We had the pleasure of watching the Hershey Bears in action this past weekend as they descended upon Mohegan Sun Arena to take on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The result was not a happy one, as the Bears took it in the teeth in a 5-0 whitewashing. We have to consider ourselves the "bad luck" charm in that the Bears went into the game having won 23 of 24 games.
It certainly was an odd game, especially in the first period. The Penguins' first goal came when Chris Conner sent a shot at Bears goalie Braden Holtby. The puck popped over Holtby's shoulder and dropped behind him in the blue paint. Before he could find it or a Bear could sweep it away, Wyatt Smith pounded it into the back of the net to open the scoring for the Penguins.
If the first goal was odd, the second was positively bizarre. On a Penguin power play, Luca Caputi sent a shot to the net from the point. The puck hit the crossbar and popped up, whereupon Eric Tangradi used his hand to drop the puck to the ice. Dustin Jeffrey then snapped it into the net.
See a problem here?
Well, the referee didn't, not only signalling a goal on what was a hand-pass, but then explaining it to the Hershey bench (complete with hand signals).
The Penguins scored a third goal on a horrible Bears turnover in the defensive zone. Conner collected the puck and skated across the top of the crease, waiting until Holtby committed to the ice before he rifled the puck into the net to give the Pens a 3-0 first intermission lead.
The Bears came out much better in the second, but they didn't reap any rewards for the effort. In fact, they allowed what was a back-breaker of a goal in the last ten seconds of the period as Jesse Boulerice, who was in the penalty box for hooking, exited the box when the penalty expired and skated in with Conner on a 2-on-1 that he converted off a Conner feed. Tangradi closed the scoring with a goal mid-way through the third, and the only suspense was whether Brad Thiessen would get his first AHL shutout. He did, turning away all 29 shots he faced to send the Penguin fans home happy.
-- Thiessen got the shutout, but he was rarely tested. The Bears had almost no second chances, and certainly none from in close. Thiessen got good looks at the puck and wasn't crowded very often.
-- The Penguins played a simple game of keeping the Bears to the outside and along the boards. There were almost no cross-ice opportunities that could have gotten Thiessen out of position.
-- Holtby was not especially sharp, although not as bad as allowing five goals would suggest. His team let him down on a couple of occasions, but there were more loose pucks lying around than one would usually think normal.
-- It was a rougher game than "only" two fights would suggest, what one would expect from teams so close together that play one another often.
-- We were impressed with Chris Conner for the Penguins, and not just for his 1-2-3, plus-3 night. He hustled on every shift, and the puck seemed to find him.
-- We were also impressed with Mathieu Perreault for the Bears, mostly for his utter fearlessness. For a guy who might actually be as big as his listed 5'8", 166 pounds, he was not shy about going after pucks in traffic.
-- The Bears were missing three of their top nine point-getters (Alexandre Giroux, Chris Bourque, and John Carlson), but the guys who were there didn't have an especially good game offensively. Keith Aucoin was held to one shot on goal, as was Perreault. Defenseman Bryan Helmer led the Bears with four shots, an indicator of the lack of second chances.
As a fan, you think a run like the one the Bears have been on isn't ever going to end or have any bumps along the way. Well, Saturday night was a bump. The Bears seemed to recover, beating Lowell last night to resume their winning ways. So, maybe there is something to our being the "bad luck" charm.
Some pics from the proceedings...