Providence Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy was rightly disinclined to pass a collective lack of seasoning as an excuse for his team’s defensive ineptitude and the resultant back-to-back 4-1 losses last weekend.
But given that there were no veterans of a full season, or even a full month, under the Cassidy/Rob Murray administration on that blue line brigade, it was a reasonable explanation. It is, by far, the most reasonable explanation available for last Friday and Sunday’s upshots.
Regardless, the reinstatement of Andrew Bodnarchuk, whose 207 career games with the P-Bruins more than doubles the combined 99 professional twirls of his five colleagues, should stuff that topic into the cooler. When Bodnarchuk suits up for Friday night’s homestand closer versus Manchester, the likes of Ryan Button, Marc Cantin, Colby Cohen, Kevan Miller and David Warsofsky should all be two games and one week more conscientious.
But to the core point, the belated Providence debut of Josh Hennessy ought to come with the splash that Bruins buffs should really be pining for.
Just to clarify, “come with” is meant in the sense of strict concomitance. No direct connection; just a timely convergence of a key personality and a critical perk-up across the bench.
By the time the horn sounds around 9:30 p.m. on Friday, the best-case scenario will have any given P-Bruins puckslinger dismissing Hennessy’s exclusive influence on a redemptive victory. Because whereas five first-year pros on defense can expectably amount to eight goals-against in 120 minutes, a collection of eight AHL mainstays up front ought to cultivate more than two goals in the same time frame.
Come this weekend, Hennessy will make as many as nine active veterans among the 12 forwards in the Providence lineup.
Granted, having missed only two out of 76 games with his ailment, he stands more than a good chance of topping the team’s scoring chart by season’s end.
Another bushel of 20-plus goals, just like the five he collected in as many previous AHL campaigns in Cleveland and Binghamton, is the least anybody can ask of him. Considering his upward trend through the years, discounting a not-so-indicative semester abroad last year in Switzerland, cracking the 30-goal range is more than reasonable.
That said, Hennessy is not bound to bag a hat trick or two this weekend, nor would he have if healthy last weekend.
Two lines’ worth of other forwards—Jamie Arniel, Zach Hamill, Kirk MacDonald, Max Sauve, Jamie Tardif and Trent Whitfield—were all equally capable of entering this practice week with one or two points apiece.
Add up to two hypothetical Hennessy points and you would have had anywhere between eight and 14 individual entries onto the scoresheet. Good for at least two-to-four Providence goals plus any output from the less likely contributors.
Instead, out of 19 skaters to have consumed any ice time so far, only five P-Bruins have hatched the goose-egg in their point column, each with only one tally. Only Sauve and Lane MacDermid have tuned the opposing mesh. Hamill, MacDonald, Tardif and Whitfield—each with at least two years of AHL experience—are not yet in that club.
Not to mention, out of six periods of play thus far, the Bruins have landed six shots on goal or fewer in four of them. They have averaged exactly seven stabs per stanza at the opposing netminder with a cumulative 42.
At least the defense has subjected goaltender Anton Khudobin to 31 tests each night over the weekend. One more bid from every leaned-on forward would have amounted to a negligible gap in the shooting gallery and, more than likely, a slimmer margin of defeat against St. John’s and Worcester alike.
Those eight, nine or 10 extra SOG could not have all come off of Hennessy’s twig. They all couldn’t have even come while he was on the ice.
Instead, a couple of them should have resulted from those innumerable grinding sprees that Whitfield embarked upon with Sauve. The captain and team MVP two years running tested St. John’s stopper David Aebischer thrice on Friday, but thrust nothing at unripe Worcester goalie Tyson Sexsmith.
While even a development team can only tolerate so much internal competition, Arniel has a title to protect from Hennessy as the P-Bruins most prolific scorer. In addition, both are clamoring for a rare look at action in Boston.
And for Hamill, the demand for more shots is nothing new. Whether he is staying in the organization for a miracle turnaround or ultimately taking his potential to a more broadly open window, he does himself no favors recycling old patterns. But that’s virtually his present pace with zero points, a minus-3 rating, four SOG and four penalty minutes.
In summation, Hennessy’s new scoring colleagues proved too generous waiting all weekend for their presumptive leader to show up and join in. Now that he is in the equation, it is on them to not presume themselves as followers.