Thursday, January 1, 2015

One Penalty Too Many

Maybe it was because both teams wanted to maneuver into first place in the East Division. Maybe it was because both teams have become more strategic in their play against each other (both offensively and defensively). Maybe it was because Bobby Farnum has been up in Pittsburgh on recall for a couple weeks now.

Whatever the reason, what we got was another tightly played, low scoring game with little fighting or physicality between the Bears and Pens that led to another shutout. Despite killing off three straight penalties in the first period, Hershey would take a fourth late in the second the Penguins would capitalize in the final minute. Likewise, the Wilkes-Barre knocked in a turnover in the last minute of the third to make it 2-0.

Win or lose; goals or shutout, I never thought it would be this exciting and fun to follow a team when it's best player is the goaltender. Most of the teams I watch (NHL/AHL) are well balanced but are specifically offensively talented/minded (Pens/Caps/Avs). It appears the 2014-15 Bears is becoming a team lives and dies by its goalie.

I imagine this is what it was like to follow the New Jersey Devils with Martin Brodeur or currently the Nashville Predators with Pekka Rinne. While the lack of goals can be frustrating, watching Grubauer's superb play night in and night out is reassuring that this Bears club will have the opportunity to try and take the division this season.

The Bears are lucky to have been flush with high quality goaltenders the past 6-7 years. Varlmov, Neuvirth, Holtby; all are now starters for their respective NHL teams. When Neuvy was still with the Caps and Holtby was getting regular call-ups, many of the TV commentators said that Holtby, because of his skill and talent, was the future goalie of Washington.

That being said, Philip Grubauer may actually be the best goalie of that entire group. Varlamov, Neuvirth and Holtby all had better offensive teams in front of them and in some cases better individually talented defensemen. Grubauer has an overall more defensive-minded team in front of him and the team stats prove it. Hershey has the best penalty killing % in the league and is 3rd/4th best in GA. Also, Grubauer is single-handedly winning games for the Bears by keeping the team in the low scoring games.

While Grubauer left the game early in the third period after making a diving split save with his right pad, the apparent injury didn't appear to be too serious and is mostly likely just a leg strain or groin pull. The Bears play the Pens for the 10th time this season on Saturday night in Hershey. No matter the seriousness of the injury, Pheonix Copley will most likely get the start as he's been used sparingly recently. That's the only game of the weekend and then Hershey will get a week off which should give Grubauer plenty of time to rest.

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