Monday, October 31, 2011

P-Bruins Log: MacKinnon, Linemates Stepping Up, Filling In

For all of the grinding sessions featuring the line of Stefan Chaput, Kirk MacDonald and Kyle MacKinnon, that particular unit did not get around to testing St. John’s IceCaps goaltender David Aebischer very much in the first 40 minutes of Sunday’s contest.

Through those first two periods, the Providence Bruins had landed 23 shots on goal. Chaput himself had put one of those in the cage on a shorthanded wraparound while MacDonald had pelted Aebischer once.

Other than that, there was plenty of puck movement when the troika was on St. John’s property, but not a whole lot of initiative on and around Aebischer’s porch. The most striking example was late in a scoreless opening frame, when they buzzed around the zone for the final minute and kept it going long enough for Josh Hennessy’s line to pick it up without any stoppages or clearances.

In all that time, none of them did anything to make Aebischer exert anything other than his brain and his eyes.

But in the young phases of the third period, now with a 2-2 deadlock at hand, MacKinnon simultaneously broke into the shooting gallery and broke the tie. Not to mention, he tuned the mesh for the first time since inserting a game-winner during his late-season amateur tryout last spring.

And not unlike Carter Camper and Chaput before him, MacKinnon converted by attacking within whispering distance of Aebischer. Following MacDonald to the invisible dividing line between the slot and the crease, he was there to vacuum Chaput’s pass from the far lane, presumably intended for MacDonald, but a tad too forceful to hit that target.

With the biscuit in his clutch, MacKinnon promptly thrust a backhander into a gaping goal-mouth, making it 3-2 in favor of Providence with 15:50 to spare in regulation.

By day’s end, the P-Bruins had walked off with a 4-3 overtime win and Chaput, MacDonald and MacKinnon had been credited with two stabs apiece. They alone combined for four of the team’s 10 third-period shots.

As a whole, Providence had anywhere between one and four SOG apiece from 17 out of 18 skaters in Sunday’s contest.

With the continued corporeal absence of Max Sauve, Jamie Tardif and Trent Whitfield and the chronic contributing absence of Hennessy and Jamie Arniel, such a balanced attack is nothing short of what head coach Bruce Cassidy should request.

For the rookie MacKinnon and his two AHL veteran linemates, Sunday’s third period and the weekend in general underscored a timely perk-up.

With a goal in each of three games plus the primary assist on MacKinnon’s strike, Chaput had his most productive three-day marathon since amassing a 1-3-4 log for the Albany River Rats Dec. 4-6, 2009. MacDonald still lacks a firsthand strike since March 27 of last season, but has pitched in two assists out of three games for two weekends in a row and now has five on the year for second-most on the team.

And MacKinnon splashed a season-long, eight-game point drought with an assist on Zach Hamill’s equalizer at 12:02 of the third period at Bridgeport on Saturday. He followed that up with his go-ahead goal in Sunday’s closing frame and finished the weekend with two straight two-shot, plus-1 transcripts.

MacKinnon, who suited up for opening night and every game since opening weekend, mustered only four stabs over his first five outings, with no more than one on a single night. In his last five appearances, he has landed 11 shots on net.

MacKinnon’s gradual thaw is one of the more telling personifications of the P-Bruins’ strike force approaching the elusive habit of charging up qualitative and quantitative shot bushels. Prior to their visit to Bridgeport, they had logged more than 30 shots only once in nine games, that being a 35-shot output in a two-way salvo against Worcester on Oct. 21.

Against the Sound Tigers and IceCaps, they compiled 34 bids on back-to-back days.