Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pre-game Puckbag: P-Bruins @ Manchester Monarchs

Opening draw
The Providence Bruins will approach the halfway mark of their 2011-12 season series with the Manchester Monarchs upon visiting Verizon Wireless Arena Saturday night.

Winless in their last seven outings (0-6-1), the P-Bruins will look to pull ahead in the season series after most recently edging the Monarchs, 1-0, on home ice Nov. 11 and extracting a 3-2 shootout decision in their only other excursion to Manchester Nov. 5.

Manchester, on the other hand, hopes to avoid a second consecutive loss to an ostensibly weaker opponent. The Monarchs’ six-game winning streak was obliterated in Binghamton Friday night when the Senators claimed a 4-1 victory.

That upshot, coupled with the P-Bruins’ identical 4-1 falter against Connecticut, flip-flopped the Baby Bs and Baby Sens in their positions as the least successful teams in the Eastern Conference. Providence now has the second-worst winning percentage in the entire AHL (.375) behind the Hamilton Bulldogs (.350).

Notable names
Upon splashing a six-game production drought, winger Brandon Kozun has since tallied a point in each of his last three appearances, giving him a hand in three of the Monarchs’ last seven goals.

Defenseman Slava Voynov, who has played in each of Manchester’s first four meetings with Providence but only eight AHL games overall, was recalled to the parent Los Angeles Kings for the second time this season Nov. 15. He has not been back in the minors since, but rather cemented a regular spot on the active roster, appearing in eight straight NHL games.

Goaltender Martin Jones, Saturday’s presumptive starter for the Monarchs, has won each of his last three starts and is 2-1-0 against Providence with only one goal-against in each of those three meetings.

Both Providence and Manchester are experiencing a bit of a power-play drought. The P-Bruins have deferred on each of their last 15 man-advantage invitations, dating back to Jamie Tardif’s first-period conversion against Norfolk last Friday. The Monarchs, meanwhile, are 0-for-8 over the course of their last three games.

The Monarchs are still riding a five-game winning streak at home, although every win has been decided by a single goal, including one overtime and two shootout decisions.

The P-Bruins are off on Sunday while the Monarchs are slated to visit Worcester before the two parties converge yet again on the Dunkin Donuts Center next Friday.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: December 3

1999: Eric Nickulas returns from a concussion and assists on Eric Manlow’s game-winner to top the visiting Worcester IceCats, 3-2.

2000: Ivan Huml snaps a 1-1 tie with 9:05 to spare in regulation and Eric Manlow finalizes a 3-1 home win over the Albany River Rats.

2003: The P-Bruins surmount a 2-0 deficit to top the host Albany River Rats in overtime, 3-2, at Pepsi Arena. Brett Nowak draws a 2-2 knot with 3:04 to spare in the third period and Kevin Dallman inserts the walkoff strike.

2004: Patrice Bergeron, with the AHL Bruins for the balance of the NHL lockout, is selected to represent Team Canada at the World Junior Championship.

2011: One week after shedding the Hartford Wolf Pack brand, the new Connecticut Whale pays its first visit to Providence, claiming a 3-1 decision.

Friday, December 2, 2011

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

Swift summation
The Providence Bruins could have given their resident sympathetic figure, goaltender Anton Khudobin, a bit of a welcome respite Friday night. Entering the depths of the third period, the AHL’s cumulative saves leader appeared to be on pace for his lightest workload of the season.

That prospect ultimately blew apart, however, due to a late gale of penalties. But even before that, the P-Bruins had spotted themselves a losing battle as they authorized a 2-0 deficit within the first 40 minutes, despite pelting Connecticut Whale stopper Chad Johnson with 11 shots in each of the first two periods.

By night’s end, Khudobin had repelled 22 out of 26 shots faced, including 10 of 12 in a third period that more closely resembled a typical 2011-12 P-Bruins’ excursion. The scoreboard was likewise a wretched rerun as the Whale claimed a 4-1 victory before 7,352 fans at the Dunkin Donuts Center.

The first two-thirds of the opening frame constituted a stiff arm-wrestling match, the jutting difference being an icebreaker via Connecticut winger Scott Tanski with 6:13 gone.

Starting at 14:04, the P-Bruins drew three unanswered minors on the Whale and went on a 5-1 run in the shooting gallery to hustle into intermission. But Johnson held his own to maintain his club’s 1-0 advantage.

By the conclusion of the second stanza, Johnson and Co. had dealt with five consecutive penalty kills. Yet on a fleeting, even-strength counterattack, Connecticut’s Tommy Grant beat Providence stopper Anton Khudobin on his first test of the period, roofing home the game’s second goal for a 2-0 edge.

When the calls began to even out in the third, the P-Bruins paid in the form of two 5-on-3 disadvantages and a pair of Whale conversions that came with them.

Zach Hamill did hatch Johnson’s goose-egg by burying a Jordan Caron rebound for a shorthanded strike at 6:13. But that was sandwiched by Kris Newbury redirecting Mats Zuccarello’s power-play bid home 50 seconds prior for a 3-0 lead and Zuccarello inserting his own shot at 15:46 to finalize the 4-1 upshot.

P-Bruins pluses
The long-standing line of Josh Hennessy, Max Sauve and Jamie Tardif keyed the bulk of the first period attack. Not only did they combine for six of the P-Bruins’ first 11 shots, but they were also pressing within intimate distance of Johnson during a late power play when Stu Bickel was cited for cross-checking, amounting to a brief 5-on-3 and a carry-over man-advantage.

Prior to that, Tardif had drawn a tripping penalty on Grant behind the Whale cage. Tardif later drew an interference minor on defenseman Pavel Valentenko as he literally crashed the net in the ninth minute of the middle frame.

Meanwhile, Hennessy repeatedly thwarted Connecticut counterattacks by picking off forward passes in the neutral zone and thrusting the disc back onto Whale property.

Bruins blights
Even with the reinsertion of long-wounded captain Trent Whitfield and Caron, on his second one-game lone from Boston this season, along with the aforementioned efforts of Hennessy’s line, the power play continued to perform like the No. 29 unit in the league. And in special teams and even-strength onslaughts alike, too many passes were off key, too many races lost and too many loose pucks cleared by the Whale.

By night’s end, the P-Bruins were 0-for-7 with the extra body. Perhaps symbolically, their final 10 seconds of their last opportunity were spilled when Andrew Bodnarchuk went off for tripping with 5:09 to spare. He was joined by Jamie Arniel (high-sticking) 20 seconds later and they subsequently watched from their confined space as Zuccarello tallied Connecticut’s second 5-on-3 goal of the night.

Whale notes
Tanski’s goal was his first of the season, although it was originally credited to blueliner Jared Nightingale. Nightingale has not tuned the mesh in his last 38 AHL regular-season games, dating back to when he beat the P-Bruins’ Michael Hutchinson in the Feb. 19 Whale Bowl game at Rentschler Field.

Winger Jared Owens was credited with an assist on each of Connecticut’s first two goals.

Zuccarello led all participants with five shots on net and was joined by Nightingale and Owens in the night’s two-point club.

To make room for the additions of Caron and Whitfield, two P-Bruins forwards were deleted from the roster Friday, one exit presumed temporary, and the other a little closer to permanent. Rookie Kyle MacKinnon was reassigned to ECHL Reading for the first time while Adam Presizniuk was released from his professional tryout after nine days and two appearances in game action.

P-Bruins rookie defenseman Kevan Miller, putting in his first appearance in exactly two weeks after nursing an injury, dropped the gloves with Connecticut forward Andre Deveaux at the 51-second mark of the third period.

Caron and defenseman Matt Bartkowski were the only Providence skaters to finish with a positive rating. Despite putting in only two AHL appearances, Caron now leads the Baby Bs with a plus-2 rating on the year.

Bodnarchuk garnered the secondary assist on Hamill’s goal.

Identical twin brothers Zach McKelvie of Providence and Chris McKelvie of Connecticut have each suited up once in the season series, but have not played against each other yet.

Pre-game Puckbag: P-Bruins vs. Connecticut Whale

Opening draw
The Eastern Conference’s second-worst and second-best will converge on the Dunkin Donuts Center when the Providence Bruins host the Connecticut Whale Friday night.

In terms of winning percentage, the most telling nugget of data as to everyone’s position in the Calder Cup playoff derby, Connecticut (.675) trails only the St. John’s IceCaps (.700) for tops in the conference. The Binghamton Senators (.381) are all that are keeping the P-Bruins (.391) out of the absolute basement.

The P-Bruins have neither donned home game attire nor cultivated a single point since the last time they faced Connecticut, which pilfered a 3-2 shootout decision Nov. 20. Since then, Providence has come up empty on a three-game road trip, conceding one match with Hershey and two straight to Norfolk by an aggregate 12-6 margin.

Overall, the Bruins are nursing a six-game winless streak, their only point being that aforementioned shootout reward in their fall-from-ahead loss to the Whale.

Notable names
Forwards Carl Hagelin and John Mitchell have both been on recall to the parent New York Rangers since Thanksgiving Day. Despite missing their last three games, Hagelin and Mitchell are still in a three-way tie with Jonathan Audy-Marchessault for the Whale team lead with seven goals apiece.

Andre Deveaux, who has not seen AHL game action since the tail-end of October, was reassigned from The Show on Thursday.

Since the Whale’s last meeting with the P-Bruins, Audy-Marchessault has started up a four-game point-getting streak with a cumulative 2-4-6 log in that span. Meanwhile, defenseman Pavel Valentenko has a goal in each of his last two outings.

Since starting the season at 1-2-0, Connecticut has only had trouble with Bridgeport and St. John’s, going a cumulative 1-4-2 against those two teams. But dating back to Oct. 21, the Whale are a pristine 11-0-0 versus all other adversaries.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: December 2

1994: Sandy Moger draws a 2-2 knot on a third period power play and Brett Harkins converts in overtime for a 3-2 win over the visiting Cornwall Aces. With that, the P-Bruins sweep a four-game homestand and extend their overall winning streak to six games, including five at the Civic Center.

1995: In his second game since being sent down to the Baby Bs, Boston goaltending prospect Blaine Lacher shares a shutout with Rob Tallas. Cam Stewart bookends the scoring in the 5-0 win over the Worcester IceCats with a shorthanded goal and a penalty shot conversion while Tim Sweeney inserts a power play goal and adds two assists.

2007: The P-Bruins sweep a three-day slate of home games upon knocking off the Albany River Rats, 5-3.

2009: Mikko Lehtonen tunes the mesh in both regulation and the shootout. Zach Hamill and Brad Marchand add their own one-on-one strikes to spell the difference in a 2-1 road win over Bridgeport.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bruins Puckbag: An Assortment of Observations on Boston and Providence

Thursday’s reassignment of Jordan Caron and Steven Kamper to Providence is at least a week overdue, especially for Caron. So long as Benoit Pouliot is continuing to catch on, it’s only fair that he stay active every night with Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley, but Caron needs regular extramural action. I say keep him in Providence for at least the first half of this month and let Zach Hamill be Boston’s 13th forward for the time being.

David Krejci’s newfangled three-year contract is not necessarily an impeccable, but all things considered, it is at least a shrewd idea to keep the upper echelon of the Bruins’ depth chart as it is for the balance of this season. When Krejci and wingers Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic are on their game, as they were Wednesday night against Toronto, they are an integral part of Claude Julien’s ecosystem.

Speaking of Lucic, with his second two-goal performance in as many visits to Toronto, he nudged ahead of Chris Kelly for the team’s best shooting percentage with 23.8 percent accuracy.

For the next two weekends, it’s all Connecticut and Manchester on the P-Bruins’ docket. They will host the Whale on Friday and next Sunday in addition to paying their first visit to the XL Center this season next Saturday. The Monarchs are on deck to host Providence this Saturday and pay their third of five slated visits to the Dunkin Donuts Center a week from Friday.

Is the Boston-Toronto season series the 2011-12 equivalent of Montreal-Boston in 2007-08? The Bruins are halfway there after claiming the first three installments and outscoring the Maple Leafs, 19-5, in that span.

The Baby Bs will not venture outside of New England boundaries again until Jan. 25, when they visit the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. Starting with that, they will play four of five games on the road and outside of this region (Feb. 4 at Adirondack and Feb. 7-8 at St. John’s). But until then, it’s 21 straight games at home or in any of last year’s Atlantic Division cities.

Is it just me or is Zdeno Chara’s productivity flying under the radar? The peerlessly towering blueliner and Bruins’ captain has goals in three of his last four outings and posted a 4-10-14 scoring log in November whilst upping his rating to plus-15, the best among all NHL defensemen. Perhaps most strikingly, he leads Boston’s power play with three goals and seven points.

In the NHL as a whole, Chara is tied with Brad Marchand for third in the plus/minus column. They trail only teammates Kelly (plus-16) and Tyler Seguin (plus-19). Patrice Bergeron is in a three-way tie with Florida’s Tomas Fleischmann and St. Louis’ Alex Steen for fifth with a plus-14.

The P-Bruins turned a few heads by outdrawing their co-tenants, PC men’s basketball, last season. So far this year, with 13 home games under their belt, the local AHL entry has drawn about 6,352 fans per night. The Friar hoops team has played four nonconference games on the Dave Gavitt Court before an average audience of 5,552. But there is still plenty of time, not to mention nine Big East games, for that to change.

In two fewer games, Gregory Campbell, Kelly, Lucic and Peverley have each already charged up more points this regular season than they did over the course of the 2011 playoffs. In addition, the otherworldly Tim Thomas is retaining the exact same save percentage (.940) and a slightly better goals-against average (1.93 this regular season versus 1.98 in last year’s playoffs).

Brian McGrattan was a P-Bruins’ enforcer at this time last year and saw no NHL action in 2010-11, including after his rights were swapped over to the Anaheim Ducks in February. So far this year, he leads the Nashville Predators with 34 penalty minutes.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: December 1

1995: Mark Cornforth and Ted Crowley each log a three-point game to pilot a 9-2 throttling of the Rochester Americans, the eventual Calder Cup champions.

2000: Zdenak Kutlak’s two goals pilot the P-Bruins to their sixth consecutive victory, a 5-2 home triumph over the Lowell Lock Monsters.

2001: The P-Bruins engage the expansion Manchester Monarchs for the first time at Verizon Wireless Arena, where they lose, 3-1.

2006: The Sigalet brothers make all the difference in a 1-0 home win over the Lowell Devils. Jonathan Sigalet stops all 23 of Lowell’s shots while Jonathan Sigalet inserts the game’s only goal on a power play at 14:06 of the second period.

2007: With 11 skaters contributing to the outburst, the P-Bruins sculpt a 5-0 lead all within the second period en route to a 5-1 home win over Rochester.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

This Date In Providence Bruins History: November 30

2007: The P-Bruins win their first-ever confrontation with the Rockford IceHogs, taking a 5-4 shootout decision at The Dunk. David Krejci joins Chris Collins in scoring a goal and an assist apiece in regulation, then joins Jeff Hoggan in beating goaltender Corey Crawford in the shootout.

2008: Brad Marchand’s goal at 3:33 of overtime beats Hartford, 4-3, and extends the P-Bruins home winning streak to six games.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

This Date In Providence Bruins History: November 29

1992: The P-Bruins win their second and final confrontation with the Halifax Citadels, claiming a 7-4 decision at the Civic Center.

1996: The P-Bruins pay their first visit to the historic Spectrum in Philadelphia and fall short to the formidable Phantoms, 6-3.

2002: Andy Hilbert’s second hat trick pilots a 5-2 home win over the Lowell Lock Monsters.

2003: Former PC Friars captain and soon-to-be P-Bruins captain Jay Leach makes his debut with the Spoked-Ps in a 7-0 road loss to Manchester.

2008: Vladimir Sobotka has a hand in both goals while Tuukka Rask repels all 27 shots to blank the Springfield Falcons, 2-0, at MassMutual Center.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Is This P-Bruins Team Worse Than 97-98?

There are a multitude of reasons to either accept or object to the shootout as well as the outright elimination of ties that came with it back in 2004-05.

For Providence Bruins fans, this particular season, the shootout has been little more than the ultimate sugarcoating. With three of the P-Bruins’ eight wins decided by way of the one-on-one derby, it is all that is keeping the superficial observer from evoking memories of the team’s single-worst season in franchise history.

Recall that, in 1997-98, when Providence finished last in what was then an 18-team AHL under the misguidance of Tom McVie, the only prominent league to use the shootout was its since-deceased rival, the International League.

As was learned a year later when Peter Laviolette came to initiate a District-Five-to-Ducks turnaround, that team had an abundance of capable personnel. The likes of goaltender John Grahame, defenseman Elias Abrahamsson and forwards Cameron Mann, Randy Robitaille and Landon Wilson formed part of a returning corps that garnered the 1999 Calder Cup title.

With goaltender Anton Khudobin, long-tenured blueliner Andrew Bodnarchuk and strikers like Zach Hamill, Josh Hennessy, Max Sauve and Jamie Tardif, this 2011-12 team theoretically could have at least been a threat. No need to be a record-setting runaway, but a reckonable club would have generated little surprise.

The fact that this P-Bruins’ group is instead languishing the way it has been for the first two calendar months of action is enough to size them up with the peerlessly plebeian 1997-98 installment.

But back then, if a regular-season game’s ice chips hadn’t settled in the standard, 60-minute time frame, each team got a hard-earned point and proceeded to a bite-size bonus round to go for the extra point.

If no goals were scored over the next five minutes of play, then that third point was withheld and each team settled for a tie. If you surrendered a sudden-death goal, you settled for the regulation tie. If you tuned the mesh, the win was yours.

En route to an eventual 19-49-12 finish, the 1997-98 P-Bruins were 6-12-5 at the 23-game mark, with all six wins decided in regulation and two of their five regulation ties being overtime losses.

After 23 games this season, Providence bears an 8-13-2 transcript with four regulation wins, one overtime triumph, three shootout victories, one overtime loss and one shootout falter.

But imagine if this were at least eight years ago, before the advent of the shootout. None of those four lightning rounds would have happened. Accordingly, under the previous system, the Bruins’ record today would read 5-13-5.

Translation: They would have three points fewer on this season as well as one win and two points fewer than their infamous ancestors had at this point of their itinerary.

Oh, and this may be an awkward time to mention, but as of this season, these P-Bruins have four fewer opportunities to make up for lost ground. Additionally, in contrast to the McVie team, Bruce Cassidy’s pupils have six additional Eastern Conference rivals to overcome if they are to earn a slot in the Calder Cup playoffs.

As mortifying as it was in the former days to be the odd team out when 16 out of 18 AHL teams earned bonus springtime action, today’s P-Bruins are in stark danger of their third straight postseason no-show.

Of the four other times they have whiffed on a playoff passport, the P-Bruins have never had as low a bushel of regulation/overtime wins after their first 23 games. In 1993-94, they started at 7-13-3. They were 11-11-1 at this point in 2009-10 with only one shootout win. And last year, they were 9-10-4 with eight victories decided with a clock running.

And while the misery of a non-playoff AHL season has more company than it did before the turn of the century, Providence is presently third-to-worst in terms of winning percentage. In the 30-team circuit, their .391 success rate compares favorably only to that of the Binghamton Senators (.381) and Hamilton Bulldogs (.368).

But delete the B-Sens, who did not exist until 2002 and whose city started going without Triple-A hockey in 1997, and last place would be the P-Bruins’ to take once the Worcester Sharks start using their six games in hand.

And the Senators themselves have two games in hand on Providence, whom they trail by only two points.

This means that, at this rate, the shootout could do what years of expansion might fail to do. That is, salvage the genetically modified table scraps of dignity the 2011-12 Providence Bruins may require to avoid lowering the bar set by their 1997-98 counterparts.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: November 28

1996: On Thanksgiving night, the P-Bruins rout the Binghamton Rangers, 6-1, in the final meeting between the two teams at Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena. The Rangers would visit Providence one more time before becoming the Hartford Wolf Pack the subsequent summer.

1997: Shawn Bates scores a hat trick on Jean-Sebastien Giguere, spelling the difference in a 5-2 home victory over the Saint John Flames.

2003: Rich Brennan and Martin Samuelsson pilot the scoring with two points apiece as the P-Bruins pace themselves past the Portland Pirates, 4-3. The win amounts to four straight home victories and a 5-0-1 unbeaten streak at The Dunk.

2007: With a 2-1 overtime loss to the visiting Springfield Falcons, the P-Bruins record morphs to 14-3-3 with 31 out of a possible 40 points.

2008: The P-Bruins take a 2-0 lead over Worcester into the first intermission, spill a 3-2 difference through 40 minutes, then score three unanswered goals to regain the lead and stamp a 5-3 win at The Dunk.

2009: Guillame Lefebvre scores twice in regulation and Mikko Lehtonen converts Trent Whitfield’s feed at 4:19 of overtime to beat the Wolf Pack, 3-2, at Hartford’s XL Center. Kevin Regan stops 40 out of 42 shots, including 15 in the third period and overtime.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

This Date In Providence Bruins History: November 27

1994: After scoring thrice in the first seven minutes of regulation, the P-Bruins pace themselves to a 4-1 win over Springfield.

2004: Andy Hilbert has a hand in the first two goals, which ultimately spell the difference in beating the Lowell Lock Monsters, 3-1, at Tsongas Arena.

2005: Tyler Redenbach converts two Ben Guite passes in an eventual 4-3 shootout loss to Manchester at Verizon Wireless Arena.