Ten Games Remaining
Counting wins and losses alone, Medvescak is 22-22. They are also team number 7 of 14. All this points to the Bears being an average team in the Western Conference. However, statistically, we know the Bears can be much better than there record. Based on the teams they have defeated and how they dominated those teams, they currently rank 5th in the league in the EuroHockey.com Statistical Power Rankings
. We have also seen that they can play with Dynamo Moscow–the best team in the league. Not to mention they have beaten SKA, Donbass, CSKA, Barys Astana, Ak Bars Kazan, Metallurg Magnitogorsk and Salavat. These are the best teams in the league and Medvescak has defeated them.
Will French tab one of these guys to take the team through the playoffs or will we still see goaltending by committee?
Defense, and at times goaltending by both keepers, continues to be a problem. Out of all of the playoff teams in the Western Conference, Medvescak has allowed the most goals. They are third worst of 16 teams if you add in the Eastern Conference contenders. They will need to be more consistent here and they will need to do it over the final ten games.
Make no mistake, these are the most important games of the season. Partially these games are important because Medvescak is on the edge of a playoff spot. On the other hand, they are playing teams that are looking to take their playoff spot and teams they could face in the playoffs. The Bears also have a final opportunity to move into a higher playoff seed. This would give them home-ice advantage for at least one round of the playoffs if they can go on a winning streak now.
Continuing to be a .500 winning team will get Medvescak into the playoffs, but will almost guarantee an early exit. Playing strong down the stretch will get the Bears ready for the playoffs and in a better position for a long run.
So who will they be playing and what will they have to do to win?
1) Barys Astana (16.01)
First meeting: Medevescak 3 – Barys 2
Barys is currently the best team in the Eastern Conference and they by far have the most potent offense in the league. They score in bunches, led by North Americans Brandon Bochenski, Nigel Dawes and Dustin Boyd. How potent is their offense? They score one more goal a game on average than Medvescak.
They also still have a lot to play for. If Admiral wins tonight, Barys will need a win against Medvescak to officially clinch a playoff birth. They also are fighting for home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs with Metallurg Magnitogorsk and Ak Bars. They will be coming to play tomorrow and the Bears will need to being their A-game.
If there ever was a time for Dekanich or Brust to show they are ready for the playoffs, it is tomorrow. If there ever was a time for the defense to show up, that game would be tomorrow. A loss would not be surprising, but this first of the final ten games could be a litmus test for things to come.
First meeting: Medvescak 2 – Yugra 1
This might be the easiest matchup for the Bears down the stretch. Yugra is in the 11th spot in the East, but they are only 3 1/3 games out of the playoffs. With ten games to play and only 10 points to make up, they also still have a playoff chance. They made a couple of moves to acquire players before the trade deadline, indicating they are still trying to get into the playoffs.
Medvescak should be able to get three points here, but it will not be easy. If they come out of here with a loss, there has to be some disappointment. The final eight games are rough ones and to not beat a team not as good as them will probably because of a lack of effort or just not wanting it more than Yugra. This game will be a test of the team’s will to win.
First meeting: Medvescak 3 – Avtomobilist 0
Medvescak and Avto are statistically pretty even and both teams are fairly secure of making the playoffs. Both teams also have the opportunity to get a better playoff seeding to avoid a tough first round matchup. Medvescak is the better team, but this will be the last game of a four game road trip and another game for the Bears to prove they can grind games out at the end of the season on the road. This should be another opportunity to get points, but a loss would show the Bears still are not tuned up for a long playoff run.
First meeting: Atlant 3 – Medvescak 2
Atlant is in the ninth spot in the West and are looking to jump over Lokomotiv or Medvescak. Beating Medvescak for the second time this season would get them a step closer to achieving that goal. The Bears will be back at Arena Zagreb with a loud and proud 15,000 strong behind them. Will they disappoint the fans? Expect a playoff atmosphere game, especially if these two teams get closer in the standings between now and the 23rd.
First meeting: Lokomotiv 3 – Medvescak 2
No team has benefited more from Slovan’s struggles and Spartak’s slide than Lokomotiv. They are two games back from stealing the seventh spot from the Bears and need wins to hold off Atlant from sneaking into their spot. Lokomotiv has the league’s best scoring defense, though they also have the league’s worse offense. If Medvescak is sloppy between the pipes or on defense, Lokomotiv can steal another one from the Zagreb side. However, if Medvescak can play a patient game, they should win. Expect a low scoring affair and again an opportunity for Dekanich or Brust to prove they are ready to take this team on a long playoff run.
First meeting: Severstal 6 – Medvescak 2
Sitting in the 10th spot, Severstal also has an outside chance to make the playoffs. If the Bears can beat Lokomotiv and Atlant, and Severstal goes on a run of their own, then this could be another playoff atmosphere game. Despite the early hammering by Severstal early in the season, they just were not as good as advertised. They did not make much of a splash before the transfer deadline, so they will be depending on veteran Nik Zherdev to really step up and start putting in some goals. This is another winnable game for the Bears.
Winter Olympic Break
The boys will have a month off before playing their final four games–all of which are on the road. If they have learned anything from the Christmas break, it is that they need to stay sharp with the long layoff. Three of the next four games could be potential first round opponents. This is no time to get too relaxed mentally, because the other clubs will not be. These final games will be the best opportunity for Medvescak to move into a better playoff position or to be dismissed from the playoff altogether. Something will have to give!
7) Dinamo Riga
First meeting: Dinamo Riga 5 – Medvescak 1
Riga has been a surprise this season, going from a really bad team to one of the best in the Western Conference. They killed the Bears’ honeymoon after the season opening destruction of CSKA with a dominant performance of their own. If Medvescak can get into the sixth spot, there is a good chance that these two teams will faceoff in the first round of the playoffs. Another dominating loss at the hands of Riga will not bode well mentally. There is a good chance the Bears will lose this match on the road. A win will be a good sign that this team is ready for a playoff run.
First meeting: Medvescak 7 – CSKA 1
The Bears will go to Moscow to play a club they dominated in their KHL inauguration. CSKA will not be happy about this. Moreover, they have a lot to play for as they are in the same playoff position as Medvescak. If the standings stay where they are now, the winner of this game could play a team not SKA or Dynamo Moscow. This is likely the second most important game of the final ten.
9) Lev Praha
First meeting: Lev Praha 3 – Medvescak 1
Another potential first round opponent took over the third period against the Bears in their first meeting. Lev has a lot to play for as they will be fighting for first round home-ice. That opponent could be Medvescak. Same story as Dinamo Riga, except this is a game where the Bears can win. Lev is a notch below Riga. This is also a meaningful game for Zagreb as they may still be jockeying for a better position (or even a playoff spot).
10) Slovan Bratislava
First meeting: Slovan Bratislava 4 – Medvescak 3 (OT)
This could be a fairly meaningless game. Slovan sits in the 11th spot and by this point in the season the picture could
be a lot clearer. COULD.
On the other hand, Slovan has been on a tear and has a chance of their own to get into the playoffs. Could these two teams be fighting for a final playoff spot in this game? That is a scary thought, but this is a possibility. The Bears also could maybe be in, but could use the extra points for a better playoff seed. We can all hope for a throwaway game, but some bad performances down the stretch and this game could be a deciding factor on whether the Bears first season was a success or disappointment.