The Hershey Bears advanced to their 24th American Hockey League (AHL) finals on Friday night with a 1-0 victory over the Rochester Americans in Rochester. They await the winner of the Coachella Valley Firebirds and Milwaukee Admirals Western Conference Finals, where Coachella Valley is currently leading the series three games to two. Game 6 is set for Monday night at Coachella Valley.
If Coachella Valley closes out the series, they will have home ice advantage in the finals and the Bears will open the finals on the road in Southern California. Should Milwaukee rally to take the series, the Bears would open the finals against the Admirals at home.
While the Bears rest up and begin gearing up for the Calder Cup Finals, it’s a good time to take a look at the Bears first three series of the postseason, who were the leaders and who needs to step it up.
The Viper from Vitbsk, Aliaksei Protas, has simply been the best Bear, Offensively, in the first 13 games. He leads all Bears in points, is tied for first in goals and leads all Bears in primary assists. Mason Morelli is tied with Protas in goals with Connor McMichael second in goals scored in all situations. [Click To Enlarge]
Bears head coach Todd Nelson has made it clear in his postgame press conferences on more than one occasion that certain players aren’t carrying their share of the load. He didn’t name names, but it’s not too difficult to figure out who he is referencing.
I will preference this by saying all players go through slumps, and it’s hard to imagine what this postseason would be like if the “slumpers” were producing at regular-season rates, but Nelson is speaking directly to Ethen Frank, Joe Snively and Mike Vecchione, who were all big goal scorers during the regular season, but have a total of two goals combined in the postseason.
Scoring – Even Strength
If we narrow the focus and look at players performances at even strength we begin to see a slightly different picture, with Sam Anas leading the way in total points (7) and points per game average. Connor McMichael leads the team in even-strength goals (4) and Aliaksei Protas is leading the team in primary assists (4).
Logan Day, possibly the biggest surprise so far this off-season, is tied for second in points per game. He needs to play every game of the final series, and will probably do so.
Connor McMichael leads all Bears in total shots generated and is second behind Mike Sgarbossa in shots per game average.
Mason Morelli leads all Bears in total shooting percentage (31.25%) with Henrik Borgstrom second (28.57%) and Lucas Johansen third (25.0%).
It’s no secret the Bears scoring has been slightly down in the postseason, but their defense has made up for it. Maybe defense does indeed win championships?
Penalty Kill – To little suprise, the Bears penalty kill has been fairly stout once again, allowing just five power play goals against in 35 penalty kill situations (85.7%). That’s 5th best in the AHL postseason. For what it’s worth, the Milwaukee Admirals are fourth-best at 88.0% and Coachella Valley is 11th best at 80%.
Defense – The Bears have allowed just 25 goals in 13 postseason games, or 1.92 goals per game. That’s the best average among teams remaining in the postseason run and among the best the entire postseason.
Hunter Shepard – Shepard has continued his high-level of play from the regular season, with an occasional down night. Shepard is 4th in goals against average (1.85) and 4th in save percentage (.929). It’s on those down nights that the Bears have lost. That’s just as much of a reflection on Shepard as it is on the Bears struggles to generate goals.
The Black And Blue Wrecking Crew – Beck Malenstyn has been excellent in the post season, doing what he does, blocking shots and leading the penalty kill. The Bears fourth line, has also been excellent as whole, as the “black and blue wrecking crew” has set the tone right for the start of each and every game. Nelson continue to start the line each and every game.
What Needs Work
Power Play – The Bears power play has scored eight times on 37 power play opportunities for a 21.6% conversion rate, good enough for 1oth in the postseason. Not terrible, but it can be better. The unit continues to be disjointed on too many power play opportunities.
Offense – The Bears have stalled in the scoring department, but scored when it matters most. As long as the defense is standing tall and the Bears continue to win games, it’s hard to complain about fewer goals scored.
FOUR MORE WINS…
The Bears have made relatively light work in the last two series, compared to their first round tilt with the Charlotte Checkers, who remain their stiffest competitive test so far in this postseason run. Charlotte figured out how to stymie the Bears but it came in game 3 in a best-of-five series with the Bears taking the first two games.
All teams have soft spots or struggling players in the postseason, and the Bears are no different. The bottom line is the team is just four wins away from their 12th Calder Cup.
By Jon Sorensen