Hershey update: 19-11-7-2, 4th in the Atlantic Division. Last week: 1-3-0-0
The Hershey Bears have hit a rough point in their season with seven losses in their last eight games. The Bears managed to halt a five-game losing streak with a win Saturday over Lehigh Valley, but then lost both of their games since.
The loss of Madison Bowey certainly hurts, but goaltending has been an issue of late. In a midseason review of the AHL published on NHL.com, Patrick Williams writes, “Goaltending and a thin group of defensemen have slowed the Bears, but management with Hershey and the Washington Capitals are traditionally aggressive in making late-season moves to solidify any areas that need help.”
After a very strong start to the season, Vitek Vanecek has struggled of late. In his two starts over the past week, he allowed six goals on 30 shots to Lehigh Valley on Friday and four goals on 21 shots to Binghamton on Sunday. For the season, his save percentage has now dropped to .902.
Players tend to hit these rookie walls midway through the season as teams and coaches begin to learn more about a player and adjust accordingly. One thing Vanecek really needs to work on is tracking the puck through screens. That’s a difficult part of the game to learn, but an important one as the bodies just get bigger in the NHL.
Despite his struggles, however, Vanecek has still outplayed fellow goalie Joe Cannata so it would be unfair to blame Hershey’s recent slump on the rookie netminder. Still, Vanecek was a strength for this team early in the season and as of now that is no longer the case.
Sunday’s game against Binghamton was Star Wars Day in Hershey. You can see the highlights here:
The first takeaway from that video is clearly Hershey did not have the rights to the Star Wars music. Jakub Vrana continues to impress this season with his great shot on the power play for the goal. It’s clear watching him that his talent is a step above the AHL level. If the Caps were a basement team this year, he’d be up in the NHL. As Cup contenders, there’s no real place for Vrana just yet, barring injury of course. In all likelihood, however, this will be his last season in the AHL.
Star Wars Night also featured a great fight by the always feisty Nathan Walker. If the injury bug hits the Caps at some point this season and the team finds itself in need of a bottom-six forward, I think he could make his NHL debut. He proved he can play with bigger players in the preseason and he gives great effort on every shift. He is a handful on the forecheck and capable of generating turnovers in dangerous areas.
Bears assistant coach Reid Cashman offered a mid-season evaluation of the team’s defensemen to the Lebanon Daily News. Here are his thoughts on Bowey:
He’s another young defenseman who is in his second pro season who has gotten better on a week-to-week basis until his injury. He has a lot of talent and is very athletic who is learning how to execute his retrievals and make his first pass. He has continued to develop and evolve but he won’t be a finished product for another couple years.
Interesting take on a player who I thought would make his NHL debut this season if not for the recent injury.
Cashman provides evaluations for the team’s other defensemen including Caps prospects Tyler Lewington, Christian Djoos, Darren Deitz and Colby Williams. It is definitely worth a read to see his thoughts on each player.
Other prospect notes:
Forward Shane Gersich has been tearing it up in the college ranks since his unbelievable spin move in November. That continued this week with a goal and an assist in North Dakota’s two games. As Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald notes, “Since that November night, Gersich has 12 goals in 13 games, ranking second nationally during that timespan—only behind Northeastern's Zach Aston-Reese (16 goals).”
Forward Brian Pinho remains the leading scorer for Providence College this season with 20 points in 22 games. In a midseason report of the Hockey East conference, Joshua Kummins of SB Nation writes that Pinho “has developed into a true top center this year.”
An interesting situation played out this week in the WHL for defenseman Connor Hobbs who scored a goal and an assist for Regina on Friday. You can see the highlights here:
The goal comes on a nice wrist shot, but the assist was very impressive as he showed off his stickhandling abilities and vision with a great backdoor pass to set up the goal. Even with the effort, however, Hobbs was made a healthy scratch for Saturday’s game. Why? Because what the video does not show is that Hobbs also took three minor penalties in what was ultimately a 6-5 loss.
How did Hobbs respond? With two goals and an assist in a 5-1 blowout win on Sunday which earned him first-star honors for the game. Hobbs was actually moved from defenseman to wing for the game and seemed to enjoy the experience.
“I found it so weird and forechecking was so much different than getting forechecked,” Hobbs said. “It was nice being on the other side of the pancake for that one.”
Forward Garrett Pilon also earned first-star honors in the WHL over the week with his performance Tuesday as he led Kamloops to a 4-1 win over Moose Jaw. He recorded a goal and an assist in the game. Check out his great work on the forecheck to generate the goal here:
First-round draft pick Lucas Johansen did not earn any specific honors, but he did have an impressive week for Kelowna with one goal and four assists in three games.
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