Caps goalies Braden Holtby, foreground, and Justin Peters. (Caps Outsider) The Washington Capitals...
Big Brother is Watching (Hershey v. Binghamton, SOL 6-5)
Hope can be a powerful thing. Take a team, knock them down by 2 goals. Give them a breather and let them onto the board, and then knock them down by another 2 goals. Game over, right? The crowd (and scouts in the box) certainly thought so, but the Bears weren’t willing to be beaten down again. Not after last night’s debacle. It probably didn’t hurt that Capitals GM George McPhee and Goalie Coach Dave Prior were in attendance to witness tonight’s continuation of last night’s meltdown, either.
After the first period, the Bears were trailing 2-1. By midway through the second, that deficit had grown to 4-1. A significant portion of the audience was wondering whether they might see backup goaltender Matt Tendler make his professional on-ice debut.
Billy Ryan, in his second game with the Bears, kicked off the the about-face. With just over two minutes left in the second period, he scored his first career AHL goal. He cut the steadily growing B!Sens lead down to 2 goals (4-2), ending what appeared to be a never-ending tide of miscues, miscommunication, and poor luck on the part of the Bears. Ryan played a solid game in general, taking advantage of his shift to the top-6 for the night.
The goal didn’t signify the end of the night’s problems for the Bears – Bingo scored their third period-starter :18 seconds into the final frame of regulation (to go with Wacey Hamilton‘s tally :51 seconds into the first, and Derek Grant‘s echoing goal :56 seconds into the second – Binghamton needed the full set). But Ryan did succeed in waking both the crowd and his teammates from the fog of a downward spiral, and that B!Sens goal would be the last until the shootout.
Three minutes into that last period, something seemed to click for the Bears. Coach French started double-shifting the top lines, and the leadership stepped it up in response. By the end of the night, Captain Boyd Kane and Alternate Captain Ryan Potulny both had 4 points – Potulny with a hat trick (HAT TRICK!), and Kane with a singleton goal and 3 assists. The other Alternate, Chris Bourque, had two assists (in case you’re confused about the A’s, Bourque & Potulny have been wearing alternate designations since Keith Aucoin & Graham Mink both vanished from the active roster – one to call-up, the other to injury).
The end result was that the Bears tied it up with just under five minutes left in the third period, scoring three goals in around ten minutes (for those curious – Potulny, Kane, Potulny). When the final buzzer sounded, the score was tied, so it was off to overtime. And then onto the shootout, which ran 13 rounds, and likely led to goaltender Dany Sabourin wondering what he’d ever done to deserve such a fate (it was Sabourin’s 10th consecutive start; he’s 7-1-0-2 since Braden Holtby was called up to the Capitals).
Sunday Night Syndrome set in as the shootout kicked off, and after both teams scored in the fourth round (Stephane Da Costa for Bingo, Kane for Hershey) it was another 8 rounds before anyone managed to get a puck past either of the goalies. The shootout was eventually resolved on a goal from Bingo’s Eric Gryba and a miss from first-professional-game-ever defenseman Cameron Schilling.
The net result of the night was that Hershey earned a point and Binghamton earned two, with a hearty dose of embarrassment to Hershey for allowing the B!Sens to run away with such a strong lead for the first two periods. To be fair, Hershey’s playing with depleted resources – while Coach French may emphatically state that they refuse to use a lack of depth as an excuse, players on both ATO’s (former-college players) and PTO’s (non-Caps-property call-ups from the Stingrays) are seeing regular ice time that they wouldn’t have seen last year. The experience they’re garnering is fantastic, and it will aid their development immensely, but Hershey’s veterans are having to make up the difference, and there simply aren’t enough of them (especially on the blueline).
All those of us watching from the sidelines can do is hope that the kids (term used loosely) have a steep learning curve, because counting on the return of called-up personnel is a quick recipe for disaster. Everyone’s having to step up, but it’s taking a few near-misses before things get themselves sorted out. Thankfully, entry into the playoffs is no longer on the line – the Bears have 2 weeks of breathing room to get their act together. I have no doubt they’ll manage just fine.
Photos: A gallery of images from the game will be going up over the next 36 hours on the author’s flickr.