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AHL Notebook: Hershey enduring busy stretch

Bears navigating through injuries, inconsistency to keep pace in Atlantic Division

by Patrick Williams / NHL.com Correspondent

American Hockey League coaches often break down a long schedule into more manageable weekend segments.

But sometimes even those smaller segments can be difficult to corral for AHL coaches and their young players. Weekend games are a staple of the AHL schedule, and three games in three nights are common.

The Hershey Bears are well into that grind again after their 2015-16 season extended to June with a trip to the Calder Cup Final. Hershey lost to the then Lake Erie Monsters and a short offseason followed.

The Bears awakened Nov. 14 fresh off a difficult weekend. A three-game weekend yielded one of a possible six points, and two of the losses were on home ice to Atlantic Division rivals. Moreover, the Bears faced another difficult week with three games in four nights, including visits from the revitalized Syracuse Crunch and the Atlantic Division-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Injuries to several key players had accumulated, and the parent Washington Capitals have endured their own health problems that resulted in the weekend recall of Bears forward Paul Carey, whose 13 points (four goals, nine assists) place him second in team scoring.

"[There has been] a little bit of inconsistency to start the year, said Bears coach Troy Mann, who is three wins away from 100 in the AHL. "Sometimes when you make those long playoff runs and have a number of [returning] players, sometimes they feel it's going to be a little bit easier because they had so much success in their first year."

"We've balanced a little bit of inconsistency but overall I think some of the goals that we set at the beginning of [this season] have come to fruition so far."

However, even after the Bears lost a third-period lead in a 4-3 overtime loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last Saturday, Mann and his players can sleep better this week after taking five of six points. Included in the week was a 5-1 win against Syracuse when Hershey scored three times on the power play and went 9-for-9 on the penalty kill.

The performance has the 8-4-3-1 Bears in fourth place in the division at 20 points entering another busy week. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton visits again Wednesday before the Bears start a home-and-home series with the Springfield Thunderbirds on Friday.

Mann preaches the need to not dwell long on wins or losses. With another grinding week ahead, putting aside the overtime loss against the archrival Penguins will be a key message much like the Bears have moved on from the success, and disappointment, of last season.

"You have to have short-term memory when it comes to that because, really, nobody [else] cares that you made the playoff run," Mann said. "I think that we as team care that we made the run, and the players should be very proud of the accomplishment."

"But now it's a new season…so there is no time off, and they still have to have the sense of urgency to compete every night. So far we've been doing okay when it comes to that."

 

GET WELL
Tucson Roadrunners captain Craig Cunningham remains in the hospital after collapsing on the ice last Saturday before a home game against the Manitoba Moose. The game was postponed along with two home games this week against the San Diego Gulls.

A flood of well wishes have come from around the AHL for the highly respected Cunningham.

"[Cunningham is] always happy, he's always talkative, he lightens the mood, he comes into the rink with a smile on every day, happy to be here," forward Eric Selleck told the Roadrunners website. "He's the first guy here and the last one to leave. He's going to pull through here with us, and we're going to go from there."

 

WITH HONORS
Grand Rapids Griffins forward Matt Lorito earned the CCM/AHL Player of the Week award for the period ending last Sunday. He had two goals and four assists in three games, including back-to-back three-point games. He is tied for fourth in AHL scoring with 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 14 games.

 

STAT PACK
Tucson has a league-best .818 point percentage. …Toronto Marlies forward Brendan Leipsic leads the AHL with 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) in 15 games. … Jake Guentzel of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has the league lead for rookies with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 16 games. He was recalled to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday and scored two goals in his NHL debut. … Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's Casey DeSmith leads all AHL goaltenders with a 1.40 GAA and .949 save percentage. DeSmith is part of a tandem with Tristan Jarry and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton has allowed a league-best 1.88 goals per game. … The Lehigh Valley Phantoms' eight-game win streak ended last Saturday. They outscored opponents 36-14, going 33.3 percent on the power play. The Phantoms are averaging 3.94 goals per game, most in the league. … Grand Rapids has killed 26 consecutive opposing power plays and scored on the power play in each of the past five games.

 

GAME TO WATCH
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at Bridgeport (Nov. 25) --
A pair of teams with double-digit win totals continue their season series. The Penguins have won the first two games between the teams, including a 4-3 home win last Friday.

 

ON THE MOVE
Ottawa Senators goaltender Andrew Hammond cleared waivers and was assigned to the Binghamton. … Wilkes-Barre/Scranton acquired forward Danny Kristo from the St. Louis Blues organization for defenseman Reid McNeill last Saturday. Kristo, 26, has three AHL seasons with 20 or more goals, including a 25-goal season for the Chicago Wolves in 2015-16. … Grand Rapids has added forward Tomas Jurco on a conditioning assignment from the Detroit Red Wings. … Charlotte Checkers veteran goaltender Michael Leighton is on recall to the Carolina Hurricanes. … Florida Panthers forward Jared McCann has been assigned to Springfield. He has a goal and two assists in 17 games for the Panthers. … AHL veteran forward Pascal Pelletier has signed a tryout deal with the Utica Comets.

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