Hershey Bears goaltender Braden Holtby tallied his sixth career shutout against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Wednesday night, stopping all 33 Penguins shots on goal. Bears’ forward Garrett Mitchell recorded a first period goal and Jeff Taffe added an empty net marker in the final minute of Hershey’s 2-0 victory over their division rival. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton goalie Jeff Zatkoff also played well in net for the Penguins, recording 18 saves on 19 shots.
“Tonight was not our best effort,” Bears coach Mark French said of Hershey’s effort. “We had a very good goaltending effort. We did some things to block shots and to sacrifice ourselves, I just don’t know if we needed to put ourselves in those situations the amount of times we did tonight.”
“Guys seem to be in the right position,” Hershey Bears goalie Braden Holtby said of the defensive play in front of him. “It’s one of those things in hockey just be in the right position for those rebounds, so we’re doing a great job of it.”
Hershey jumped out to an early 1-0 lead 3:56 into the first period, converting on a Penguins defensive zone turnover. Bears’ forward Garrett Mitchell found twine past Zatkoff, recording his sixth goal of the season. Ryan Potulny initiated the scoring opportunity with a shot on goal, earning his tenth assist through 21 games as he continues to find his offensive game following his return from injury.
“We wanted to get off to a good start,” French said of Mitchell’s first period goal. “We did a good job on our fore-check control and that’s when they stop behind the net. We’ve got some set pieces and they’ve been very good on their breakout control and we got some chances against us, but we did a good job in executing that. We created the opportunity and it’s nice to see Mitch, he had been stuck on five for a while. He’s a guy who’s always a hard worker, so it’s nice to see that’s he rewarded.”
The Bears’ penalty kill continued their hot play, killing of two Penguins power plays in the first period. Braden Holtby was strong in net for Hershey, stopping 13 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton shots on goal in the first period.
Hershey would stop six Penguins power plays tonight, increasing their streak to 20 straight successful penalty kills dating back to their lost to Worcester.
“No adjustments,” French said of the hot streak while shorthanded. “I thought tonight we actually more time in zone than we needed to. We failed to clear the puck and again we did a lot of good things in terms of sacrificing our body, but probably spent too much time in our own end from our lack of clears. But our penalty kill’s been really good, our best penalty killer is our goalie and he certainly was tonight.”
The Penguins dominated the second period, but couldn’t beat Holtby, outshooting the Bears 8-3. Hershey couldn’t muster a shot until the 16:50 mark of the second stanza, even though they had a few power plays throughout the period. The Bears’ defense did an admirable job when hemmed into their own zone, including a defensive zone exit by Steve Oleksy after a few big saves from Holtby.
“I didn’t think we played very well,” French said of getting outshot 33-20. “I think chances for and against are a more telling stat, but tonight I think it was. I think they carried the play for the most part and they shot chart would indicate that.”
Braden Holtby continued his strong play in the third period, earning twelve saves in the final frame. The Bears struggled to generate a stable fore-check throughout the period, but one goal was all that was needed.
Ryan Potulny made a great leg save in the final minutes of Hershey’s win in front of Holtby, robbing Penguins’ forward Trevor Smith of a sure fire goal.
“It was a good play by him,” Bears forward Ryan Potulny said of Smith’s attempt to score. “Just try to get over there and help Holtsy out there as best I could. I think he had his leg there anyway.”
He’s in a zone,” Potulny said of Holtby’s exceptional play in net of late. “I don’t know if I’ve seen it to be honest in my pro career. When a goalie is in a zone like that, I think it’s best if you just leave him be. Whatever he’s doing let him keep doing it. He’s on his game; you can tell in pregame skate and practice, things are clicking well.”
“It’s hard work for him, he’s not just letting him come to him. He’s working hard, trying to get better every day. We can see that as players, it’s hard work that he’s put in and he’s getting the results and he’s kept that up instead of just being happy with the success.”
Hershey travels to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Thursday for a rematch against the Penguins.
1. Bears Injuries: T.J. Syner, Ryan Stoa, Dmitry Orlov and Jonathon Kalinski
2. Hershey Healthy Scratches: Garrett Stafford, Matt Clackson, Brett Flemming and Mike Carman (ill)
3. Brett Flemming was assigned to the Hershey Bears from the Reading Royals this morning
1. Braden Holtby (33 saves on 33 shots)
2. Garrett Mitchell (one goal, plus one, two shots on goal)
3. Ryan Potulny (one assist, plus two, six shots on goal)