Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Providence Bruins First Quarter Report Card

As the Providence Bruins rolled over the one-quarter mark of their 76-game schedule this past weekend, at least 75 percent of their forwards can be branded “underachievers.” They have held only 16 leads in a span of 20 games, expanding only two of those to a multi-goal advantage and blowing 11 of them altogether. The race for the distinction of the team’s plus-minus leader looks about as competitive as the old Celebrity Jeopardy! parodies from “Saturday Night Live.”

Still, with their record two games below .500, the P-Bruins have had a few flickers of gratification, rewarding the modest handful of consistent (or very nearly consistent) performers.

Those forlorn bastions of brightness, along with all that needs extra grooming for the next four-plus months and 56 games, are addressed in the following position-by-position evaluation.

Offense: D
Even with the revolving door to the wounded ward, the Providence strike force ought to have aggregated more than 44 regulation goals at the 20-game mark. Various injuries to Stefan Chaput, Josh Hennessy, Max Sauve, Jamie Tardif and Trent Whitfield ought not to preclude the likes of Jamie Arniel, Kirk MacDonald and Lane MacDermid from stepping up and furthering their own development.

As it happens, the veteran linemates Hennessy and Tardif have missed two and four games, respectively. Chaput, ostensibly a checking-liner, has missed nine. Yet all three of them have as many goals to their individual credit as Arniel, MacDonald and MacDermid have combined.

The offense’s longest-tenured member, Zach Hamill, and rookie Carter Camper have been the closest to consistent. And maybe they would be cultivating points every weekend if their supporting cast joined in a little more and cut down on all of the five-, six- or seven-shot periods.

Defense: C-minus/D-plus
Most of the time, this blue line brigade looks like one with only a single player―Andrew Bodnarchuk―who has played at least two full professional seasons. Professional sophomores Matt Bartkowski and Colby Cohen could both stand to step up, especially the peerlessly sizeable Cohen, with his 215-pound build.

In another ironic twist, Cohen’s fellow BU Terrier alum, David Warsofsky, is one of the few plus points. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound has recently taken more involvement in the attacking zone and reaped rewards for it with four assists in his last three games.

And ever since the team’s collective sleepskating start in the first three games, Warsfosky has improved his plus-minus rating to even, which ties his with fellow rookie Kevan Miller for second-best on the Providence defense.

Surprise, surprise, Bodnarchuk is No. 1 with a plus-1. Not exactly something to flatter himself about.

Goaltending: B-plus
Anton Khudobin leads the league with eight losses, though that owes at least partially to the fact that he is second in the way of minutes-played with 930:17. That also explains, in part, why he leads all AHL stoppers with 498 saves.

Khudobin has doubtlessly been the spine of the Spoked-Ps, salvaging many of the points they have earned in regulation, overtime and shootout decisions alike. However, he has not been infallible, exiting two of his 16 starts (Oct. 14 and Nov. 18) early upon authorizing five goals.

In his three start-to-finish appearances so far, backup Michael Hutchinson has looked like somebody who has yet to dispel the aftereffects of an early October injury. Each time, he has allowed three goals and lost.

Special Teams: D-minus/F
The P-Bruins boast the league’s penultimate power play with an 11.8 percent conversion rate overall. Only the San Antonio Rampage have fared worse with 8.6 percent success.

More troublingly, Providence is decisively less proficient with the extra man on home ice, converting five out of 50 opportunities in its first 13 twirls at the Dunkin Donuts Center. And on the road, a 4-for-26 success rate still places them at No. 21 in the 30-team circuit.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Bruins are in the middle of the AHL’s penalty-killing pack. But at home, on the road and overall, respectively, the opposition’s power play is still 8.5, 2.5 and 7.5 percentage points better.

If they can build upon Tardif’s recent four-goal weekend going forward, maybe that will change.