Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Starting Nine: 9 Facts To Take Into The PawSox-Chiefs Series

Depending on Rochester’s results, the PawSox could pole-vault into first place in the International League North if they sweep their three-game home set with the league-leading Syracuse Chiefs. Both clubs will be coming off a rest/travel day as they tune up for Wednesday evening’s tilt at McCoy Stadium, which will precede a Thursday matinee and Friday night finale.

The idle Syracuse squad (62-47) enters Tuesday night’s action with a two-game lead over the Red Sox (61-50) and Red Wings (60-49). That gap has slimmed in recent weeks with the Chiefs going 5-10 in their last 15 ventures, the Sox 11-4 in the same span.

The Chiefs are coming off a rare pair of back-to-back off days after rain forced the cancellation of Monday’s four-game series finale with Gwinnett. This marks the third time weather has induced a succession of multiple off days for them in 2014, the others being April 4-5 and April 14-15. Syracuse capitalized on the impromptu rest to win their first game coming out of both of those hiatuses.

The Sox are hosting the Chiefs for the first time since nabbing two out of three April 7-9. The Chiefs have since claimed five out of eight head-to-head bouts at NBT Bank Stadium, though Pawtucket has won three out of four in the current month.

Since dropping that April set at McCoy, their first road venture of the season, the Chiefs have sculpted a league-best 30-24 road record. They have gone 20-10 on enemy property dating back to a 10-2 trouncing of the Red Wings on May 27, though they have split their last 10 away games in four different venues.

Pawtucket has limited Syracuse to three runs or fewer in all five of its victories so far in the season series. Conversely, the 2014 PawSox have invariably lost in this matchup when authorizing at least four runs.

Brandon Workman, Wednesday’s slated home starter, will put in his 11th appearance on the PawSox’ mound this season. He has yet to face the Chiefs in 2014, but did claim his first career Triple-A victory at Syracuse’s expense in a 5-3 home triumph on June 9, 2013.

Syracuse right fielder Steven Souza, Jr. leads all qualified IL batters with a .353 batting average, belting his way on base 112 times on 317 attempts through 86 games. Infielders Brandon Laird and Emmanuel Burriss entered Tuesday’s action fourth and ninth, respectively with .317 and .307 success rates at the plate.

Burriss is riding a 10-game hit streak since the All-Star Break, going 16-for-42 with five walks and no strikeouts in that span.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

P-Bruins at Penguins: 6 Storylines To Follow In Game 6

The Providence Bruins must win back-to-back tilts in hostile territory at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza to add a third round to their 2014 playoff run. Take that as an upgrade in difficulty from the home-and-home set of season-saving wins over Springfield in the opening round.

On the heels of seizing Saturday’s Game 5 at the Dunkin Donuts Center, 3-2, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins host Game 6 on Monday. Game 7, if necessary, will be conducted in the same mansion at the same 7:05 p.m. start time.

The potential return of multiple veteran forwards and the question as to how a pair of leaned-on rookies will respond to the latest elimination contest comprise the bulk of Providence’s pregame storylines. The top six items to keep in mind for Monday’s action are explored in the following detail:

1. Bobby Robins robbed his rooters of any chance to see him on home ice in the series as his three-game suspension ran parallel to the series’ stay at The Dunk. But that ban, penance for leaving the penalty box amidst a Game 2 melee, expires effective at Monday’s faceoff.

Since the parent Boston Bruins’ season ended last Wednesday, speculation as to pending unrestricted free agent Shawn Thornton’s future has started to percolate. With Robins constituting a possible homegrown successor if Thornton does not return, the scrutiny should be on him as long as Providence is still in the playoffs.

That does not mean pursuing anymore extracurricular gamesmanship, but rather injecting a fresh-legged dollop of depth in crunch time.

As it happens, Robins’ two career playoff points with Providence both came with the season’s continuation at stake. In last year’s conference quarterfinal, he broke a 1-1 tie en route to a 5-1 romp in Game 3 at Hershey. Later in that best-of-five bout, he assisted on Justin Florek’s 1-1 equalizer to set the pace toward a 3-2 win in Game 5.

2. Nick Johnson is nursing a three-game point drought and a six-game goal-less skid. His plus-minus has lost five exponential points over the last four contests against his old Wilkes-Barre/Scranton allies.

All of this comes after he led the P-Bruins with a plus-20 rating during the regular season, pitching in 18 goals and 42 points in 51 appearances. He might have tallied more if not for a late-winter injury and nine-game call-up to Boston in December.

The last two times Providence faced elimination, Johnson charged up a goal-assist variety pack in Game 4 and retained a plus-four rating in Game 5 of the Springfield series. Can he perk up again as the eleventh hour approaches once more?

3. Malcolm Subban, the presumptive starting goaltender, saved the Bruins’ season once by repelling 31 of 34 shots in Game 4 of the opening round at home. Although, his Game 5 start at MassMutual Center lasted all of 9:56 and two setbacks on seven shots.

On the heels of trading 3-2 decisions against the Pens’ Peter Mannino, the rookie will have his chance to redress his persona of poise on enemy property.

4. Alexander Khokhlachev has not gone consecutive games without a point since the playoffs started. The rookie center and team’s regular-season assists and points leader will need to find the scoresheet Monday to keep that relative consistency alive.

5. The aforementioned Florek, who skated in Boston’s first six playoff games before giving way to Matt Fraser, has one power-play goal on two shots in this series. He may or may not be back from the subsequent lower-body injury he suffered on Friday that kept him out of action Saturday.

If he does return, he will join the likes of Johnson, defenseman David Warsofsky and possibly netminder Niklas Svedberg among pending free agents looking to help preserve the season. Even for prospects, every little bit helps to make one’s case as a keeper, but especially in the best minor-league simulation of the incomparable NHL playoff grind.

Update: Mark Divver of the Providence Journal reported via Twitter Monday afternoon that Florek did not travel to Wilkes-Barre.

6. Whether this hovers over the incumbent roster or not, the Providence franchise has a proud history of rebounding in these situations. The P-Bruins boast an all-time record of 24-15 when facing elimination, including a 4-3 mark after losing a Game 5 to concede a 3-2 difference in a best-of-seven.

The 2001 installment of the Spoked-Ps nipped the regular-season champion Worcester IceCats by scores of 1-0 and 3-2 (in overtime) to usurp the division final. In 2007, the Bruins lost Game 5 of the first round at home, only to seize Games 6 and 7 in Hartford to muzzle the Wolf Pack.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Trivia Tag-up: Canadiens, Rangers Both Have Past Providence Alliances

The NHL’s 2014 Eastern Conference Final will not feature 11 one-time Providence Bruins, much less the rest of Boston’s active roster. But with the Montreal Canadiens seizing the right to confront the New York Rangers for the Prince of Wales Trophy, the matchup is permeated with distant, historic Providence partnerships.

According to the Internet Hockey Database, the Providence Reds spent their first decade of operation in the Canadian-American League. For half of that time, they partnered with the Habs as their first parent club.

That alliance lasted from 1928-29 to 1932-33 and featured a pair of Fontaine Cups titles (1930 and 1932) for Providence. Montreal concomitantly stamped back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 1930 and 1931.

In their 41 years under the AHL heading, the Reds variously served as the primary feeder base of seven NHL and WHA franchises. The Blueshirts served as their major-league affiliate for two stints: 1955-58 and 1971-76. The first season of that first stint witnessed the Divine City’s last professional playoff hockey title until the P-Bruins nabbed the 1999 Calder Cup.

In addition, the Rangers’ current Triple-A club in Hartford is a distant reincarnation of the Reds. The franchise in question spent two decades in Binghamton, N.Y. as the Dusters, Whalers and Rangers until transferring to Connecticut in 1997.

While Bruins buffs lick their wounds and the current Canadiens and Rangers prepare to lock twigs, there is a way to service the fans of all three franchises at once. On that note, here is a look back on the latter two franchise’s historic connections to Providence. (Note: Only those who played for both Providence and the parent club when the affiliations were active are eligible for mention.)

5 Key Reds-Canadiens Connections

Gerald Carson, D: Carson’s first NHL season in 1928-29 saw him transfer via trade from the Rangers to the Canadiens. The next year, he spent a six-game conditioning stint in Providence, but otherwise remained north of the border. As it happened, both the Reds and the Habs won their respective playoff titles that spring.  

Carson spent the entire 1930-31 and 1931-32 seasons in the Ocean State, winning a Fontaine Cup in the latter year before permanently returning to The Show. He dressed for every game with the Canadiens in each of the three campaigns from 1932 to 1935, then tacked on a 42-game ride with the intramural rival Maroons in 1936-37.

Johnny Gagnon, RW: Gagnon’s final CAHL season yielded 20 goals and the 1930 Fontaine Cup. In each of the next two seasons, he placed second on Montreal’s goal-scoring leaderboard only to Howie Morenz. As a rookie, he added six goals and eight points in 10 playoff games to help the 1931 Canadiens repeat as champions.

Gagnon later topped Montreal’s charts with 20-16-36 scoring totals in 1936-37. His final NHL transcript reads 454 games and a 120-141-261 production log.

Art Giroux, RW: To cap off his second full season in Providence, Giroux co-led the team with a 3-1-4 playoff scoring log en route to the 1932 Fontaine Cup. The next season, he broke in with the Canadiens, seeing action in 40 of his eventual 54 NHL games.

Wildor Larochelle, RW: A decade-plus with the Habs (1925-35) sandwiched a 39-game stay in Rhode Island during the first year of the affiliation. Larochelle pitched in eight goals and 12 points, then returned to Montreal for six-plus additional seasons.

Following his refinement with the Reds, he cracked double digits in the goal column four times and partook in the 1930 and 1931 Stanley Cup. The Canadiens ultimately dealt him to the Blackhawks early in the 1935-36 campaign.

Armand Mondou, LW: In a 14-year playing career (1926 to 1940), Mondou made only three cities his place of employment. Leading up to and whilst logging 385 games and two Stanley Cup rings with Montreal, he saw multiple minor-league stints in Providence and New Haven.

5 Key Reds-Rangers Connections 

Johnny Bower, G: Before he built his “China Wall” persona in Toronto, Bower was on the Providence-New York shuttle. Between 1954 and 1957, he scraped the blue paint for the Rangers 77 times, the Reds 118. That does not even count his 14 playoff appearances, including nine for the Reds’ last Calder Cup run in 1956.

Camille Henry, LW: In his lone full-length AHL season, Henry led the Calder Cup-winning Reds with 50 regular-season and 10 playoff goals. He buried another 31 strikes in 29 games before earning a permanent promotion to Manhattan. 

For the next eight-and-a-half seasons, leading up to a 1965 trade to Chicago, Henry donned nothing but Blueshirt attire, thrice leading the team in goals. His final NHL totals: 727 games played, 279 goals, 249 assists and 528 points.

Dave Maloney, D: Maloney stepped into the pros months after the Rangers drafted him 14th overall in 1974. He mustered four NHL appearances in his rookie season, otherwise devoting 58 games to Providence. He subsequently averaged an assist per game in six contests in the 1975 Calder Cup playoffs. 

After another 26 AHL twirls in 1975-76, the two-way blueliner became a permanent NHLer for the 10-year balance of his career. His plus-18 rating topped the team chart in 1977-78 and his career-high plus-24 rating led all Blueshirt skaters in 1980-81.

Rick Middleton, RW: Bruins buffs knew him as “Nifty” by the time Middleton had finished his career with a prolific 12-year ride in Boston. But he spent his first three professional seasons in New York’s organization, devoting his first to minor-league development in 1973-74.

All he did that year was endear himself to a more selective sector of New England puckheads with a team-leading 36-48-84 scoring log in 63 games. He followed that with a point-per-game average (9-6-15) in the 1974 playoffs, co-piloting the Reds to their last Calder Cup Final, where they lost to Hershey in five. 

On the heels of that output, Middleton collected the AHL’s top rookie laurel, broke in with the Rangers the next fall and never looked back. His first 90 of 988 points in The Show benefitted the Blueshirts.

Gump Worsley, G: With two exceptions, the colorful Hall of Fame netminder was consistently in The Show with New York from 1954 to 1963. The first of those exceptions was a 25-game stint with the Reds during the 1957-58 season.