before I get to the bad...let's address the good.
Defensively there aren't many teams playing better than Hershey right now. On the season the Bears are allowing only 2.41 goals per game, good for 3rd in the league. As you may recall, back when Oates left the Bears were giving up 3 goals per game. So this is definitely an improvement.
In fact, since my last post on December 17th the Bears have played 14 games. They have allowed only 1.71 goals per game and never more than 3 in one game.
That means they are, theoretically, competitive in every single game.
Now, surely you are saying to yourself, "that's because Braden was in goal." And you wouldn't entirely be wrong. Mr. Holtbyism was superb of late. In the above-reference 14 games he played the first 7...and allowed LESS THAN 1.5 goals per game.
BUT, since then the Bears have played 7 more games. And they have allowed only 2.00 goals per game in those. Not as good as when he was in between the pipes, but that would be leading the league if they had done it the whole season.
As I mentioned...the Bears have a good defense.
Unfortunately it is combined with an offense that is average on a good day.
On the season the Bears are averaging 2.59 goals per game. Good for 19th in league. Under Oates tutelage they were averaging 2.44 goals per game. After Oates left they started to get better in this regard and were above the 3.00 goals per game threshold for a while.
However, over the last 14 games they have gone the other way. In those games they are averaging a paltry 2.36 goals per game. Actually worse then at the beginning of the year.
Maybe those numbers are a bit deceiving...Hershey has scored 4 or more goals in 12 games this year. And only 2 of them came when Oates was still behind the bench. Meaning...the Bears have scored 4 or more goals in 10 of their last 25 games.
Now, they have also failed to score more than 1 goal in 7 of the remaining 15 games since Thanksgiving.
Which just goes to show the Jekyll and Hyde this team brings to the table. One game they are great...hitting everything that moves, staying out of the box, and scoring 4 times. The next night they get beat to every loose puck, take countless lazy penalties, and can't shoot to save their lives.
If this team is going to go any further in the playoffs then the last two years, they will have to develop some consistency.
Maybe the shift back to primarily AHL level players will help the Bears. Outside of Holtby, the Bears have lost little (on a permanent basis) from the team that started the season. Other teams have lost more than that and will have to adjust...if they can.
I still think the Bears can make some noise in the playoffs. Call me an optimist if you want, but I think the veteran leadership on the team will prevail come playoff time and success will be had.
But they have to first overcome the following two...GLARING...weakness.
The inability to come from behind and the inability to shoot the puck on net.
When leading after 1 period the Bears are 12-3-0-1. Pretty good.
When leading after 2 the Bears are even better...15-0-1-1.
When trailing after 1 period the Bears are....0-9-0-0.
When trailing after 2 they are 0-14-0-0.
The good news...they have only trailed after the 1st period 9 times. Solid starting team.
Bad news is obvious...but it gets a bit more glaring. The Bears are the only...I repeat....ONLY team in the AHL that has failed to win a game when trailing after 1 period.
Yes, that means that even the Hamilton Bulldogs, the AHL's last place team (and lowest scoring team) has won a game after trailing at the end of 1. They have done it 2 times and 3 others they managed to come back and force OT and get at least a point.
How about after 2?
There are 3 other teams that have failed to win when trailing after 2, but those teams have all at least forced an overtime once. Only Albany and Bridgeport come close in ineptitude here with 11 and 14 losses when trailing after 2, respectively, and only 1 overtime forced for each.
Not exactly teams I thought the Bears would be compared too when the season started.
Now onto the shooting problem.
We have all seen it. Many of you voice your displeasure each game...especially on the power play. Even I have found myself suggesting they shoot the puck more during games. And for those of you who know me, that is newsworthy by itself.
It's maddeningly frustrating to watch them pass up good chances looking for that next pass.
Here is a little secret...in case any players (or anyone close to the players) happens to read this....you are playing in the AHL; the goalies aren't that good.
The Bears rank dead last in shots per game. DEAD LAST. 24.8 per game to be exact.
The #1 team averages almost 10 more shots per game than Hershey.
Hell, the #29 team averages almost 2 more shots per game than Hershey.
This problem goes back to something I said at the beginning of the year...the Bears don't have a go-to scorer. And it is killing them. Alexandre Giroux would never have passed up as many chances as these guys have. Mike Green would have taken a bunch more shots from the point. Hell, Kyle Wilson, Chris Bourque, Andrew Gordon...NONE OF THEM would have passed on some of these opportunities.
But the current Bears aren't those Bears. Not that there aren't good goal scorers on this team. Jeff Taffe, Jon DiSalvatore, Ryan Potulny...these guys have all been productive offensive players in the AHL.
I just don't see any of them as a "go-to" guy. The type of player that desperately wants the last shot. The type of player that wants the puck on his stick on the power play.
That type of player doesn't seem to be on the roster.
Now, could the lack of shots be because of the "system" in place now in the Oates regime? Maybe partly, but I think we all can see that the shots are there, the Bears aren't taking them.
As I said before, I still think this is a good Bears team. Not great, but good. They have the veteran leadership and defensive play that could lead to good things in the postseason. But they will have to do enough scoring in the regular season to get there first.