Sunday, October 12, 2014

Plenty of Work Needed

As was mentioned at the beginning of the third period on Saturday night, no matter at what level of the game "opening night jitters are always a factor". This seems to have been the case for the Bears as they dropped the opening game of the 2014-15 season to the Norfolk Admirals 5-4.

The game started off well enough for the Bears as they took the lead in the first period three different times. However, Norfolk was able to come back each time and tie the score; notably on Chris Wagner's two short handed goals of his three total for the night.

A bright spot for Hershey in that first period was its play below the face-off dots, in the corners and behind the net. Instead of using the usual grinding tactics along the wall, the Bears really used their speed to cycle the puck between the half wall to the corner and to the hash marks to generate the majority of its scoring chances and produce those three goals.

Unfortunately, the Bears' defensive game gave them the most problems. It seemed to get progressively worse over the course of the game and that prevented the Bears' from being able to maintain any pressure in the offensive zone. This was unexpected considering the coaching and system changes in the off-season. Even still, the team looked fairly solid in the first period.

The same can not be said for the second and third periods. Credit should be given to the Admirals for adjusting their game between both periods and it showed in the first half of the second period. The turning point appeared to be in the beginning of the second period when Steve Olesky took a hooking penalty. The ensuing delayed call had Hershey running around in its defensive zone for at least a minute and a half despite the Bears touching the puck about half way through. Granted, the rules state that the team needs to gain control of the puck but I have seen play at both the NHL and AHL levels stopped for less than that. It was almost like giving the Admirals a four minute power play. And the resulting goal to give Norfolk the lead just sort of killed any momentum the Bears might have had coming out of the first period.

The second period settled in and while Steve Olesky was able to tie the game 4-4 the Bears always seemed be playing reactionary instead of proactively. From there the game became bogged down in the latter half of the period due to a series of penalties. The third period didn't fair much better with the Bears not being able to get any sustained pressure on Norfolk. And Chris Wagner's hat trick half way through the period pretty much ended it.

Hershey's continued defensive breakdowns in the third period prevented them generating many quality scoring chances despite having 11 shots. Their best opportunity  of the period was when Chris Conner blew past the Admirals defenseman down the left side wall for a partial breakaway and looking to sneak it short side on Jason LaBarbera. And the play basically went completely unnoticed by everyone.

While certainly not a bad game for the Bears, it is clear that two areas they need to work on are overall team defense and putting in a complete 60 minute game. The next game is on Monday still in Norfolk. Let's hope the Bears can split this two game road trip to Virginia to the start the season.

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