Through 24 games, the Hershey Bears sit in fifth place in the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Atlantic Division, and are just three points out of a playoff spot with 25 points, all despite having very little production from their power play.
The Bears currently sit 30th out of 31 teams in the AHL on the power play with a 9.1% efficiency. For context, the Bears finished last season with an 18.5% efficiency, which was good enough for 15th overall in the AHL.
Hershey’s man advantage has been virtually non-existent this season. The unit is 3 for 50 since November 1 and is 8 for 88 on the season. Travis Boyd, now with the Capitals, scored two of those goals in just four games played with the Bears. Mike Sgarbossa (3), Matt Moulson (2) and Philippe Maillet (1) have the remaining six power play goals.
The Bears lost a total of five games by one goal in the month of November, and lost another four games by just one goal in October. It’s certainly not much of a stretch to assume the Bears might have won several more games with just a few more power play goals, and could be sitting at, or near the top of the Atlantic Division.
So what’s wrong with the power play? Here are a few observations after 24 games played.
First, the pace of the power play seems far too deliberate. For comparison, the Washington Capitals pass the puck quickly to force movement from the penalty killers. This opens shooting lanes for players like Alexander Ovechkin and John Carlson. Travis Boyd was excellent at orchestrating forced movement of opposing penalty killers when he was with the Bears. Hershey hasn’t found that kind of conductor so far this season.
Obviously, Hershey does not have an Ovechkin or a Carlson, but they do have quality offensive players who are good offensive players in the AHL. If the Bears would adopt a similar power play to the Capitals, then they would create more open shooting lanes and give themselves a better chance to convert with the man advantage.
Zone entry has also been a problem for the Bears on the power play. If Hershey loses the faceoff or the other team makes a play to clear the zone, the Bears struggle to get the puck back in and when they do, it often comes right back out. The opponents’ penalty kill stands the power play up at the blue line and the Bears too often try to force their way through. That just has not worked. A better tactic is needed. Whether that move is a dump and chase or a quicker passing sequence, something needs to change.
Another issue for the power play has been that it is often too left-handed heavy. Recently, the first unit featured Mike Sgarbossa, Matt Moulson, Christian Djoos, Martin Fehervary and Philippe Maillett, all left-handed shots. This causes problems on the left side of the power play. Ovechkin has scored countless goals from the left circle on the power play with his right-handed rocket. He has scored many of these on one-timed shots.
It’s harder for a left-handed shot to one-time a pass because the way the body is positioned. The same goes for a shot from the point. Carlson is a right shot defenseman for the Caps. He is positioned perfectly for either a one-time shot from the point or a one-timed pass from the point. The Bears have a leftie at that spot on the point and it is nowhere near as effective.
With the talent the Bears have, the power play should not be this ineffective, and it’s not as simple as dealing with “The Boyd Void”. Hershey needs more production from the unit, and it’s likely to happen sooner rather than later. They will certainly need to improve in the second half of the season in order to make a drive to the postseason.
By Eric Lord