I think many fans will agree on one thing:
THAT was the way to start off February and the post-All-Star-break.
Take 44 (legitimate) shots on goal. Get the first goal of the game. Grind out a 1-0 battle all the way to the third period by getting timely saves from your goaltender and playing textbook defense. Grab the insurance goal. Get a great first game from newcomers who were just acquired in a trade. Keep pumping away and not back down when the opposition finally finds a way to beat your goaltender.
And send the GIANT Center fans home – all 10,672 of them – HAPPY for once!!
Although it may not have been easy traveling home with the snow that came yesterday, the memory of the HERSHEY BEARS’ 2-1 win over the Manchester Monarchs was enough to overcome that difficulty. Head coach Mark French said in his post-game press conference last Friday – after a horrendous loss to the St. John’s IceCaps – that he was tired of “going to the locker room, sitting in there, and hearing them announce ‘their guys’ as stars of the game.” This time, his team made sure that they got at least two out of three. Had it not been for the goaltending of Monarchs netminder Martin Jones, that game was a BEARS blowout.
Instead, Jones stood on his head – thwarting doorstep chances that I can remember from Ryan Potulny and Peter LeBlanc, most especially – and withstanding a 19-5 shot barrage in the second period to keep his team in the game. Sometimes, when shots are so badly against one team, that team tends to be on a penalty kill for a long time. Not the case here. Manchester had all of two power plays on the night, and were dominated five-on-five. The one thing that really impressed me about the BEARS was their play in the offensive zone WITHOUT the puck. The team simply made it nearly impossible for Manchester to cleanly exit their zone with good stick play, finishing checks, and keeping the puck away from Jones on their dump-ins.
Barry Almeida struck first, after zig-zagging down the slot and snapping a shot over Jones’ glove. The goal came via the fourth line – Almeida, Mike Carman and Matt Clackson – and came just north of two minutes into the contest. From that point on, it was all about Jones keeping Manchester from trailing by three or four goals.
Cameron Schilling got the insurance goal early in the third period, on a nice drive-the-lane play. Carman again was the helper, firing a cross-ice pass that Schilling tipped over Jones’ arm and under the crossbar. The goal was Schilling’s fourth of the season – and his team-leading third game-winner.
Linden Vey finally broke Philipp Grubauer’s shutout bid with just under six minutes to play. Grubauer, who was outstanding on his first 19 shots against, was in the splits with traffic in front of him. Garrett Mitchell made a nice block on a point shot but ended up on the ice with his back facing the point men. One of them was Chris Huxley, who swarmed in, scooped up the loose puck and dished to his left, where Vey was waiting. Vey picked the lower left corner with a slap shot and got the Monarchs on the board.
This time, with a two-goal lead down to one, the BEARS did not panic and played with pressure after Jones was pulled for a sixth attacker. Two of the Monarchs’ entry attempts into the BEARS’ zone were delayed offsides, killing the last valuable seconds of their comeback attempt.
Two things upon which to reflect:
1) The line of Peter LeBlanc, Ryan Potulny and Casey Wellman were the best on the ice to not have scored. They accounted for just under half of the HERSHEY shots on goal (LeBlanc-5, Wellman-5, Potulny-6).
2) How good were the BEARS at stick-on-puck play in this game?
Check out the playoff picture as the unofficial second half of the season is underway. Mark my word that the final spots won’t be final until April 21.
Oddly enough, the BEARS host Manchester on that season finale day.
For now, it’s a battle royale setting up for Super Sunday. BEARS. Penguins. Redemption is on the mind of the good guys in Chocolate and White. Let’s fill the barn again and grab a perfect four points before it’s off to Cleveland on Monday.