Greetings from Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township!
The second in a series of home-and-home weekends between your Hershey Bears and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins is upon us. The Bears are in a similar position as the one they held on March 6, the last time the teams faced each other – leading the Atlantic Division by the slimmest of margins.
But this time, the Penguins have played their games in hand. Each team comes into tonight with 62 of 76 contests in the books. The Penguins dropped a pair of 3-2 decisions in another divisional home-and-home last weekend, against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The Bears split their weekend in Newfoundland, losing a close 2-1 game on Saturday but winning the Sunday rematch 3-2 against the St. John’s IceCaps.
The biggest item of note that I could find was this: last weekend was the first time since December 29 and 31 that the Bears were held to three or fewer goals in back-to-back games. The last time that the Bears’ opponent held the club to three or fewer goals in three consecutive games was between November 28 and December 5.
That’s pretty darn impressive.
The Bears’ high-flying offense has climbed into third in the AHL (3.44). But the other item to note? The team ranks 29th in shots on goal per game average (28.58). The words of assistant coach Ryan Murphy in a pre-game interview in Springfield back in February still ring true: he wants the team to take what he called “meaningful shots”. These stats prove that fairly well.
It has been a fairly uneventful week leading up to this big weekend set, all things considered, with the exception of the buzz created from the arrival of defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler and forward Kevin Elgestal. The team was off on Monday and Tuesday, a recuperation period from some of the longest travel that any team can take. Back at practice on Wednesday, head coach Troy Mann said he felt that the energy and focus were both good. They got better as the week progressed. And today, the team’s morning skate was an optional one. About half the team trekked across the lot to Hersheypark Arena to get a sweat going, while the others stayed back – some having an impromptu game of basketball on the Giant Center floor prior to the high school games that were played later in the day.
Dan Ellis gets the start in goal for the Bears, and looks to get back in the win column after suffering the setback last Saturday. He is still having an incredible run of success, and just needs the offense to get back on track in front of him tonight.
Siegenthaler will not play, although he is here to dress and take warmups. Mann said that he wants him to see a game in full from “up top” and make sure he gets to see the systems in play.
Garrett Mitchell is out one more night, serving the third of his three-game suspension. Mike Moore is the veteran scratch, and Caleb Herbert joins Elgestal on the healthy scratch list.
Incidentally, the rematch between these rivals is tomorrow at Giant Center. And that game is officially sold out. So be sure to catch the call beginning at 4:20, and the puck drop at 5 on the Bears Radio Network. Thanks to the BEST fans in the AHL for packing our house once again.