Games 3 and 4 of this first round match-up were played in Hershey PA on April 19th and 20th. The following is a report on the games, focusing on the Thrashers prospects involved.
The tone of Game 3 was set at warm-ups, with an incident that started between two opposing players at center ice, but which drew everyone on the ice over to it. No punches were thrown, but you knew they would be later. And they indeed were, with multiple fights in the game. Chicago lost that game 3-1, but came back the next night and beat Hershey 6-0. Phil Sauve, the Bears goaltender was pulled after the 4th goal in favor of Peter Budaj.
The story of the games seemed to be how undisciplined Chicago was in Game 3, but in reality, that was not the entire story. Chicago did not play all that differently, it’s just that they got called for everything they did (and more) in Game 3, and did not in Game 4. In fact, there was a lot that Chicago could have been called for in Game 4, but wasn’t. The real difference between the two games seemed to be the play of Hershey, who played remarkably well defensively in Game 3 and then very poorly defensively in Game 4. The goaltending also made a big difference in the two games. Sauve was almost unbeatable in Game 3, and was entirely human in Game 4. None of the goals he gave up were really soft goals, but they were ones he probably would have gotten in Game 3. Also, Game 4 was more lopsided because once it got to be 3 or 4 to nothing, the Hershey Bears simply gave up and stopped trying.
Norm Maracle played about the same in net in both games for the Wolves, just got a little luckier in Game 4. There were a couple near goals, one when the puck got behind Norm and sat on the goal line but did not cross the plane.
The top line of Brown-Karlsson-Vigier saw a ton of icetime. Anderson changed up the lines in the third period of Game 3, and kept them that way in Game 4 as well.
Eakins and Weaver
Safronov and DiPenta
Exelby and Foster
1. An odd man rush off a missed Hershey pass in the neutral zone. Maltais crashed the net and got a tip on the doorstep off a great pass from Karlsson.
1. Shot from the point off the faceoff, beat Maracle low corner. There was no traffic in front, he could see the shot the whole way, it went just beyond his leg.
2.Safronov pinched, and Hershey sent a long bomb pass out of the zone. Exelby raced back and dove to block the shot, but the wrister beat Norm high. This was a nice shot, but again he saw it all the way.
3.Empty net goal. No D were out in the final seconds, instead the two top lines were out.
Eakins and Foster
Safronov and DiPenta
Exelby and Weaver
1.Gamache took the puck up the LW side with Vigier on a 2 on 1 into the zone. He stepped slightly to the middle, waited until the D went down to block the shot, and then snapped the puck over the defenseman and past the goalie, high stick side.
2.Piros did a lot of the work on this scoring chance, keep the puck in the zone. Tapper took the initial shot, and Vigier put the rebound in from a tight angle.
3.Karlsson sent a great long bomb pass to Maltais who deked the goalie for the goal.
4.Gamache made the same exact move as the first goal, only this time the defenseman didn’t go down, he stayed up and Gamache shot between his legs.
5.Foster snuck down from the point to the slot on the PP and scored.
6.Gamache was at the top of the blue line on the PP, got a pass, waited, and fired through traffic.
Individual player reports
(in order by position, then jersey number)
Garnet Exelby was one of the most undisciplined players in Game 3. He didn’t play terribly, but definitely not as well as he can. He was much calmer in the third period, just tried to play his normal game, until the end when the took an unsportsmanlike penalty and got in a fight. He fought Voltera and lost. I believe that’s the first fight I’ve seen him lose. Not known for his offense, in Game 4 Exelby took advantage of the room Hershey was giving and joined the rush a couple of times.
Kurtis Foster played decently both games. He kept the puck in the zone at the points and was able to get shots off. One time an opposition player slipped behind him, but nothing came of it. In Game 3 he got in a wrestling match, not much came of that either. He took an undisciplined penalty at the end of period 1 of Game 4.
Joe DiPenta was the guy that the insanity of Game 3 seemed to effect the most. Not only was he undisciplined, but his defensive game and decision-making went to pot as well. He unnecessarily iced the puck three times, ran into Vigier (the check of the game), whiffed on the puck twice, and gave up at least two breaks the other way along with his partner Safronov. He was better on the PK though, cleared the puck out well. He even made a save when Maracle was out of the net. In Game 4, DiPenta played much closer to his normal game. His defense, particularly on the rush, was excellent. He did fail to clear the puck twice (needs to lift the puck to get it out of the zone). Fought Larson at the end of Game 3, and Thompson at the end of Game 4.
Mike Weaver played his normal game, physical and very effective defensively, especially on the PK. He was tackled by Stevens in Game 3, a huge size differential.
Libor Ustrnul, despite being dressed for both games, barely played. He had three shifts during the first half of Game 3, and two shifts in Game 4, both at the end of the 3rd period, his first shift coming on the PP. He did OK when he was out, a bit overaggressive perhaps in Game 3.
Kirill Safronov looked bad both games. His defense was poor, and he resorted to continually holding guys, which he should have been called for but wasn’t. He failed to keep the zone three times in each game. He did much better offensively than defensively, leading the rush and looking somewhat creative. Too many times though, he and DiPenta gave up breakaways against.
Mark Hartigan did not play well at all in Game 3. He had no hustle, led the team in giveaways and made many poor decisions with the puck. In Game 4 he had a couple offensive chances, but couldn’t cash in. Just the opposite of the team, Hartigan was more undisciplined in Game 4 than Game 3, taking two penalties, one for holding and one for slashing.
Ben Simon played well both games, maybe even better in Game 3 with good hustle on the forecheck and in getting to loose pucks, and showed good puck control. He went hard to the net many times and had some chances. He played hard even at the end of Game 3 when the outcome was already decided. Did not get as involved physically as he seems to at the NHL level, but with the higher overall team physicality, does not need to. Simon did take an undisciplined high sticking penalty in Game 3, which could easily have been a double minor since he drew blood on the opposition’s face.
Simon Gamache played pretty well in both games, positionally much better than I’ve seen from him in the past, but only saw results in one because of the different amounts of space that Hershey was allowing. In Game 3, Hershey played a very tight defense, and their goaltending was solid. In Game 4, there was a lot of room, especially late in the game, and the goaltending was more permeable. In Game 3, because of the tight defense, it was hard to walk the puck into the zone, so instead Gamache went to the front of the net and looked for tip-ins and rebounds. He got a stick on shots several times, but they were stopped by Sauve, with no rebounds. In Game 4 he had the room he wanted, and had a hat trick (see above for descriptions of goals). Gamache was as undisciplined as the rest of the team in Game 3, getting called for delay of game because of antics in the faceoff circle after MacKenzie had already been tossed. Called for tripping in Game 4. Could have been called for diving in Game 3 as well. Gamache came back to help on D, but then was too far ahead on the breakout to be a good option for a pass.
Brad Tapper played well in Game 3, had some good chances and tips. Cherry-picked on the PP and had a couple of hits. Did not play with the same intensity in Game 4, but didn’t need to either as the Wolves were winning.
Zdenek Blatny also played well in Game 3, he worked hard, blocked shots and cleared the puck out effectively. Received a 10 minute misconduct at the end of the game, not sure why. In Game 4 it was much of the same, with some good hits as well. He and MacKenzie form a good top pairing on the PK.
JP Vigier was OK in both games. He showed some good moves to get around people and in position for some great chances. He takes the puck away from the opposition as well as anyone on the team.
Kamil Piros had some good moves, all in the neutral zone or away from the net. Piros was effective defensively, but had a few giveaways. I wonder how much better he’d do if he were on the top line instead of the 3rd line since his game is so much suited for complementing skill players.
Derek MacKenzie played fairly well, he hustled and was a penalty-killing maniac in Game 3 with all the time the Wolves spent in the box. Was very good positionally. Had a breakaway chance on the PK that he could not cash in on. Again his faceoffs concerned me. He went only 3 for 8 by my count, but the killer was that he seemed to lose the faceoffs at the most critical times, like in the defensive zone while killing a penalty. Those are draws he simply must win if he plans to make it as a defensive centerman. One faceoff loss in the defensive zone led directly to a goal, as the puck went back to the point off the draw for the shot.
Comments and questions are welcomed on the