Lost Weekend

HERSHEY, Pa. — Frustration and lost opportunity were the watchwords of the weekend for the Hershey Bears. A 5-2 home ice loss at the hands of the Hamilton Bulldogs on Sunday left Hershey with its first back-to-back regulation defeats at home during the Bruce Boudreau administration. The Bears are still in good shape standings wise, but they missed a good opportunity to gain ground on the front-running Norfolk Admirals and to distance themselves from the third-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this weekend.

“For whatever reason, we don’t have the same jump we had two and half, three weeks ago,” said Boudreau after Sunday’s loss. “I don’t know if it’s the dog days, but everybody’s got to go through it. These are two wins we absolutely should have had this weekend, and we didn’t play like it. We didn’t play with the sense of urgency we needed. It’s almost like we have to go back to the drawing board.”

After playing a strong (and scoreless) first period against the Bulldogs, the Bears dug a hole for themselves in the second. Hershey goaltender Maxime Daigneault was nicked for four goals on just nine shots in a span of 11:04 of the middle frame. One of the goals was shorthanded, and two of the others came just seconds after the conclusion of Hamilton power plays.

Daigneault saw his first action in nearly a month, returning after being sidelined with a high ankle sprain since Jan. 20. He was not sharp, surrendering all five goals on 11 shots in a span of 18:14.

“When the team is not going good,” began Boudreau, “and I told [goaltender] Nolan [Schaefer] this yesterday, Sometimes you have to make the save until the team gets going. It’s like in baseball. If the team is not hitting, sometimes the pitchers have to hold the team together until things come in. That’s what goaltending is all about. The great goaltenders give your team a chance to win.

“I didn’t think we got great goaltending tonight. I’m not going to make excuses for him. He has practiced five days real hard. I asked him specifically, ‘Are you ready to play?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I’m ready to play.’ [He allowed] three soft goals and it’s got to get better. Our only goal is to win the Calder Cup again, and we have to have the good goaltending.”

Daigneault said afterwards that he felt fine, but admitted he wasn’t at his best after the first period.

“I’ll be better for the next game, for sure,” he said.”I’ll have a few more practices and get back into game shape and be fine.”

The Bears weaved in a pair of goals of their own among Hamilton’s four in the second period. Tomas Fleischmann made a brilliant play to set up the first one. He skated the puck in slowly from center point, making a little pump fake along the way. He then spotted and fed Joey Tenute in the right circle. Tenute was locked and loaded, and his one-timer got nothing but net behind Bulldogs goaltender Yann Danis.

That goal came at 4:19 of the period, and just 46 seconds after Hamilton scored on consecutive shots in a span of 62 seconds to open up a 2-0 lead.

Six minutes after his first goal. Tenute tallied again. He scored from behind the cage, lighting the lamp when his intended centering feed for Alexandre Giroux glanced in off a Hamilton defender.

“I knew Giroux was in front there and I just tried to kind of wrap it without the goalie looking,” explained Tenute of his second tally. “I tried to get it over to Giroux and I think it hit one of their players and happened to go in. It was a lucky goal. You’re going to take those.”

Tenute’s tallies came against his hometown team; he hails from Hamilton.

“You don’t really think about who you’re playing against or where you’re from or anything like that,” he said. “It was nice to get a couple goals. But that doesn’t matter whatsoever. Right now, we’ve got to get back on track and we’ve got to start doing the little things again. Once we do that, the team success is going to start coming again.”

The Bulldogs put it away when Dan Jancevski scored a power play tally just 45 seconds into the third period. It gave Hamilton its first three-goal lead of the night and ended the scoring for the contest. Hershey had a couple third period power play chances, but was unable to use those opportunities to cut into the Hamilton lead.

“Our special teams have been pretty bad since Christmas time,” said Boudreau, “when we were second in the league in power play and second in the league penalty killing. I think it coincides with [Lawrence Nycholat] going up [to Washington] and Freddie [Cassivi] getting hurt. We’ve tried a hundred different combinations and nothing seems to be going right. We’ll have to get back to the drawing board and try a different combination for the next game.”

Boudreau is right about the numbers. Hershey came into Sunday’s game with the AHL’s 11th ranked power play and ninth-ranked penalty killing corps. Since power play quarterback Nycholat was recalled to Washington on Dec. 23, Hershey is just 17-for-137 (12.4%) with the extra man. The Bears were 41-for-196 (20.9%) on the power play prior to Nycholat’s departure.

The difference in the penalty killing after Cassivi’s broken collarbone injury on Dec. 20 is also telling. The Bears’ penalty killing operated at an 86.2% efficiency rate before the veteran goaltender was sidelined; the rate has dipped to 83% since.

Down three goals in the third period, several of the Bears began to display visible signs of frustration, which is not a bad thing.

“It shows they care,” said Boudreau. “Fleischmann hasn’t scored in seven games. Giroux hasn’t scored in six or seven games. These guys are our go-to guys, and they have to score. You’ve seen frustration penalties from Giroux because he is not used to this. Once he scores a goal and Tom scores a goal, I think they’ll be fine. It’s [a matter of] getting that goal. And it doesn’t get any easier. You play a very good defensive team in Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday. We’ve got to battle through this stuff.”

The frustration exists because the Bears actually lost ground on the first-place Admirals this weekend. Norfolk began a brutal stretch in which they must play 10 road games in 18 days, dropping two of three weekend games. But all the Bears gained was another game in hand. Hershey now trails the Admirals by seven points with three games in hand.

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