The best defense can sometimes be a good offense. The Hershey Bears’ (17-14-3-3) offensive attack has been nothing short of excellent this season, averaging 3.14 goals per game, sixth in the American Hockey League (AHL).
They’ve been paced by the top line of Ryan Stoa, Brandon Segal and Nicolas Deschamps who have combined for 30 goals on the season, or 25.8% of the Bears goals this season. Their five-on-five play has been commended by first year Hershey head coach Mike Haviland, the best part of their game this season.
Hershey’s special teams are on the other side of the spectrum for the Bears this season. Once boasting one of the best special teams units in the league during their 11th Calder Cup championship in the 2009-10 campaign, the Hershey power play ranks 21st at 16.2%. Their penalty kill has been much better though, converting at 83.3% which ranks 12th in the AHL.
Power Play Struggles
The Bears’ man advantage unit converted at a 20.7% clip during the 2009-10 championship run and has ranked near the top of the AHL on multiple occasions over the past decade. Their 16.2% rate this season would be their lowest power play conversion success over the past five seasons, beginning in 2009-10. Even with a less talented roster last season, former Hershey Bears bench boss Mark French managed to lead the Bears to an 18% rate.
The biggest problem for Hershey’s power play this season has been the lack of a big shot at the point. An ACL injury to the experienced Tomas Kundratek has proved costly to this point, with Hershey having to rely on defensemen Chay Genoway and Nate Schmidt to lead their power play at the top of their 1-3-1 formation. Along with their lack of a heavy shot from the point, other players have struggled to bury pucks past the goaltender.
Second year Hershey Center Jeff Taffe, who totaled 70 points last season, has not seen elite success this season, especially on the power play. There’s been numerous times which he has ripped shots off the post. He has eight goals and 22 points on the season, but has scored one goal in his past 17 games. He’s heated up in the New Year however, contributing seven points in seven games.
Penalty Kill Success
The Bears’ penalty kill has been much better than the man advantage group this season following acquisitions of numerous players that can play a role on Hershey’s shorthanded unit this offseason. Even with the loss of Capitals forward prospect Garrett Mitchell to a shoulder injury for the foreseeable future, the penalty kill has not wavered. Forwards Michael Latta, Josh Brittain, Matt Watkins and Peter LeBlanc have been the top contributors for Hershey when a man down.
The Defensive pair of Tyson Strachan Cameron Schilling has been together on the regularity and is Hershey’s shutdown pair, bar none. They’ve seen substantial time together while shorthanded as well. Both are good at moving opposing forwards out of the crease and they are strong on the wall. The goalie play of David Leggio has also played a big role as the Bears’ PK nears the top ten in the AHL.
Their penalty kill has been very consistent over the past five years, with their 83.2% of 2010-11 their lowest rate in the past five seasons, including this year. Hershey’s shorthanded group ranked first in the AHL in 2009-10, at an astounding 87.2% rate.
Room to Improve?
Although the power play has struggled, the Bears have done a superb job at drawing penalties that result in a power play opportunity. They’ve averaging exactly five power plays per game, their highest amount in the past five years. Even though they’re not scoring at the rate they would like or have expected to on the man advantage, more power plays per game gives the Bears less time defending over the course of a game. Although they’ve had more time on attack in years past, Hershey has allowed eight goals on the man advantage, tied for 27th in the AHL.
On the opposing side of drawing penalties, Hershey has also took more penalties that puts them on the penalty kill than they did last year under Mark French. After allowing less than four power play opportunities per game last season, under Haviland the Bears have had to kill off 4.7 power plays per contest.
Hershey has the personnel to continue to be very strong on the penalty kill. While they might not end the year top ten on the man advantage, they’re drawing their chances and have room to improve.
The Bears take on Bridgeport and Albany this weekend at Giant Center following a 3-2 road loss to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Goalie Riley Gill is expected to make a start this weekend.