Friday, April 24, 2015

Hershey Bears vs Worcester Sharks 2015 First Round Playoff Preview

I am hyped.  Not sure how everyone else feels but I truly believe this Bears team could make a long run.

I am nervous.  Not sure how everyone else feels, but I am terrified that the Bears could lose this first round series.

I can't remember having such opposite feelings about a team heading into the postseason.  The last team good enough to make a run was I believe the 2009-10 team.  And really there wasn't much doubt with them.  Surely not in the first 2 rounds.

But here is my concern with the Bears this season...

They were two distinct teams.  (And this Sharks team is pretty good...more on that later though.)

There was the team that went 28-8-2-1 from Christmas through March and there was the team that went 18-14-2-2 prior to December and in April.

Half the season they dominated.  Half the season they barely stayed above .500.

Two different teams.

So which one is real?

Well, to figure that out I looked at the schedule.  I don't have time to look at the rosters each game, but I can say this...

The schedules were pretty even.  39 games from Christmas through March and 37 the rest of the time.  15 games against playoff teams in both sections.

21 home games, 18 road games in the middle.  17 home and 20 road on the ends.

So pretty even.

Which means to me that you have to dig a bit deeper.

Anyone that follows the team closely understands that there are two differences between the Bears before Christmas and after...

1. Stanislav Galiev was FINALLY given a chance at a top 6 forward spot.
2. Jim O'Brien joined the team in early January.

Coincidentally, April saw Galiev earn a recall to Washington while O'Brien (as well as others) missed some games.

Honestly, that makes me feel a bit better about the Bears chances (I literally did that research AFTER writing the open).

So I believe that the real Bears are the team that played so well from Christmas to March.  The other versions just weren't a complete team yet.

But I am still a bit worried.  Philipp Grubauer remains on recall in Washington and it seems highly unlikely that he will return before game 3.

Pheonix Copley has been tremendous, and I for one feel extremely confident in him.  However, this is his first pro playoff experience.  Will he be ready?

Plus, Andre Burakovsky is in Washington and seems very unlikely to return to Hershey before the Caps are eliminated.  That isn't that big of a deal, he only played 13 games in Hershey anyhow so he was never a big part of the offense...but having him here sure was nice.

AND...this 2 games on the road to start business is crappy.  A loss in Game 1 and the entire series changes as the Bears would be in an almost must win going into Game 2.

And Worcester is a good team.  Both at home and on the road.  They went 19-16-2-1 on the road this year, just a touch behind Hershey's 20-15-2-1.

So while the Bears could conceivably lose games 1 and 2, I don't find it likely that they can win 3 straight in Hershey over the Sharks.

Which means...Game 1 is critical.

So what can we expect between these two teams?  Based on the season series...a VERY even series.  (Another reason I am concerned.)

The season series went Hershey's way with a 2-1-0-1 record.  But every single game was close.

The teams split the home and road games, each winning once in each building.

4 games, 20 goals scored.  10 for Hershey, 10 for Worcester.

Every single game was decided by 1 goal.  Only 1 game went into extra time with the most recent game on April 1 going to a shootout.

Two of the games were in November and the other 2 were in mid-March and April 1.  The Bears DID have a "complete" team for the most recent two.  And obviously they were a different team for the first two, as I discussed above.

Shots were decidedly in Worcesters favor (as expected) with 145-104.

Surprisingly, the 2 Hershey victories came when they were DISTINCTLY out-shot.  They were out-shot on November 22 38-20 and won 1-0 at home.  Then in Worcester on March 18 they were doubled up 46-23 and won 3-2.

So, if you are listening to the games tonight and tomorrow (as I will be) or watching on AHLLive ($9.99 a game...not paying that!), then expect to hear Scott Stuccio discussing the Worcester shot total a whole bunch.  "Copley makes the save" might be his most used line (hopefully).

For a 2/7 seed matchup, this is going to be tight.

While I do believe in our Bears as much as ever, I am also worried about this series.

My prediction though...Bears in 4.

What Should You Know About Worcester?

1.  They don't have any dominant players.  

Bryan Lerg is their top point producer with 41 points.  6 Bears have more.

They have 4 players with 16+ goals.  Hershey has 6.

So there isn't a particular player that I can say Hershey has to watch out for.

2.  They do have depth.

Hershey has 8 players with 10+ goals...Worcester has 10.

Hershey has 11 players with 20+ points...Worcester has 15.

Again, they don't have one or two guys that will dominate.  They are a good team from top to bottom.

3.  They don't take penalties.

They finished the season with only 809 penalty minutes, good for best in the league.

As a comparison, Hershey finished with 1507, 5th most in the league.  And only 1 playoff team had more, Syracuse.

Discipline is going to be key for both teams.  But Hershey will have to do their best to play a clean game as special teams often decide series and giving the Sharks too many power plays surely won't be good.

4.  Once they are done...the Worcester Sharks are done.

The Sharks are one of the teams moving west next season.  So Game 2 might be the final AHL game to be played in Worcester.

With that in mind, I would expect the fans to come out in droves and make it loud.

Although, they only drew 3,847 in 38 home games this season so maybe it will remain half empty.

5.  Their top goal scorers are:

LW - 18 - Micheal Haley  -   he had 18 goals, leading the team.
RW - 13 - Evan Trupp  -  he had 16 goals and 24 assists, finishing second on the team in both goals and points.
RW - 19 - Daniil Tarasov  -  he also had 16 goals.
RW - 28 - Jeremy Langlois - he also had 16 goals.

6.  Players to watch:

LW - 11 - Bryan Lerg  -  the veteran finished with a team leading 41 points and scored 2 goals against the Bears this year.
C - 50 - Chris Tierney  -  he was as dominant player as they had picking up 29 points (8 g, 21 a) in only 29 games.  He only played in 1 game against the Bears this season.

7.  Goaltending:

They had two goalies who seemed to split the games pretty evenly most of the year.  Aaron Dell got into 26 games while Troy Grosenick played 36.

Based on the recent usage and the numbers, I fully expect Dell to get the nod.

Dell went 15-8-2 with a 2.06 goals against average and a .927 save percentage on the year.  Those are mighty fine numbers.

He struggled of late though, losing his last 3 games while going 3-3-0 in April with a 2.62 gaa and .917 save percentage.

Dell played both games in Hershey this season allowing 3 goals on 38 shots and going 1-1-0.

8.  Cold Streak:

They come in having lost 5 of their last 6 games, which isn't the way you want to be headed.

However, keep in mind that this poor stretch is on the heels of an 8 game win streak that included a win over Hershey.

That's all I got.

Time for the games to start.


If you want some more analysis you can check out the articles Tim Leone wrote.  Just head over to the Bears PennLive page to see them.