The Kenai River Brown Bears hope to solve their five-on-five problem when they face the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Bears enter the series in last place in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division at 1-14-2-0, while Springfield is tied for fourth in the division at 8-11-0-1.
Kenai River’s problem at this date in the season is clear — five-on-five hockey, particularly scoring goals when both sides are at even strength.
The Bears have been outscored 42-9 during five-on-five play, exactly what’s expected of a one-win team.
But oddly, the team is significantly better on special teams. Kenai River has scored 16 times and given up three short-handed goals in 98 power plays, while yielding 25 goals in 104 penalty kills.
While that’s not great, it’s certainly not the mark of a one-win team.
“We’ve got to get the puck in the net five-on-five or it’s going to be a long year,” Kenai River head coach Jeff Worlton said. “It’s kind of weird. Usually, if you’re not good five-on-five, you’re not going to be good on the power play.”
Brown Bears forward Jonathan Marzec said he actually thinks his squad is fine five-on-five.
What he said the young and inexperienced Bears struggle with is the transitions from power play to even strength.
The Bears have given up several goals due to the opposition getting behind the defense when getting out of the penalty box. Also, killing off penalties takes energy.
“We’ll take a lot of penalties in a short amount of time and kill them off, but then we’ll be gassed,” Marzec said.
An example came Saturday, when the Bears had to kill off three two-minute penalties and one four-minute penalty against Janesville, which has the second-ranked power play in the league.
The Jets didn’t score until a power-play goal with five seconds left in the first, but all that hard skating would take a toll in the 6-2 loss.
“I’m starting to see us make plays and get more scoring chances five-on-five, hopefully the next step is to score,” Worlton said. “Sometimes, young teams have to take baby steps.
“Hopefully, the next step is to put three or four goals in.”
The Bears have scored three goals just once in the past eight games. Worlton said that at least three goals will be needed to win the majority of games.
The coach said the players noticed the healthy crowds of over 800 each night last weekend, and want to provide the first home victory of the season.
“It was awesome,” Worlton said. “We have great fan support here.
“Obviously, we are struggling in the win column but they keep coming and supporting the kids. We want to return the favor and win some games at home.”
The coach also said he is pleased with the recent improvement of defenseman Jordan Holmes, a 6-foot-0, 205-pound player out of Philadelphia. Holmes has one year of junior eligibility left after this year.
“He’s a first-year defenseman that started off slow and sluggish, and we weren’t sure if he could play at this level,” Worlton said. “His game has taken off in a positive way.”