Nearly two days removed from a thrilling 4-3 shootout victory over the Syracuse Crunch on Wednesday night – in front of a season-high crowd of 10,801 – I’m sitting here pondering three really good things that have the pot of recent success set to boil over.
1) The play of Ryan Stoa. This player may not be running up the points – heck, he hasn’t even gotten on the score sheet in four of the December games played to date – but by a LONG shot, he has been playing the best hockey since he has been wearing a Hershey sweater.
He is getting the puck deep. He protects it so well in the corners and along the boards. He is making plays happen in the offensive zone. He is smart.
Oh, and not to mention, he is 5-for-5 and leading the AHL in shootout goals. (That’s just a bonus.)
Stoa needed to be better this year, and he is now playing with a no-panic look to his game. Having Brandon Segal and Nicolas Deschamps (or Josh Brittain, or Nathan Walker) as linemates hasn’t hurt either. Speaking of which:
2) The play of Brandon Segal. There was no doubt in my mind that once coach Haviland stopped scratching Segal as the veteran, he would produce.
He is playing with an edge to his game, he is jumping up on plays, and in the last three games, he has produced two goals, four assists and a plus-five rating.
His two goals? Timely. One was a game-winner (Saturday vs. Binghamton) and one was a game-saver (tied the score with 3:02 left against Syracuse on Wednesday).
And his three-point effort for third-star (??????) honors on Wednesday (I’ll do it again: ????? … I STILL can’t figure that one out) have vaulted him to the top of the Bears scoring lead.
3) The play of Nicolas Deschamps. Finding this player’s proper linemates has been like my mom finding just the right amount of Bacardi for her Christmas rum cake. Once it’s there…….WOW. Segal and Stoa have been just what Deschamps needed. He is now tied for second on the Bears in goals (six). And he is now my early-season prediction as the first Bears player to score 20 goals.
Can you imagine if the team took the three things that HAVEN’T been as good as they could be, and upped the production on all? If these happen through the weekend – and in the final three games of 2012, December 26-28 – Christmas will come early for a lot of Bears fans, and the pot of points will finally pile up and boil over.
1) Get a big goal from last year’s MVP. Jeff Taffe is due. LONG overdue. He hasn’t been able to buy a goal since a power-play strike on December 1 vs. Providence. I was out of my seat when he got the puck behind the Syracuse defense with time winding down in Wednesday’s first period and with the Bears trailing 2-1. I was also out of my seat when he was set up from behind the net for a point-blank chance that the lunging blocker of Kristers Gudlevskis swatted aside.
Taffe is due. And he’s due on the power play. And it will happen at least once this weekend.
Speaking of that?
2) Get at least three power play goals this weekend. The Sharks have allowed the fourth-fewest power play goals on the road (eight) in 2013-2014. It will be a good test to watch the Bears finally get their man-advantage mojo going.
3) Don’t give the puck away – in ANY zone. I can remember one goal on Wednesday against Syracuse (the first of Evan Rankin’s three), one on Saturday against Binghamton (Mark Stone’s shorthanded breakaway), one on Friday at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Tom Kostopoulos’ second of the game)…. it’s a chain that needs to be broken.
4) Get production from other lines. 32-27-26 can’t – and shouldn’t – be doing it all.
5) Win the “home for the holidays” games. The Bears are off to a good start. Beginning with last Saturday, the team plays eight of ten games at GIANT Center, and are 2-0-0-0 in them. Worcester is right behind Hershey in the conference standings, while Binghamton (12/26), Syracuse (12/27) and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (12/28) – well, we all know where they stand. But their comfortable leads in the division are starting to shrink, and the Bears know it.
Joel Rechlicz bobblefist figurines (courtesy UGI) for the first 5,000 fans tomorrow, and Labatt Blue pint glasses for the first 3,000 on Sunday. Bears…. Sharks…. it should be a great time.
Hope to see you here.