Braden Holtby has been one half of an impressive goaltending duo along with Michal Neuvirth in Hershey this season. (Photo by Just Sports Photography)
Can any team in the American League stop the Hershey Bears?
Nothing is slowing the Bears these days and, barring a crush of injuries or player recalls to the Washington Capitals, perhaps nothing will prevent the Bears from defending their Calder Cup title.
Hershey is on pace with the 1992-93 Binghamton Rangers, a club that posted 57 wins and 124 points to set an all-time AHL record for wins and points in a season. The Bears' 34 wins and 70 points through 45 games sets them up to take a run at the all-time AHL mark come April.
The Bears continued their tear across the AHL last weekend, taking a two-game set from the visiting Manitoba Moose. The Bears outscored last season's Calder Cup finalist by a count of 16-5, dropping back-to-back eight-goal nights on Moose goalies Cory Schneider and former Hershey backup Daren Machesney.
Only six AHL games this season have seen a club run up eight or more goals and Hershey has accounted for five of them.
Keith Aucoin and Alex Giroux continue to dominate opposing AHL defenses. The linemates closed out last week by extending their respective scoring streaks to 13 games, a stretch in which they have piled up a combined 51 points.
True four-line teams are rare in the AHL, but coach Mark French can roll four lines all evening long. French's Bears are averaging more than four goals per game and all their lines can grind out goals, play run-and-gun, use the transition game or just outwork opponents in front of the net.
Hershey can keep the puck out of its net and enter the weekend owning an AHL-best 2.27 goals-against average. Much of that can be chalked up to puck possession, but the Bears also have rookie Braden Holtby who has gone 15-2-1 to begin his AHL career.
Can overconfidence derail the Bears? The seemingly easy efforts paired with complacency have brought down more than one dominant AHL team over the years.
French is not getting overconfident and admitted after last Saturday's game the puck-hungry Bears defensive coverage needs work.
"We stare at the puck a lot defensively and leave guys open," French said, adding it would be a point of emphasis in practice.
But with veterans like Aucoin, Giroux, Bryan Helmer and the rest of a core that has a Calder Cup or two on their resumes, the Bears could avoid that pitfall.
"I don't think so," Aucoin replied when asked about overconfidence potentially creeping into the Hershey dressing room. "Not with this team. We have a veteran group that is going to make sure that doesn't happen."
THIS AND THAT
Houston defenseman Maxim Noreau earned player of the week honors for a three-goal, seven-point effort in just two games with the Houston Aeros last week...
The Aeros went 8-for-13 on the power play and took a two-game series at Abbotsford...
Hershey stuffed 10,844 fans, a new franchise record, into the Giant Center last Saturday against Manitoba. A night earlier, Lake Erie hosted Texas before 18,626 fans, the sixth-largest crowd in AHL history.
Norfolk found quick success with new coach Jim Johnson. The Admirals opened a seven-game road trip by sweeping a three-game slate last week – the first time Norfolk has done so since December of 2006...
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defender Nate Guenin's goal last Friday at Syracuse broke a run of 105 games without a tally…
After opening his season with 31 goalless games, Lake Erie rookie Justin Mercier has rolled up three two-goal nights over his past eight games...
Albany defenseman Casey Borer returned to the River Rats lineup last weekend in his first game since the team's bus crash more than 11 months ago. Borer suffered a broken neck in the accident.
From THN.com American League correspondent Patrick Williams, Around The AHL keeps tabs on the world's second best circuit, details all the news and notes and profiling prospects destined for the next level. It appears every weekend only on TheHockeyNews.com.