Saturday, October 8, 2011

Khudobin’s humanity was exploited in opener

Statistically speaking, Friday night’s 4-1 drawback against the St. John’s IceCaps was not quite the worst installment of Anton Khudobin’s still-brief Providence Bruins portfolio.

Perceptively speaking, though, it was easy enough to pinpoint. Between the pipes for all four St. John’s strikes while repelling a mere 27 stabs while never going off for a delayed penalty or extra man, Khudobin’s single-night transcript read as follows: 60 minutes-played, a 4.00 goals-against average and a .871 save-percentage.

Odds are a substantial core of Friday’s Dunkin Donuts Center masses was the same audience that chanted “Re-sign Anton!” after Khudobin turned in a season-high 43 saves, including 24 in the third period, to win last year’s play-for-pride season finale against Manchester.

Half a year later, some of those Bruins buffs may be having flashbacks to Tim Thomas of 2009 and Tuukka Rask of 2010. In back-to-back years, those two Providence alumni and current Boston backstops took a turn submitting an otherworldly campaign to firmly grip the starting job before self-destructing in the subsequent season opener.

Remember? On Oct. 1, 2009, four months removed from a Vezina Trophy, Thomas endured a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Washington Capitals. Before long, the operative slogan around TD Garden was “Tuukka Time” as Rask succeeded Thomas as the consensus starter and the NHL’s leader in two key goaltending categories.

Lo and behold, the roles reversed at last year’s NHL Premiere in Prague. Rask was singed as part of a 5-2 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes and Thomas stepped in to pitch a 3-0 shutout and salvage a split of the European series. By season’s end, Thomas had more than restored his starter’s status.

Because he was breaking in a new slate for the 2011-12 season on Friday, it is easy enough to fret and second-guess that Khudobin hype. Maybe that 9-4-1 run between his acquisition and last year’s curtain-drop is not so indicative of his capabilities after all.

But upon further review of his 2010-11 game log, nights like this year’s icebreaker are bound to happen from time to time. In fact, one start and two nights before his epic dolphin show against Manchester, Khudobin had a slightly worse GAA (4.04) and save-percentage (.867) than he did against St. John’s.

The key difference there was that it was still a winning effort. That night—April 8, to be precise—the P-Bruins deleted a 2-0 deficit and subsisted on a five-goal romp to hold off Portland, 5-4.

The Pirates were also liable for a five-goal, 30-shot dismantling of Khudobin as part of a 5-4 decision in favor of Portland last March 12. That was Khudobin’s first loss with Providence and snapped a personal, carry-over five-game winning streak.

Out of 50 total ventures with the P-Bruins and Houston Aeros last season, Khudobin allowed more than three goals on five occasions. That happened seven times the year prior, when he garnered a spot on the PlanetUSA All-Star team.

And Friday’s collision with the IceCaps could claim a couple of asterisks. Khudobin was fortified by a collectively unripe defensive sextet who had played a combined 250 AHL games in their career. Both Andrew Bodnarchuk and Nathan McIver continue to be indefinitely unavailable with their respective injuries while Matt Bartkowski is on emergency recall to Boston.

In addition, unlike those arm-wrestling bouts with Portland, offensive support was lacking. The Bruins took half of their 22 total shots on goal in the first period, putting only one behind veteran St. John’s stopper David Aebischer. Afterwards, they ran a pattern of stalling for the first three quarters of a stanza, then crammed in vain to supplement 3-1 and 4-1 deficits.

And for what it’s worth, the IceCaps are comprised primarily of former Manitoba Moose and former Chicago Wolves, two Western Conference teams that habitually battered Khudobin in recent years.

Conversely, the Worcester Sharks are on tap next for a Sunday afternoon bout at The Dunk.

In three games against Worcester last year, Khudobin went 2-1-0 with single-game save-percentages of .941, .952 and .955. Out of 17 games wearing a Spoked-P so far, those have been the fifth-, third- and single-best performances.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: October 8

1993: The Portland Pirates win their inaugural AHL game by beating the former Maine Mariners, 6-3, at the Providence Civic Center.

1994: The P-Bruins take their first-ever meeting with the Springfield Falcons, claiming a 5-4 overtime victory at the Springfield Civic Center.

1999: In the wake of raising their Calder Cup championship banner, the P-Bruins tie the rival Hartford Wolf Pack, 1-1, in semidramatic fashion. The Pack subsist on a 1-0 lead until late in the third period when Jay Henderson inserts the equalizer. Future Boston and Providence enforcer P.J. Stock is credited with the assist on Hartford’s goal while ex-Whaler and Wolf Pack stopper Kay Whitmore repels the rest of his 38 shots-faced in his home debut as a P-Bruin.

2000: The P-Bruins muster their fifth point out of a possible six to commence the season with a 3-3 tie at Springfield.

2008: The P-Bruins win Rob Murray’s head-coaching debut with a 4-3 shootout decision against Lowell at The Dunk. Defenseman Johnny Boychuk inserts the season’s first goal in his Spoked-P debut, Byron Bitz and Vladimir Sobotka take turns assisting on each other’s strikes and both Sobotka and Karsums connect in the one-on-ones.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Post-game Puckbag: IceCaps 4, P-Bruins 1

Swift summation
There is not much cause to believe that Friday night’s 4-1 loss at the hands of the St. John’s IceCaps is indicative of what the Providence Bruins will put forth in the 2011-12 season.

After all, veteran forward Josh Hennessy, who stands more than a fair chance of topping the team scoring chart, will put off his Black and Gold debut with a mild injury. Familiar defensemen Andrew Bodnarchuk and Nathan McIver each sat out with their own ailments, as did rookie Zach McKelvie.

With the latter three injuries, the initial outlook for this game had the P-Bruins limited to five active defenders bearing a cumulative 86 games worth of AHL experience and only three NHL twirls (all by Colby Cohen).

Uncannily enough, though, the scoreboard scares could have been even worse.

With the emergency insertion of Marvin Degon, a one-time Hartford Wolf Pack and Hamilton Bulldogs rearguard, that AHL man-game total spiked to 250. And it allowed Providence to roll out a full, 18-wheel truck with three full defensive pairings.

Nonetheless, what they had to work with still pales in comparison to what McIver and Bodnarchuk—who have played 306 and 207 AHL games, respectively—may have offered.

The collective inexperience on the Baby Bs’ blue line brigade was exploited to an unusually jutting extent as the IceCaps drew first blood a mere 75 seconds into the action. Former Boston University teammates Cohen and David Warsofsky along with newcomer Marc Cantin were all on the ice as Mark Flood got the puck through for St. John’s.

Max Sauve tuned the mesh on the P-Bruins first registered shot of the season to draw a nimble 1-1 knot at 4:10.

Initially trailing the shooting gallery by a gaping 8-2 margin, Providence utilized the first period’s only power-play—a double-minor to Carl Klingberg—to go on an 8-0 run. But seasoned St. John’s stopper David Aebischer neutralized that entire five-minute tempest, ultimately propping up the 1-1 score through intermission.

For the better part of the latter two stanzas, the Bruins’ bushel of shots suffered from an old-fashioned autumn frost. They only tested Aebischer twice within the first 14-plus minutes while Paul Postma and Klingberg sculpted St. John’s a 3-1 advantage.

By period’s end, Providence had registered five stabs for a 40-minute total of 16. They added a mere six more in the third, five of them coming in a vain, six-minute cramming session, at which point Jason Jaffray’s shorthanded strike had already finalized the score.

Of the Bruins’ 22 shots, only one came off the stick of a blueliner, that being Cantin.

P-Bruins pluses
There was plenty of blame to be shared for this glacial meltdown as 11 out of 18 skaters finished in the red under the plus/minus heading. With that being said, it is worth mentioning that Degon and fellow defender Ryan Button were not among them.

And neither was rookie forward Craig Cunningham, who ultimately led the team with four shots on goal.

Three stabs apiece came from prime suspects: Sauve, Zach Hamill, Jamie Tardif and Trent Whitfield.

Bruins blights
Jamie Arniel and Carter Camper each got on the scoresheet by assisting on Sauve’s first-period equalizer, but did little in the effort to build upon that. Neither of them had a single shot to his credit at the second intermission. Likewise, Sauve failed to pelt Aebischer at any point in the middle frame after hitting 1-for-3 on him in the first.

Of those three linemates, only Arniel mustered an SOG in the latter 40 minutes.

To quote Reggie Dunlop on a night reminiscent of the opening scenes in Slap Shot, Warsofsky’s transcript took “a savage beating.” In Game 1 of his first full professional campaign, he was on the ice for all five goals, amounting to a minus-3 rating.

Camper also had a night wholly unlike his promising post-college amateur tryout last spring. His assist aside, he failed to land a single shot on net, endured a minus-2 rating and took an ill-timed slashing penalty at 15:13 of the second period.

IceCaps notes
In their franchise debut, and with a team comprised heavily of former Chicago Wolves and former Manitoba Moose, the St. John’s offensive output was about as balanced as they come. Their four goals amounted to the maximum limit of 12 individual point-getters.

In addition, 14 out of 18 skaters took part in a 31-shot onslaught on Providence stopper Anton Khudobin, who had plenty of fits at the hands of these players as a Houston Aero.

Arturs Kulda took two of the game’s six penalties, but watched with glee from the sin bin when Jaffray inserted his shortie with 18:14 to spare in the game. Kulda also assisted on Postma’s eventual game-winner and joined Flood and Riley Holzapfel with a plus-2 rating apiece.

Aebischer garnered the game’s first-star laurel.

The reported attendance was 10,337.

The P-Bruins dropped to 1-6-0 all-time on the historically unlucky date of Oct. 7.

Pre-game Puckbag: P-Bruins vs. St. John’s IceCaps

Opening draw
The P-Bruins will hospitably inaugurate the tenure of the St. John’s IceCaps in the 2011-12 season opener at the Dunkin Donuts Center Friday night. In addition, they shall be the first team to engage the AHL affiliate of the second coming of the Winnipeg Jets.

The previous version of the Jets, who transferred to Phoenix in 1996, overlapped with the P-Bruins for four seasons. With past Winnipeg farm clubs, the Baby Bs went 3-0-1 against the Moncton Hawks and 11-11-0 against the Springfield Falcons in two regular seasons apiece.

The last time Providence faced a Winnipeg partner was in the opening round of the 1996 Calder Cup playoffs. That best-of-5 set ended in Game 4 on April 27, 1996, when the Bruins spilled a 3-0 lead and ultimately conceded the game, 4-3, in overtime.

Naturally, the new Jets are the former Atlanta Thrashers, whose development club was the Chicago Wolves, who shuffled affiliations to Vancouver this past summer. During the 10-year Atlanta/Chicago alliance, the P-Bruins faced the Wolves on six occasions, going 2-4-0.

The IceCaps splash a six-year drought without minor-pro hockey in their city and a three-year period with no high-profile hockey altogether. The late St. John’s Maple Leafs coexisted with the P-Bruins for 13 seasons, though they did not meet in either of the Leafs’ final two years.

The last AHL clash between Providence and St. John’s was a 7-4 Bruins triumph at Mile One Centre on March 1, 2003. The Baby Leafs last visited The Dunk on Jan. 17, 2003, when they lost, 4-1.

Notable names
Veteran goaltender David Aebischer just signed an AHL contract with the Jets on Wednesday, making him an instantaneous candidate to scrape the blue paint for the IceCaps tonight. Aebischer has previously played for three NHL teams as well as the Hershey Bears and briefly the San Antonio Rampage.

The 33-year-old Aebischer more recently spent three years in his native Switzerland with HC Lugano, though he did not play last season and thus did not cross paths with new P-Bruin Josh Hennessy. However, in 2009-10, Aebischer was the team’s starter while former Providence and AHL MVP Randy Robitaille topped the Lugano scoring chart with 49 assists and 65 points.

Former P-Bruins blueliner Keith McCambridge will make his AHL head coaching debut behind the St. John’s bench. McCambridge, who saw action in 169 games with the Spoked-Ps between 1999 and 2002, was most recently an assistant for the Manitoba Moose over the past two seasons.

The IceCaps come bearing another former P-Bruin in Marco Rosa. The 2004 Merrimack College graduate played 34 regular-season and nine postseason games in 2006-07 and was later a teammate of Anton Khudobin’s with Houston.

Khudobin, the presumptive starter for Providence, ought to be sufficiently familiar with the better part of the IceCaps roster as its core comes from last year’s Wolves. But his history with that group is not so favorable.

Prior to his trade from Houston last March, Khudobin went 0-4-1 against Chicago in a span of nearly two full seasons, conceding 13 goals on 101 shots. Of the currently rostered IceCaps, Spencer Machachuk is liable for two of those goals while Riley Holzapfel inserted one.

Machachuk is a former major-junior teammate of Providence rookie forward Craig Cunningham. The two played together for the Vancouver Giants in 2006-07 and 2007-08, winning the 2007 Memorial Cup with the likes of tournament MVP Milan Lucic.

Over their first 19 seasons, the P-Bruins have rolled up an 11-8-0 record in season openers and a 12-6-1 transcript in home openers.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: October 7

1999: Goaltender Maxime Gingras stops 31 out of 32 shots to win his P-Bruins debut with a 4-1 triumph over the Quebec Citadelles at Le Colisee. The win improves the defending Calder Cup champions to 3-0 on the year on the eve of their home opener.

2000: Exactly 52 weeks after raising their Calder Cup banner before a game against the Hartford Wolf Pack, the roles are reversed as the P-Bruins return to the site of their Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference finals. But they turn the page and abolish an initial 3-0 deficit to thrash the defending champs and arch-rival, 9-4.

2001: The P-Bruins pay their final visit to the historic Hersheypark Arena. The host Bears move into the Giant Center to start the following season.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

P-Bruins Commentary: Visiting IceCaps Begin Battle With Sports-Business Gods

For what one night and the immediate future are worth, there is a rather soul-warming factoid behind the Providence Bruins and their opening night matchup with the St. John’s IceCaps this Friday.

When they were born in 1992, ending a 16-year interval without pro hockey in Rhode Island, the Baby Bs played their first two regular-season games on the road against the St. John’s Maple Leafs. The anniversary of that two-night, icebreaking series falls this Thursday and Friday.

Today, as they round out their second decade of existence and build upon their elder statesman’s status as the AHL’s third-longest-tenured franchise, the P-Bruins get to return the favor. The IceCaps will officially restore professional hockey to Newfoundland six years after the Maple Leafs bolted when they lock twigs with the P-Bruins at the Dunkin Donuts Center on Friday.

But while the P-Bruins will have the pleasure of inaugurating another city’s second crack at Triple-A hockey, what this amounts to down the road is in question. The times and the circumstances are so different that the IceCaps might not live to see their own 20th anniversary, maybe not even their 10th.

At the time of their advent, the primal concern over the P-Bruins’ long-term viability was whether a city and a venue of their size were fit for the American Hockey League. Although it was one step shy of The Show, the circuit still had more a Federal League vibe to it.

Since then, the doubts have turned the same 180 degrees as the roles between Providence and St. John’s. Right before the P-Bruins’ eyes, minor professional hockey has gone from extensive to extinct in eastern Canada.

Between their inaugural season and their 10th anniversary, the Spoked-Ps engaged teams from Cape Breton, Cornwall, Fredericton, Halifax, Moncton, Prince Edward Island, Quebec City, Saint John and St. John’s.

By 2003, the St. John’s Maple Leafs were the last of those nine teams standing. By 2005, they had transferred closer to their parents’ home base and transformed into the Toronto Marlies.

The logical consensus thereafter was that anyplace east of Ontario and north of the border was now exclusively for the Quebec Major Junior League.

After all, as the Baby Leafs turned brown and descended to their death, the Baby Bs and other AHL tenants were still competing against newer staples from Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Hartford, Houston, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, San Antonio and Winnipeg. All of those markets have either had an NHL team and/or major-league teams in other sports.

The recent demises of the Philadelphia Phantoms and Manitoba Moose were owed to anything but lack of fan support. The Phantoms were simply evicted when their old, tattered Spectrum was condemned while the Moose had to vacate the MTS Centre with the return of the Winnipeg Jets. To the bitter end, each of those teams averaged bigger crowds than the IceCaps’ Mile One Centre can accommodate.

Ironically, the new incarnation of the Moose is none other than these IceCaps, who will serve as the Jets farm team.

But for how long? Considering the AHL’s growth over the past two decades—both in terms of membership and conventional market sizes—it is difficult to envision a widespread return to Atlantic Canada.

Not unlike the one-and-done Edmonton Roadrunners and the still-burning Abbotsford Heat on the country’s west coast, the IceCaps’ topmost concern is the lack of a geographic rival. Like it was in the final years of the Maple Leafs, Portland is the closest AHL city St. John’s with an 882-mile difference.

In that vein, one would have better odds trying to exhume the Capital District Islanders or the Kentucky Thoroughblades.

Conversely, not only did the P-Bruins arrive with great timing as the AHL was on the verge of swallowing up the remnants of the International League and loading up on five-figure-seat arenas, many of them shared with NBA or Division I basketball teams. They also had the Springfield Indians and New Haven Senators already in the vicinity.

Before long, Portland, Worcester and Hartford all joined in to permeate the league’s presence in New England.

With the AHL having maxed out its membership of 30 teams, the only chance of a return to the Quebec/Maritime/Newfoundland neighborhood rests on multiple relocations. Not inconceivable, but not likely.

Even less likely would be multiple franchises opting to migrate to the northeastern part of the continent all at once. Even less likely still would be enough QMJHL teams willingly relinquishing their AHL-caliber abodes.

Incidentally, if the isolation that comes with being the only team west of the Central Time Zone brings them to a snapping point, the Heat might find a way to provide the IceCaps with more competitive company. That scenario could at least be a common solution for two franchises, but would doubtlessly undermine AHL president Dave Andrews’ ambition to cement his league as a bona fide continental circuit.

If there is to be any comprehensive, long-term shapeshifting, it would more likely come in the form of uprooting a few of the AHL’s numerous New England and/or Mid-Atlantic tenants and transplanting them to American cities west of the Rocky Mountains. The states Illinois and Texas may not keep three AHL teams apiece forever, either.

With all this having been said, the citizens of St. John’s have the IceCaps for now and for an indefinite period that is longer than never.

Good for them. Providence puckheads can relate.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: October 6

1992: The P-Bruins lose their inaugural regular-season game at St. John’s, 8-7. Jim Vesey scores the team’s first goal while Andrew McKim and Tim Sweeney both insert a shorthanded tally.

2000: Peter Vandermeer singlehandedly deletes a 2-0 deficit and Marquis Mathieu scores off the opening draw in overtime for a 3-2 opening night victory over the visiting Portland Pirates.

2007: Touted goaltending prospect Tuukka Rask wins his North American professional debut, backstopping a 27-save, 2-1 win at Manchester to commence the season. Another newcomer, Matt Hendricks, inserts both Providence goals.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

This Date In Providence Bruins History: October 5

1999: Paying their first visit to Le Colisee for their first confrontation with the new Quebec Citadelles, the defending champion P-Bruins improve to 3-0-0 with a 4-1 win.

2001: As all other 26 AHL teams do, the P-Bruins precede their season opener by honoring the memory of former player Mark Bavis, along with all of the other victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They also celebrate the country by wearing American Flag jerseys in the midst of beating the visiting Albany River Rats, 4-2, in their first game at the newly rebranded Dunkin Donuts Center.

The P-Bruins also debut a few newly acquired veterans, such as enforcer Dennis Bonvie and former Hartford Wolf Pack forward Tony Tuzzolino, along with touted rookies Bobby Allen and Andy Hilbert, both of whom chip in a goal.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Pre-season Picks For The P-Bruins Team Awards

MVP: Anton Khudobin
To what degree the 2011-12 P-Bruins meet their expectations will be heavily dictated by how much Khudobin fulfills his promise. Potentially playing in up to two-thirds of the 76-game regular-season schedule, he must be a cornerstone that averts the same, fatal recurrence of early deficits that plagued this team leading up to his early March arrival last year.

Statistically speaking, Khudobin’s introductory whirl in Providence was his best AHL stretch so far in three-plus seasons in the league. Over 16 games, he posted a 9-4-1 record (contrast that with the team’s cumulative 29-32-5 transcript without him) and coupled it with a 2.40 goals-against median and .920 save-percentage.

With as many as 16 skaters from last year’s homestretch figuring to see action in Providence again, Khudobin is simply tasked with backstopping a winning carry-over into the full 2011-12 campaign. Whether he needs to weather an early rubber blizzard or neutralize a threat to a lead—like the team’s last regular-season period, when he stopped 24 of 25 Manchester Monarchs shots to salvage a 3-2 win—most of his mates know he can deliver.

All Khudobin has to do is stock up the same brand of confidence that he did for six weeks and make it valid for six months this time.

Top Gun: Josh Hennessy
Don’t let Hennessy’s downturn in production with the Lugano Swiss team (9-10-19 in 47 games) diminish your conviction in him. Two of his teammates last season, Chris Bourque and Colby Genoway, were likewise generously fruitful in their initial AHL seasons, but less prolific upon taking their duffel bags overseas.

Instead, expect Hennessy to go for his sixth straight 20-plus-goal campaign on his native continent. In five years with the Cleveland Barons and Binghamton Senators, he finished with 24, 27, 22, 20 and 30 strikes. And he only once mustered fewer than 50 points in a single AHL season, namely when injuries confined him to 59 games-played and 37 points in 2008-09.

The P-Bruins have not had anybody whip up more than 23 goals or 50 points in either of the past two seasons. No one has cracked the 30-goal plateau for them since Pascal Pelletier in 2007-08.

None of those trends need be safe for long under Hennessy’s influence.

Top Defenseman: Colby Cohen
If he can stay healthy for the duration of the campaign, expect Cohen to have a breakthrough, sophomore surge in his first full year as a Bruin. He should not only use his supreme size (6-foot-2, 200 pounds, only one inch and five pounds less than leader Nathan McIver) in his day job, but also improve his accuracy as a point-based puckslinger and playmaker.

As a rookie last season, between Lake Erie and Providence, Cohen inserted two goals and logged 13 assists over 60 outings. Seeing as he previously concocted 25 goals and 78 points in 118 college games at Boston University, there is indubitably more for him to pull out and dole out on the professional ponds.

The sooner he gets going on that, the bigger a two-way threat he will be.

Top Rookie: Craig Cunningham
A regular in the deeper half of the postseason and consistently prolific throughout each of five major-junior seasons, Cunningham has all of the means to make a prompt splash on the AHL scene.

And besides his enticing numbers in the scoring columns, Cunningham’s stamina is self-evident in that he missed only one out of 216 regular-season games over his last three years in the Western League. To those three seasons, he appended an aggregate 54 playoff games, tallying 24 goals and 35 assists.

Having exhausted his eligibility and skated many extra miles in the Canadian Hockey League ranks, Cunningham should be primed to tackle a fresh challenge in the AHL.

Hendricks Fan Appreciation: Lane MacDermid
From Jamie Huscroft to Kevin Sawyer, from Aaron Downey to Adam McQuaid, Providence fans always embrace their foil-fisted mainstays. But beyond the instinct to protect his teammates that he has long established in his first two AHL seasons, MacDermid is on pace to burgeon as a respectably productive point-getter.

Last season, MacDermid elevated his totals by five goals and 14 points. And he proved reasonably efficient on both sides of the puck as one of only four P-Bruins regulars to finish in the black under the plus/minus heading.

On top of that, he is on the heels of turning heads in Boston’s training camp, from which he was discharged only after the last exhibition game.

Accordingly, all signs point to MacDermid pleasing all breeds of hockey fan at the Dunkin Donuts Center this season. Like it or not, Bruins buffs cheer for goals and brawls alike, and he figures to dole out a decent amount of both.

Monday, October 3, 2011

P-Bruins Player Puckbag: Trent Whitfield

Opening statement
Sidelined for nearly the whole first half with an Achilles ailment, seasoned veteran Trent Whitfield used his shortened portion of the 2010-11 season to inadvertently mythologize himself.

His mere presence as captain appeared to translate suitably in the win-loss column as the P-Bruins went 14-18-3 in 35 games without him and 24-18-3 after his return to game-night activity. But beyond that, Whitfield pleasantly startled the local faithful with 18 goals and 18 assists, the majority of that output coinciding with the team’s 12-6-1 stretch run.

At their last gathering, the Dunkin Donuts Center masses emphatically called for Whitfield to be re-signed, and they shall have him for at least two additional seasons starting now.

2010-11 Highlights
• Led the team in special-teams’ production with seven power-play goals and two shorthanded strikes. All seven of Whitfield’s power-play conversions came within the final 30 games of the season.
• Took at least one shot on goal in 40 out of 45 games-played, including 33 of the last 34.
• Had nine multipoint games, including four three-point outings, one 2-2-4 performance and eight games with at least one goal and one helper.
• Scored two straight multi-goal games and added three assists to help beat Charlotte and Bridgeport, 4-2 and 6-0 on March 4 and 6, respectively.
• Amassed a 12-10-22 scoring log within 12 games during the month of March.
• Improved his final rating from minus-5 to even over the final six weeks of the season.

2010-11 Lowlights
• Steadily dropped his rating by 10 points in a span of 10 games between Feb. 11 and Feb. 26.
• Was on the ice for three opposing goals in an 8-2 loss at Springfield Feb. 12.
• Failed to score a goal on 29 shots in eight games between Feb. 13 and Feb. 26.
• Stopped on all eight of his shots and finished with a negative rating in a Feb. 26 loss at Abbotsbord.
• Had a hand in two P-Bruins goals, but was on the ice for all three opposing strikes as Providence blew a 3-1 lead and lost to Connecticut in a shootout March 19.

2011-12 Outlook
There likely will not be another March 2011 left in Whitfield, but there should not have to be.

In a full 2011-12 campaign, Whitfield could realistically shoot for the 20-goal range and 50-point plateau while continuously instilling a competitive spirit to the P-Bruins’ many young guns.

If most of the coming year resembles last January, February and April, when Whitfield was not always tangibly pitching in but still fueling a winning cause, then he and his mates will have a more satisfying spot in the standings after Game No. 76.

P-Bruins Player Puckbag: David Warsofsky

Opening statement
One year removed from having his rights traded from St. Louis to Boston, slender and slick New England-born blueliner David Warsofsky has long defected Boston University. In fact, he has already whet his blades on the professional front by playing in each of the P-Bruins’ last 10 games on the 2010-11 slate.

Being the only late-season arrival to have cracked double-digits in the games-played column, Warsofsky should be particularly magnetic for attention as he embarks on a full campaign with a team vowing to build upon a solid finish to a sour season.

2010-11 Highlights (With Boston University and the P-Bruins)
• Led all Terrier defensemen with seven goals, including four power-play strikes.
• Landed at least one shot on goal in 32 out of 34 college games for a season total of 104.
• Started the season with back-to-back multipoint games for a 2-3-5 transcript as BU won the Icebreaker tournament.
• Tallied two assists in each installment of a home-and-home sweep over UMass-Lowell Oct. 29-30.
• Returned from an injury and tallied an assist in back-to-back games to start the best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinals versus Northeastern.
• Tallied three assists in four games (April 1-8) with the P-Bruins.
• Credited with four shots on net in an April 3 game versus Worcester.
• Steadily posted a plus-4 rating in the month of April for a cumulative plus-3 in 10 AHL games.

2010-11 Lowlights
• Held without a point for six consecutive games between Dec. 11 and Jan. 18.
• Was on the ice for all three opposing goals Jan. 2 in a 3-3 tie with Notre Dame.
• Inserted the go-ahead goal for a 4-3 win at Maine Jan. 28, but also took three penalties, including a 10-minute misconduct for a total of 14 minutes in the sin bin.
• Posted a minus-3 rating in the Beanpot consolation game, a 5-4 loss to Harvard.
• Failed to score a goal in any of his last nine appearances with the Terriers.
• Posted a minus-2 rating in a 5-4 loss to upset-minded Northeastern that eliminated the Terriers from the Hockey East quarterfinals and ended their season March 13.

2011-12 Outlook
Depending on how much time the likes of Matt Bartkowski spend with the parent club, there ought to be a generous allotment of ice time for Warsofsky on the Providence blue line.

Year-to-year listings indicate he has padded on some precious pounds, which will help him all the more in his continued transition into a full professional season.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: October 3-4

October 3, 1997
John Grahame wins his debut in the P-Bruins cage as his praetorian guards scrape out enough to claim their first-ever meeting with the Hartford Wolf Pack, 5-3, at the Providence Civic Center.

October 4
1996: Peter Laviolette makes his debut as the team's player/assistant coach in a 3-2, opening night loss to the defending Calder Cup champion Rochester Americans. Laviolette would see action in 41 games during the season before retiring and accepting an offer to coach the ECHL's Wheeling Nailers.

2009: Trent Whitfield and Andy Wozniewski each pick up a goal and two assists while Jeff LoVecchio and Brad Marchand each tune the mesh twice to win the season opener, 6-2, against Springfield at The Dunk. Dany Sabourin turns over 21 out of 23 shots to win his debut in the Providence cage.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

P-Bruins Player Puckbag: Jamie Tardif

Opening statement
A veteran of 319 games in five AHL seasons and the most recent captain of the Grand Rapids Griffins, Jamie Tardif will switch conferences for this season after transferring his rights to the Boston Bruins system.

Change in environment and opponents aside, Tardif will be in a relatively familiar setting with the P-Bruins. Not unlike Providence, the Griffins are the development club for a stable NHL franchise (Detroit) yet have underachieved and missed the Calder Cup playoffs in each of the last two seasons.

Accordingly, rather than pick one up as he checks in at the threshold to his new office, Tardif ought to bring in his own appetite for personal enhancement and team-wide improvement.

2010-11 Highlights (With Grand Rapids)
• Led the Griffins with 27 goals and placed third on the team leaderboard with 54 points.
• Surpassed his previous career highs by 10 goals and 20 points.
• Took at least one shot on goal (season total: 230) in 73 out of 77 appearances.
• Scored 10 power-play goals and three shorthanded.
• Broke his own 2010-11 ice with four goals in a span of three games (Oct. 29-Nov. 5), including a two-goal night and game-clincher Oct. 30 to beat the Manitoba Moose, 4-2.
• Had a hand in three goals, scoring two and setting up another, as part of 10-8 barn-burning victory at Chicago Nov. 27.
• Accumulated two goals and four assists in a four-game point streak between Dec. 11 and Dec. 17.
• Tallied a playmaker hat trick to help spell the difference in a 5-2 win at Hamilton Feb. 27.

2010-11 Lowlights
• Managed only one point, an assist, over the first seven outings of the season.
• Endured a seven-game scoring drought between Nov. 10 and Nov. 24.
• One of six players ejected from a Nov. 24 match with the Toronto Marlies for “secondary altercation” during a line brawl.
• Took 13 shots on net, but still went pointless in a Feb. 13 bout with Rochester.
• Mustered only one goal within the final 14 games and none in any of the last seven.
• Steadily dropped his overall rating from a minus-1 to a minus-9 over the final 10 games.

2011-12 Outlook
If Tardif could load up what he did last year in bunches during the middle months, imagine how much he could sprinkle over the course of a 76-game season if he doesn’t perk up late and/or go into hibernation early?

That question should be the basis for Tardif’s priority this season as the semi-grizzled winger teams up with the likes of Josh Hennessy to try to inject the P-Bruins with that prized formula of battle-tested aptitude.

P-Bruins Player Puckbag: Everett Sheen

Opening statement
Virtually taking the last call at the eleventh hour prior to training camp, Holy Cross graduate Everett Sheen will try his luck to earn a space in the 2011-12 P-Bruins dressing room.

2010-11 Highlights (With Holy Cross)
• Set career highs as a senior with a 17-18-35 scoring log and led the Crusaders with 17 goals.
• Started the season with a four-game scoring streak, averaging precisely two points per night.
• Assisted on two goals and retained a plus-2 rating in a 6-3 opening-night loss to Calle Ridderwall’s Notre Dame team Oct. 8.
• Took only three minor penalties within his first 26 appearances and twice went eight consecutive outings with no infractions.
• Charged up a 2-1-3 transcript on three occasions, scoring the game-winning goal each time.
• Scored both a power-play and shorthanded goal and chipped in a helper to beat Niagara, 5-1, on Jan. 8.
• Posted a single-game, season-high plus-3 rating as part of a 7-3 romp of Canisius on March 13.

2010-11 Lowlights
• Steadily dropped his plus/minus rating by six points while mustering only one assist in a span of four games (Oct. 23-Nov. 6).
• Held without a point for three consecutive games on three occasions: Between Oct. 29 and Nov. 6, Nov. 20 and Dec. 3 and again between Jan. 21 and Jan. 28.
• Failed to score on any of eight shots on net against American International Oct. 15.
• Failed to connect despite taking eight shots on goal in a Jan. 22 battle with the Rochester Institute of Technology.

2011-12 Outlook
Having scored on back-to-back nights in a preseason series against the Springfield Falcons, Sheen has done nothing to diminish his ostensibly brittle odds. Nonetheless, reality has a full six-plus months and 76 regular-season games left to sink in.

With such an overload of returnees, more prominent rookies and seasoned offseason acquisitions, Sheen cannot afford to take a breather if he wants to stick around in Providence.

P-Bruins Player Puckbag: Max Sauve

Opening statement
An easy choice for the team’s top rookie amidst another lost campaign, Max Sauve returns to the Providence Bruins to build upon those hints of promise he flaunted during the brighter moments of the 2010-11 season. On the heels of a 21-goal, 38-point run, Sauve’s ongoing development can and should hold substantial sway on the P-Bruins’ vow to readopt consistency and ascend the AHL leaderboard.

2010-11 Highlights
• Placed second on the team with 21 goals and tied Kirk MacDonald for third with 38 points, despite missing 19 games.
• Tied Zach Hamill for first among all P-Bruins forwards with a plus-six rating.
• Charged up his first professional hat trick in a 6-5 win at Springfield Oct. 9.
• Returned to action Dec. 10 after being sidelined by an injury for eight weeks and charged up 18 goals and 34 points in his remaining 57 appearances.
• Scored his fifth and sixth goals—including his third game-winner, and all at the expense of the Falcons—in a 3-1 home win Dec. 19.
• Had two multi-goal games and two game-winners 10 days apart and each against the Connecticut Whale (Jan. 15 and 25).
• Kindled a month-long hot streak between Feb. 19 and March 19, scoring points in 11 out of 13 games-played for a cumulative 6-8-14 transcript within that span.
• Scored two goals, including his seventh game-winner, and finished the night with a plus-3 rating in a 4-0 win at Abbotsford Feb. 25.
• Landed at least one shot on goal in each of his last 25 appearances.

2010-11 Lowlights
• Endured a seven-game pointless skid between Dec. 31 and Jan. 14.
• Was on the ice for three opposing goals, including the eventual decider plus a power-play goal and 6-on-4 empty netter as the Charlotte Checkers throttled Providence, 6-2, on Dec. 17.
• Accumulated 14 penalty minutes within three minutes and 20 seconds for tripping, goaltender interference and misconduct during a 5-1 home loss to Bridgeport March 13.
• Recorded no goals and only three assists over nine games between March 13 and April 1.

2011-12 Outlook
Sauve’s key to a celestial kind of season is spreading his touch over more of his game log. That is, he ought to be a little less choosey in terms of whom he victimizes (six of his 21 rookie goals were scored on Springfield, five on Connecticut). And he should shoot to tune the mesh more regularly than in just 15 out of every 61 games-played.

If he does that, Sauve will not only pilot a more consistent, formidable Providence strike force in the coming year. He should also receive more priority for the occasional call-up to The Show.