For much of the season, it did not look like the Hershey Bears were going anywhere. In mid-January, they sat with a 15-20-0-2 record and the playoffs all but out of the question. If they had any hope of reaching the postseason, they would need to make a serious push.
Fifteen games later, the Bears have completely resurrected their season and sit in third place in the Atlantic Division.
Hershey needed to make a serious run and they did just that with points in 15 straight games going 14-0-0-1 over that stretch. This run ties the longest streak in franchise history set by the 1942-43 Bears who went 11-0-4.
Even with their 15-game streak, however, Hershey still has more work to do to reach the playoffs. The AHL playoff format is similar to the NHL’s, but with no wild card. The top four teams from each division make the playoffs with no cross over.
Hershey’s early struggles really put them back in the playoff race. Even with a 15-game point streak, they still trail first place Charlotte and second place Bridgeport by 14 and six points, respectively. The Bears sit tied with Providence for third place with 61 points while Lehigh Valley sits in fifth place with 60 and rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is not too far behind with 57.
Hershey must find a way to hang on to third or fourth place, but they still have 24 games remaining in the season including three against Providence, one against Lehigh Valley and two against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
The Bears have earned their spot in the playoffs as of today, but the playoffs don’t start today. If they hope to stay in playoff position, it will mean beating the teams chasing them in the standings.
Hershey will look to extend their point streak to a franchise record 16th game on Friday against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Other prospect notes:
- One major reason for Hershey’s turnaround has been the improved play of goalie Ilya Samsonov. After a 5-10-0-0 start to the season, his numbers were atrocious with a 3.88 GAA and .863 save percentage. Once the calendar changed to 2019, however, he has been lights out with an 8-1-0-1 record, 1.49 GAA and .937 save percentage. The transition to North America seems to be going just fine.
- Beck Malenstyn has also played a major role in the Bears’ turnaround. In his first professional season, Malenstyn has only 12 points, but eight of those points have come in 2019. Two of those points came Sunday as he scored twice in the win over Lehigh Valley. It was his first professional multi-goal and multi-point game. He seems to be someone who is starting to figure things out in the AHL.
- Aaron Ness (seven assists) and Jayson Megna (three goals, two assists) both have five-game point streaks. Mike Sgarbossa (two goals, two assists) sits right behind them with a four-game point streak. Ness is tied for fourth in the league with 35 assists. That’s not fourth among defensemen, that’s fourth in the entire AHL.
- It appears Mathias Bau’s 2018-19 season may be over without playing a single game. He suffered an injury prior to the season that has kept him out of action and it appears the injury is serious enough that he will not be able to play at all. A Hershey team official confirmed to NBC Sports Washington that Bau has returned to his native Denmark to continue his recovery and remains out indefinitely. Though I could not get confirmation on the specific nature of the injury, the Danish National team announced in July that he had suffered some broken ribs and tear in his spleen. The Danish team announcement was found by the blog Chocolate Hockey.
- Defenseman Colby Williams has not played since Jan. 6 and remains week-to-week with an upper-body injury.
- It seems safe to say this season has not gone the way Axel Jonsson-Fjallby had hoped, either in Hershey or in Sweden. Since his return to his home country, Jonsson-Fjallby has no goals and seven assists in 27 games with his SHL team. His struggles have earned him a demotion to healthy scratch. Nova Caps has more.
- Eric Florchuk earned first star honors on Friday as he led Saskatoon to an 8-3 win over Kootenay in the WHL. Florchuk scored two goals and one assist on the night.
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