Sunday, May 20, 2007

News Flash -- Jason LaBarbera Finishes Game

Not that it appeared to matter.

Despite 14 minor penalties being called on them, the Hershey Bears disposed of the Manchester Monarchs, 4-1, and deposited their two home games in the Eastern Conference final in the win column.

Although the score was not as lopsided as last night's 7-2 thwapping, this game sounded at least as dominating for the Bears. Killing 27:19 in penalty time (some of which...well, very little...overlapped with Monarch penalty time) isn't a recipe for success on most nights. The Monarchs' only success came on one of what were at least four 5-on-3's. Otherwise, Manchester came up empty on 30 other shots on goal.

Hershey has pasted Manchester to the tune of 11-3 in two games thus far. And it must be frustrating for the Monarchs . . . leading scorer in the playoffs Patrick O'Sullivan is 1-1-2 in the two games, but he's taken a whopping 13 shots on goal, too. And second-leading scorer Marty Murray has a big donut in two games and has yet to register a shot on goal. On the other side of the ledger, Hershey has had points from 14 different skaters in two games.

Come to think of it, LaBarbera didn't finish this game on his skates, either. He got pulled in the last minute, which allowed Matt Hendricks to pot an empty-netter for the final score (ok, he went back in after the Hendricks goal, but that's details). That's three games in Hershey without being on the ice at the end.

Reality Check

The Peerless was on his way to Hershey last evening, so we missed the missed (or misplaced) action in the Ottawa-Buffalo game. But having heard about and read about what transpired . . . well, for all the blather about how well the NHL is doing in attendance, for all the piffle about “action figures,” for all the cook-the-books numbers the league and its assorted franchises are spewing that are meant to lend credence to the thought that the NHL is back, we have as cold and as hard a reality check as there is.

Ladies and gentlemen, we will leave you now to bring you the Preakness pre-race show. You can follow the action on Versus.

Allan Muir paints the portrait for us over at All The Peerless can say is, thank you, NBC, for that cold splash of water in our faces. Hockey is now a rung (or two . . . or three) below the pre-event show for a sport whose popularity pretty much ended when Secretariat left the field in another time zone in The Belmont Stakes in 1973. I don’t blame NBC – they have a business to run. But the League? Spare us the crap about how your revenues are up, how teams are selling out their arenas. Give-aways inflate attendance numbers, projected revenues this season will be no more (in 2004 dollars) than they were for the last year before the lockout, and the Red Wings – the Dee-troit freakin’ Red Wings – can’t sell out a playoff game.

Here is the chilling fact for hockey fans looking for a shred of optimism – the NBC deal was the best deal the NHL could get for a national network in the U.S., and when push came to shove, when an elimination game in the championship semi-final was headed to overtime, NBC chose to cover an event characterized by women in gaudy hats.

And for you old-schoolers out there . . . you can count the years left when playoff games go to overtime on one hand, with fingers left over. The shootout is coming. The future arrived yesterday.

The Bear Essentials: Hershey 7 - Manchester 2

For the second week in a row, The Peerless headed up to Hershey to watch the Caps in waiting march toward a Calder Cup. And, they did not disappoint. They beat, and beat on the Manchester Monarchs to the tune of 7-2 to take a 1-0 lead in games in the Eastern Conference final.

The story lines coming in were three . . . Bruce Boudreau faces old club, Dean Arsene makes his return, and Manchester plays in its first conference final ever. The only one that seemed to matter a lot on the ice was the last of the three. Manchester came into the game with 51 wins in the regular season and eight in the playoffs – same as Hershey. That is where the similarities ended.

The Peerless noted in the mail bag preceding this post that Jason LaBarbera had two rather dismal first periods in his two games against Hershey in the regular season – a 4.23 GAA and .769 save percentage -- and that scoring early might be a factor here. He did not improve upon that much last night, and it was a factor. Manchester opened the game looking for all the world like a club overwhelmed by their surroundings. LaBarbera didn’t exactly bail them out. Dave Steckel swatted a ricochet behind LaBarbera 140 seconds in. Scott Barney added a power play goal at 7:32, and Steckel then added a shorthanded goal at 9:12. Not ten minutes in, and the Monarchs found themselves down a field goal. Looked a lot like the two regular season games.

Manchester got one back late in the first, but the period had to qualify as just what Hershey was looking for – a fast start that got their fans (including The Peerless – the “1” in the 9,001 official attendance) into it.

Speaking of fans getting into it, The Peerless had a fine seat in section 121, right next to the tunnel to the Manchester players’ bench. This afforded us the opportunity to once more be entertained by the Hershey faithful making life annoying to the visitors. As the goals mounted, the barbs got louder and more specific. Doug Nolan and Petr Kanko were singled out for special abuse. It got bad enough to where one of the Monarchs decided to spray water on the fans behind the bench. Well, actually, it would get even worse than that . . . in the third period, fans were taking advantage of the architecture (the gap between the panes of glass behind the bench) to let the Monarchs have it. Oleg Tverdovsky took a two handed swing at the glass behind his bench out of frustration over what was happening in front of the bench and the razzing he was getting from behind it. One is tempted to say it was the only shot he took all night . . . well, the only one that hit anything. Head Coach Mark Morris then called over referee Terry Koharski to do something about it. Koharski called security over to quell the fans and restore a modicum of decorum (yeah, right).

The product of this abuse was Hershey adding a goal in the second (offset by a Manchester tally), then piling on with three in the third, the first two of which chased LaBarbera – making him 0-for-2 in finishing games in Hershey this year. Barry Brust waved as a drive by Kyle Wilson went sailing by to end the scoring for the evening.

Observations . . .

-- Manchester won 51 games this year; they can’t be that bad. But they were very bad tonight. They simply could not match Hershey physically.

-- One gets the feeling Louis Robitaille emerged from his mother’s womb jawing at the doctor.

-- Tomas Fleischmann has really done all he can do at this level. Three more assists – that’s eight points in his last two playoff games, kids.

-- David Steckel really had a fine game, and that was without the weird shorthanded goal where he pushed LaBarbera and the puck into the net.

-- Frederic Cassivi played what looked like a very “calm” game – no wasted movement. He seemed to be in position where he needed to be just about all night.

-- If there was one concern tonight, it was that after the third goal in the first, Hershey looked as if they took their foot off the gas. They were about to run Manchester right out of the rink and almost let them back into the game.

-- We’ll say it again…Hershey is a fine place to watch a game. Even better when they win.

-- LaBarbera was of a mind that the goals were fluky . . . “They were BS bounces," he commented after the game . . . o-o-o-o-o-o-kay.

-- Monarch’s coach Mark Morris was more succinct . . . "We were totally outclassed." The Peerless thinks that a fair assessment.

-- And is it me, or does Jason LaBarbera look like a cross between Elmer Fudd and Vlade Divac?

Or maybe just Elmer…