Bears: Scouting the Enemy

The Milwaukee Admirals lost last night to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. While that game had its tough moments what is perhaps most significant was the way the Admirals battled back and played in the third period. They trailed the Penguins 4-2 after allowing a shorthanded goal in the final minute of the second period. They knuckled down, played better defensively, and kept a simple approach in attack. Their persistence and urgent play pushed them forward and forced overtime.

Yes, the Admirals lost in overtime -but- they earned a point on the road against one of the top teams in the entire league. That’s a positive. It wasn’t the ideal result. But the ideal result can be achieved tonight if that exact same approach from last night’s third period can be manifested by the Admirals for a complete sixty-minute effort against the Hershey Bears.

The Bears currently have a record of 9-10-0-3 (21 points, 0.477 points percentage). That seats them sixth out of eight teams in the Atlantic Division and a far cry from the Penguins (0.750). The Bears have allowed 75 goals through their opening 22 games this season while only producing 59 goals. That defensive effort was again lacking last night when they worked on the road against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and taking a rough 7-2 defeat on the evening while being outshot 41-23.

These two teams clearly want to get on a better track than the one that they’re currently on. While the Admirals will be looking to carry momentum into tonight’s game it is the Bears who should be playing with lots of desperation after getting shoved around last night on the road. It’s important for the Admirals, especially in the first period, to not get flustered or make mistakes that help get the Bears power-play chances. The more simplistic the Admirals can work the more their overall quality can help decide this game.

In fact, repeating the approach to the first meeting between these two teams would be just fine for the Admirals. The Admirals won their 2017-18 home opener by a final score of 4-1 against the Bears. As grand as that looks as a score it is all triggered by the Admirals playing an effective, structured, and team style defense to clamp down on the Bears offensive push. The Bears only generated 16 shots on goal the first time they faced the Admirals – not to mention the Admirals outshot the Bears 12-2 in the third and decisive period. Defense-To-Offense. It is something the Admirals need to get back to. When they can work in that capacity? They’re as tough as any team in the AHL.

Considering the Bears offense has been suspect you’d be surprised to see that the AHL’s leading scorer is on their roster. Chris Bourque continues to do so well with Hershey and he does lead the AHL with 27 points (9 goals, 18 assists). We’ve often seen the Admirals really work on trapping a singular player, such as Teemu Pulkkinen for example, and Bourque is that guy tonight. And it makes plenty of sense to do so as 45.8% of all offense coming out of the Bears has Bourque’s name attached to it. He’s the lightning rod.

I had the highest of hopes that the goaltender of choice tonight would be former-Chicago Wolves netminder Pheonix Copley. After his start last night on the road in Lehigh Valley I am not so sure about that. Copley allowed 6 goals on 40 shots. This season he now has a record of 5-3-0-2 with a 2.65 goals against average and 0.905 save percentage.

Should the Bears go two-in-two with Copley between the pipes it is worth noting his head-to-head with the Admirals: 5-5-1-1 record with a 2.46 goals against average and 0.919 save percentage.

The alternative in net for the Bears would be Vitek Vanecek. The 21-year old Czech is already in his third full season of professional hockey in North America and it has all been within the Washington Capitals organization. Unfortunately for him he has often been splitting time between the AHL and ECHL. So far this season that has been his story as he has only played 4 games in total with a pair coming between the Bears and the South Carolina Stingrays.

What are you expecting from tonight’s second meeting of the season between the Milwaukee Admirals and Hershey Bears? Can the Admirals carry some momentum out of last night’s finish into tonight’s game? What do the Admirals need to do defensively in order to take pressure off of Juuse Saros?

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