von Eric Lord
Plusses and minuses for Hershey in week 2
By Eric Lord
During the opening weekend of the American Hockey League (AHL) season, the Hershey Bears had little going for them. They dropped road games to Rochester and Binghamton, earning them no points. Those results made it important to get results this past weekend at home. The Bears did just that, earning three of four points. Positive strides were made, but there are things that can be improved on. Things that cost Hershey the chance to earn all four points. Let’s take a look at the plusses and minuses for the Bears this past weekend.
Plus: The Penalty Kill. In the season opening loss to Rochester, the penalty kill gave up two goals. The unit has been better since. After not surrendering a power play goal in Binghamton, the penalty kill continued to improve in two games this past weekend. The unit killed off seven of the eight Bridgeport power plays on Saturday night. Then, the Bears shut down the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins power play. The Penguins had four chances with the man-advantage, including a 55 second five-on-three, but Hershey managed to kill off all of the Penguins power plays.
Minus: Face-offs. The Bears have not been terrible overall in the face-off circle. However, they’ve lost draws at the wrong times. In the game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Sunday. Hershey repeatedly lost draws in the offensive end on their power plays. This gave the Penguins the ability to quickly clear the puck and prevented the Bears from getting the power play set up. Hershey also lost key draws in their own zone, including one that led to the tying goal by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the third period on Sunday. Chandler Stephenson lost the draw cleanly to Carter Rowney. Shortly thereafter, Jake Guentzel scored to even the game at one. The Bears would go on to lose in overtime.
Plus: Vitek Vanecek. The 20-year old goalie was excellent on Sunday night. He stopped 33 of the 35 shots he faced against the Penguins. He deserved to win the game, but was undone by Hershey mistakes. In overtime, he stopped a Dominik Simon breakaway. Madison Bowey was called for a questionable slashing call and Simon would be awarded a penalty shot. Simon scored and Vanecek became the hard-luck loser. He made several quality saves and came up big on some point-blank chances. If the youngster continues to play at this level, the Bears will be fine in net.
Minus: Decisions with the puck. Hershey had a few different issues with the puck during the weekend, especially on Sunday. One problem was holding on to the puck too long. Instead of making a pass, a player would try to skate through a defender or two. The result, he would turn over the puck. Garrett Mitchell had this problem on a few occasions Sunday. He tried to go through the Penguins players and ended up turning the puck over. The turnovers led to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton scoring chances. Besides holding onto the puck too long, the Bears had two issues with their passing. First, too many passes were behind the player who was supposed to receive the pass. Hershey missed out on good scoring chances because the player had to reach behind him to try to coral the pass. By the time he controlled the pass, the defense was on him. The other passing issue was passing to nobody. This cost the Bears in overtime on Sunday. Bowey skated towards Chris Bourque and then passed the puck back to the space he had just vacated. With the overtime being three-on-three, there was no player there except for Simon of the Penguins. The play ended with Simon being awarded a penalty shot that he scored the game winner on.
Plus: Brad Malone. A free agent signing in the off-season, Malone has made a difference in all aspects of the game. He is very good on face-offs. He is a big part of the Hershey penalty kill, which was shown in both games this weekend. Malone was on the ice for much of the 55 seconds when the Bears killed off the Penguins two-man advantage on Saturday. He brings toughness. He fought Bridgeport’s ben Holmstrom in Saturday’s game. Malone also brings it in the offensive end. He tallied the game winning goal against Bridgeport and was name the game’s number one star.
Minus: Dustin Gazley’s injury. Despite playing an important role in Hershey’s run to the Calder up finals last season, Gazley found himself scratched for the first three games of this season. Known for his speed, energy, hustle and excellent penalty killing ability, Gazley is a favorite of the fans. He finally got his chance to play on Sunday night. Early on, he showed why he is valuable. He hustled to negate an icing call. He was flying up and down the ice. Unfortunately for Gazley, his night was cut short in the first period. He was hustling back to get the puck. He was pushed from behind by a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton player. Gazley was going full speed and the little push sent him into the boards. He hit feet first and had to be helped off the ice. On Monday, the Bears announced that Gazley fractured his right foot and would require surgery. He is expect to miss 10 Weeks.