For years, the American Hockey League has been known for its tough 80-game schedule that was recently cut down to 76 during the off-season. Teams grow accustomed to playing three games in as many nights and travel by bus and only bus. In the AHL, just one week can make a huge impact in both a positive and negative way for any team in the standings.
Prior to Saturday night’s Hershey Bears’ game against the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, the Bears entered on a four-game winning streak. Before the streak they found themselves at ninth in the conference. Going into Saturday they were third in the conference and held soul possession of the East Division with the Penguins right on their tails. The four game win-streak occurred within an eight-day stretch where Hershey outscored the opposition by a total of 19-7. Saturday, the streak came a crashing end with a 4-2 loss against the Pens.
Through an eventless opening 20 minutes, both teams looked for the long outlet pass from the defensive end to the offensive blue line. Both teams defensive were aggressive in breaking up the far majority of breakout passes. The Bears after one period lead in shots 15-10 possessing two power-play opportunities. Keith Aucoin took a slashing infraction at the 11:06 mark giving the Pens their loan man-advantage of the stanza.
Into the middle frame, both teams entered and exited the ice with a goal in hand. Ryan Potulny broke the ice with the game’s first tally at the 7:38 mark for Hershey. After a great defensive effort by Wilkes-Barre to save a loose puck on the blue pain behind Scott Munroe, Potulny fielded a clearing and fired a quick slapper through a screened netminder.
The lead was short-live, as 4:10 later Ben Street received an early Christmas present courtesy of Braden Holtby. From a sharp angle Street floated a shot on net that through Holtby off balance and trickled into the back of the net. Street’s eighth goal of the season knotted the game at 1-1 going into intermission. Entering Saturday, when tied after two periods Hershey’s record stood at 2-2-1-2.
The record soon dropped to 2-3-1-2 when tied after two periods as the Bears turned the puck over a countless number of times in the defensive end leading to Wilkes-Barre tallies.
Eric Tangradi mustard his tenth of the season only 46 seconds into the period after a defensive break down in front of Holtby. The defensive woes continued with another strike against Hershey 3:04 later. Bryan Lerg blasted a one-timer into a wide open net beating Braden Holtby point-blank. His tally proved to be the game winner, as Colin McDonald later added an empty-net goal in the fading minutes of regulation.
Tomas Kundratek added a goal for Hershey with only 40 seconds left to make things a bit closer, but the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins held on to escape with a 4-2 win.
The Bears return to the ice on Sunday, December 11 for a duel with the Norfolk Admirals who also rank high in the East Division. Game time is at 5 p.m.