Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What Ails our Bears?

The Hershey Bears currently sit in 5th place in the East Division with 7 points.  They are 5 points back of 4th place Binghamton and 10 points back from 1st place Wilkes-Barre.

The Bears currently reside in 12 place in the Eastern Conference, just 2 points from last.

The Bears have won 2 games.  That is more than only the Utica Comets, who haven't won a game.

The Bears have been outscored 12-2 in the 3rd period of games this year.  That is easily the worst in the league.  (They are actually outscoring the opposition 10-7 in the first and 11-7 in the second.)

The Bears rank 22nd in goals scored per game with 2.56.

The Bears are 23rd in goals allowed per game with 3.22.

I might not know a ton, but I know that this is about as bad a start to the season as you can have.  Especially considering the expectations that this team brought with them into the season.

So what gives?  Why is this team "under-performing"?

Well, for one, I figured they would be a slow starting team already.  Lots of new faces and a new coach usually spells a slow start for teams.  The 2006 Calder Cup winning Bears lost 5 of their first 9 games.

So some of this is to be expected.

But even that team won 4 in their first 9.

Now maybe if the referees this past weekend wouldn't have (potentially) blown 2 calls the outcomes would have been different.  If you haven't been paying attention there was a goal waved off in the Wilkes-Barre game on Saturday that sure looked in to everyone but referee Ryan Fraser.  And on Sunday another goal was waved off due to a phantom hand pass.

The thing will sports (and life) is that you can't know what would have happened if those calls go the other way, but we would all love to believe things would have worked out.

Hershey would have tied the game Saturday 3-3 and likely gone to overtime against the Pens.  And Sunday the Bears (theoretically) would have been up 4-2 after one period instead of 3-2.  And (theoretically) it would have ended 4-3.

Obviously that is a short-sighted look at it, but it's my blog and I chose to do that.

If the Bears manage to win those 2 games then they would have 4 wins and 5 losses after 9 games...the same as the 05-06 Bears.

But just because there is a new coach and players doesn't explain it all either.  Yes it will take time, but at some point things have to start going better.

Why hasn't that happened?

My personal belief?  Too many mouths to feed and a lack of consistency in the lineup.

Hershey has not had the same lineup for any 2 games this year.  9 games...different lineup each game.  And that is just the overall lineup.  My guess is you have seen different lines and defensive pairings in each game as well.

The problem with this is that guys can't learn tendencies and adjust to each other on the fly if they aren't playing with each other on a regular basis.

Look at the Caps.  When healthy they generally run the exact same lineup out each night with maybe a slight adjustment on the 4th line.  They don't change the top lines and pairings unless a guy is struggling or there is an injury.

You could make the argument for practice, but you can't accurately simulate game moments during practice.
Now this isn't to say that the Bears will never get it unless Haviland sticks with a certain lineup.  No, they will figure it out, but the longer he toys with lineups and lines the longer it will take.

Some of this is out of Haviland's hands.  When the Caps send Dmitry Orlov down on a Sunday with the express purpose of him dressing and playing, he has to do it.

But the more you can go with a constant lineup the better the Bears will get.

Part of this problem goes beyond Haviland and onto Yingst for signing too many veterans for the 3rd straight year.  I understand wanting to have veteran leadership in the locker room, but to have 6 guys for 5 spots seems like you are just asking for trouble.

Sure, it often times 'works itself out' with injuries, but it is more often an issue.  Right now you have 6 veterans and Strachan is the only defenseman.  He sat out one game.

Derek Whitmore, Jeff Taffe, and Dane Byers are veterans and they have played every game so far.  Rightfully so as they are probably 3 of the best players so far.

But that means that between Jamie Johnson and Brandon Segal, one guy has to sit every night.  Both of those guys can play, but they play different roles.  Segal is a physical guy that can play on the bottom two lines, while Johnson is an offensive-minded player with more skill situated best on the top 2 lines.

So when Johnson is in the top 2 lines see a change and then when he sits someone else moves up.  Segal moving in and out of the lineup is less disruptive as he has mostly played on the 4th line from what I have seen.

Obviously this is all a small sample size look at things and probably an oversimplification of the problem, but until Haviland settles on a lineup, forward lines, and defensive pairings the Bears are going to struggle to string together consistent performances.

What you end up with are periods of solid play followed by stretches of guys looking lost.  This happens because guys don't "know" their teammates yet.

Giroux and Aucoin were so good together because they knew exactly where the other was going when a certain situation presented itself.  But that didn't happen right away, it took them time to get there.

I have faith that these Bears will get there too, but it would behoove Haviland and the Bears to sacrifice guys 'feelings' and roll out the same lineup for a few games.  I suggest something like this:

Whitmore - Taffe - Wellman
Walker - Johnson - Deschamps
Byers - LeBlanc -  Mitchell
Syner - Watkins - Rechlicz

That leaves Segal, Brittain, Mitchell (John), and the largely useless Ryan Stoa watching from the press box most nights.

Defense is a little less important as the roles are more defined and straight forward.  But for the sake of this post I would leave Wellar and Brouillette in suits most games.

And start Grubauer in net 2 out of every 3.  Leggio was phenomenal on Saturday, but I haven't been as impressed in his other games as of yet.

Roll that lineup out for both games this weekend and keep it together for the 3 games next week and lets see where the Bears are then.

Oh By The Way:

The lone two game stretch that saw consistent lineups...the trip to St. John's.  The only change from game 1 to 2 was Orlov for Kundratek.  And how did the Bears do in the 2nd game?  That's right...a 4-0 win.

Why Johnson over Segal as the 5th veteran...in the 5 games where Johnson played over Segal the Bears have collected both of their wins and 6 of their 7 points.

Tyler Ruegsegger was loaned to Reading earlier today and Orlov was re-called by the Caps yesterday.

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