HERSHEY, PA – A stumble or two by division rivals and a couple of matchups against lowly Hartford opened a window of opportunity for Hershey. A clean sweep of the three in three could mean a chance to solidify the playoff standing for the Bears. On the heels of back to back home wins over the Wolfpack and the conquering of the house of horrors that Bridgeport has become, the Bears got it done and came away with all six potential points.
Way to Go, Paul
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) March 20, 2017
What’s gotten into Paul Carey? Since February 25th against Toronto, Carey has been lighting it up. Sprinkled around NHL call-ups, the 28-year-old is in the midst of an eight-game point streak. Over the weekend his offensive game exploded with eight points including a four-goal game against Hartford on Saturday. He’d open the scoring on Sunday in Bridgeport with his fifth goal in less than 24 hours and add an assist on Travis Boyd‘s game winner.
He’s now tied Christian Thomas for the team lead in goals with 24 and his 55 points are good for fifth overall in AHL scoring. Not only has he been good offensively but he’s responsible in the defensive zone as well. Making shot blocks, helping, the defenders out, Carey does it all. Expect Washington to come calling his name soon.
Carey is not alone in his scoring efforts, two of his teammates Chris Bourque and Travis Boyd are also in the top five in points in the AHL. Stanislav Galiev has been one of the hottest players of late and was on an 11 point in seven games clip that was snapped on Sunday. As a team, Hershey leads the league in offense with 227 goals scored.
Can’t Miss Christian
What a weekend it was for Christian Djoos. Starts it off with a four-point night including the game-winner in overtime on Friday. He followed that up by assisting on the opening goal on Saturday with this nice connection with Paul Carey:
Give and go from Christian Djoos to Paul Carey on the Hershey goal. 1-1 pic.twitter.com/dYcnTnpTwH
— Sin Bin Bears (@SinBinBears) March 18, 2017
Add two more assists on the opening and game-winning goals on Sunday for a seven-point weekend. It propels Djoos to 2nd overall in points by the defenseman in the AHL and 13th overall with 51 points. Tom Gilbert has been a perfect partner to allow him to grow his confidence. Coach Troy Mann was very impressed with Djoos and offered him some high praise on Friday night.
Hershey has come a long way since the doldrums of January. The team struggled mightily with the Madison Bowey on the shelf. It was a fragile patchwork of the roster held together by ECHL ATOs. The coaching staff managed to keep the team afloat to make it to the NHL trade deadline. When the Washington Capitals made moves to acquire Tom Gilbert from Los Angeles, Mattias Backman from Texas and later Pheonix Copley from St. Louis there was no life in Chocolatetown.
Suddenly Christian Djoos has a calming veteran presence playing along side him, something he enjoyed last season with Erik Burgdoerfer last season. Backman provides them with another quality defender and the ability to keep the Left-Right pairings together.
In Copley, they finally found a goalie they could rely on to make saves at key moments of games. No slight to Vitek Vanecek, he was handling a lot more of the pressure as a rookie than anybody in the organization was comfortable with. Copley has come in and gone 5-1 since rejoining the Bears/Capitals organization. He was spectacular over the weekend stopping 55 of 59 shots (0.932 SV %) in the two games he played. He’s done everything asked of him and more.
Trade acquisitions have played a key role but health and other roster signings have and will continue to make a significant impact on the Bears playoff push. The return of Madison Bowey from his extended injury further stabilizes the Bears blue line. Bowey is a reliable puck mover and was sorely missed. With his return, the defense now has eight legitimate options to fill six spots. Jonas Siegenthaler‘s season in Switzerland and he is expected to join the Bears on Monday further strengthening the blue line depth.
For the forward group, Riley Barber‘s return coupled with Dustin Gazley‘s return to full health gives the bears 15 regulars to fill just 12 spots. Losing center depth of Brad Malone and Zach Sanford hurts but the ATO addition of big 6-5 Hampus Gustafsson should help. He looked like he fit right in as he got his first game action on Saturday and Sunday. Playing between Jakub Vrana and Riley Barber the kid kept up. On Sunday his life created several chances and he had a couple shots on goal.
Hershey now has a little bit of ground to stand on in the playoff race with the six-point weekend and losses by Bridgeport and Providence. Though both the Bruins and Sound Tigers each own a game in hand, they both now trail Hershey.
The Bears have one more meeting with Bridgeport, Providence, and Wilkes-Barre before the season comes to a close in April. They’ll face Lehigh Valley other two more times in early April which could afford them the chance to overtake the Phantoms.
In the meantime, the Bears are next in action on Wednesday night, as they host Binghamton at Giant Center at 7 PM.