HERSHEY, PA – The horn sounds and regulation ends with the score tied. It’s a moment of dread and anxiety for Hershey Bears fans. They’ve seen this story before and it hasn’t had a good ending. In ten trips past regulation, the Bears have just one win. They’ve left nine points on the ice for division rivals to grab. In a tight Atlantic Division race, that’s a tough pill to swallow.
So what’s gone wrong for the Bears in the extra session?
Puck Possession – Caught without the Puck
The three-on-three format requires a man-on-man defense. This can quickly become tiring for defending players that have to keep up with attacking players. Winning control of the puck is thus critical in giving the team the best chance to win. In six of its overtime games, Hershey lost the opening faceoff. On Saturday, Utica won the opening draw and 20 seconds later the puck was in Hershey’s net. While losing the opening draw doesn’t guarantee a loss, it does mean that the Bears are having to chase the puck from the get-go.
Chandler Stephenson has had a particularly difficult time winning overtime faceoffs including two offensive zone draws that lead to the game losing possession on October 26th and November 19th.
Poor Puck Control
A lack of puck protection has been another critical issue for the Bears in overtime. Five games were decided as a result of a turnover. Hershey’s first overtime loss back on October 23rd was the result of a penalty shot that Madison Bowey had to give after turning the puck over.
Later in Syracuse (above), a poorly timed pass from Christian Djoos nearly caused two of his teammates to collide. The puck slipped away and the Crunch took it up the ice and scored.
With fewer players on the ice, there isn’t much room for mistakes and more often than not Hershey has paid for them.
“We’re trying to beat guys one-on-one in the offensive zone play and you get tired out. Next thing you know it’s a turnover and you lose puck possession,” said Hershey coach Troy Mann.
Hershey has to do a better job of getting pucks to the opposing net. For example, on December 3rd in a matchup with Lehigh, Hershey held the puck for about two minutes. In that time, the Bears managed to circle around the Phantoms goal twice and passed the puck around but attempted just one shot before losing possession. As we see below, instead of driving toward the net, Travis Boyd skates behind it and tries to force a pass into the middle that’s easily swiped away. The Phantoms went on to win the game.
Let’s jump back to the January 8th game against the Penguins for comparison. Wilkes-Barre gained control of the puck with 3:50 remaining in overtime. They promptly carried the puck into the offensive zone and threw as many chances toward the net as they could. Within fourty-five seconds the Penguins managed six shot attempts including the game winner.
In ten overtime periods, Hershey has been outshot 24-10. If they’re going to have any shot at solving their OT woes, Hershey needs to replicate the urgency of other teams in getting the puck toward the net.
They need to remember their identity of forcing turnovers instead of making them. Fight harder for faceoffs and force the puck on net early and often. The Bears have too much talent to be 1-7 in anything.
Will back to back overtime losses be enough of a wake-up call before they leave more points on the table?