|Hopefully we see a lot of this on home ice!|
The Penguins owned the season series with the Bears this year (7-3-0-2 in 12 games) but all that gets thrown out the window when the two teams start a race to three wins in round one.
Both teams will be missing some guys on recall to the NHL, but the advantage here goes to the Penguins as the Bears will be without both of their usual netminders: Braden Holtby and Dany Sabourin, as well as top line center Keith Aucoin and top defenseman Dmitry Orlov for the time being.
They will be on their way to the AHL when their parent club Washington Capitals are eliminated from contention in the NHL. Right now, the Caps have tied their series with the Bruins 2-2 with an important Game 4 win tonight in Washington, DC. Worst case scenario, the earliest the WBS Penguins would see these guys is for Game 3 if the Capitals bow out in six games. If the Capitals can stretch the series to a seventh game, then it wouldn't be until at least Game 4. Obviously if the Capitals come back and win the series, we won't see any reinforcements during the series.
The Penguins will also be without a few guys it appears as of right now. Defensemen Brian Strait and Simon Despres both played in Pittsburgh's 10-3 thrashing of Philadelphia in last night's Game 4. Eric Tangradi also got his first 2012 playoff action, but he has been with the NHL Pens for quite some time now. All three are eligible to play in the AHL playoffs.
Now let's breakdown the teams and I'll offer my prediction for the series.
An obvious advantage for the Penguins right now, with Scott Munroe/Brad Thiessen in net for WBS and Daren Machesney for Hershey. Things could even out in this depart if/when Sabourin and Holtby return from the NHL, but the Penguins have played well against Holtby. Am I the only one interested to see who starts in net for the Penguins? Hynes said today he has decided but wont reveal the decision, I'm guessing until one of them leads the Pens out of the tunnel for warmups.
The Bears will be missing Orlov for at least the first two games. The Penguins will be without Strait and Despres. The Bears only have one defensemen in the positive side of the +/- (Tomas Kundratek) but they have defensemen that can put the puck in the net. Overall though? The Penguins have more depth on the blue line that showed this season when numerous defensemen in Pittsburgh went down. Penguins are really good when two of its top four defensemen are out of the lineup.
With guys like Chris Bourque, Ryan Potulny, Keith Aucoin, Kyle Greentree, Graham Mink and Jacob Micflikier, the Bears have the firepower up front. The Penguins might have the better depth overall, having 11 forwards on the active roster scoring ten or more goals during the regular season, but the front six of Hershey definitely has more scoring punch.
Power play rank: Hershey 1st (25.5%) and WBS 10th (18.8%).
Penalty kill rank: Hershey 4th (84.4%) and WBS 22nd (81.6%).
The Bears have the edge on special teams, but both teams need to stay out of the box in the series. Penguin killer Potulny tallied 12 points (6G-6A) in nine games against WBS. Street and Lerg both went 3G-8A for 11 points in 12 games against Hershey.
The Bears will be missing some key pieces for at least the first two games and the Penguins need to take advantage of that. Remember, the first round is a best-of-five series. It should be an exciting series with almost as much action as the NHL Penguins playoff battle as these two teams definitely have a strong rivalry. It would only be fitting that the Pens need to win the series on home ice in the decisive Game Five with their more than subpar home record.
My prediction: Penguins in five.