Saturday, February 25, 2012

This Date In Providence Bruins History: February 25

1994: John Blue matches an AHL career-high with 41 saves, although the opposing Rochester Americans claim a 3-0 decision.

1995: A 4-2 road win constitutes the P-Bruins final confrontation with the Cornwall Aces. The two teams would not cross paths in the 1995-96 season, after which the Aces folded.

2000: With a Gordie Howe Hat Trick for Aaron Downey and a three-point performance by captain Sean Pronger, the P-Bruins splash an eight-game win drought with a 5-1 victory over the St. John’s Maple Leafs at the Civic Center.

2005: Upon blanking the Portland Pirates, 5-0, the P-Bruins start their five-game homestand at 3-0-0, outscoring the opposition, 10-1, in the process. Stand-in goaltender Matt Underhill requires only 16 saves for the shutout while his skating mates convert two power plays to take a 2-0 lead into the dressing room, then sprinkle on another three goals over the final 40 minutes.

2007: For the second time in as many home games, the P-Bruins lay a 4-0 goose-egg on the opposition, this one a 24-save shutout by Brian Finley against Springfield.

2011: Max Sauve (two goals), Jordan Caron (goal, assist) and Andrew Bodnarchuk (two assists) each have a two-point night while Michael Hutchinson repels each of 30 shots to blank the host Abbotsford Heat, 4-0.

Friday, February 24, 2012

3 Keys To PC Women’s Hockey East Quarterfinal Matchup With Maine

Playing to their strength
Since returning from the December deceleration, the Friars have mustered at least two goals in every game not involving Florence Schelling. But of their 33 strikes in those 14 games, only five have been cultivated on the power play. Their second-half special teams’ success rate of 7.46 percent all but matched the 7.9 conversion rate of their first 17 regular-season outings.

Maine’s comparable position on the other side of the spectrum is much more deceptive. Although the Black Bears are second-to-lowest on the league leaderboard in penalty killing, they have gone 50-for-53 (94 percent success) in that department since the start of the calendar year.

Providence had best focus on keeping an even-strength format, which will not be easy considering only Boston University and Vermont rival the Friars and Black Bears in terms of drawing opposing penalties. But the Friars will at least want to sculpt themselves a relatively early cushion so as to avoid being burned by the likely event of a failed power play breathing life into their visitors.

Looking for a more positive spin on this issue? Well, the best this analyst can provide is a relatively even gauge in terms of five-on-five production. PC has tuned the mesh at even strength 67 times in its first 34 games as opposed to Maine’s 66 in 33 outings.

Still, in a do-or-die scenario when special teams could spell all the difference between the semifinals and spring cleaning, the Friars can raise the upper hand by tipping the scale in the area they know best.

Seniority in the nets
Last season, otherworldly goaltender Genevieve Lacasse and her skating mates were eliminated by a similarly celestial Boston College tandem in crease counterpart Molly Schaus and volcanic scorer Kelli Stack. There is no cause to dismiss the notion that the deciding factor was an intangible bonus layer of incentive on the part of the two Eagles, who were on their last call for a Hockey East pennant.

In this year’s opening round, Lacasse joins six decorated classmates in their own final push for fulfillment. She will be countered by former Little Caesar's U19 teammate Brittany Ott, who will have one more year ahead of her after this.

Not to dismiss Maine’s will to win in 2012 or PC’s in 2011 by any means, but if the Friars brought an A-plus game to their 3-2 overtime loss in last year’s semifinals, then the Eagles had an A-plus-plus effort fueling them. And only the likes of Stack and Schaus had access to that at the time.

Could this be the Friars’ opportunity to reverse their role? That depends on whether they take it.

Stinginess down the stretch
The closing frame is decisively Maine’s most fruitful, the Black Bears having tuned the mesh a cumulative 26 times in opening frames, 28 in the second and 37 in the final stanza.

Not so coincidentally, they are a respectable 5-7-2 when trailing at the 40-minute mark. They are all but as lethal as the sight of Medusa when leading at the second intermission (11-0-2).

Providence will need to be mindful of this, regardless of the shape of the game at the time of the third period faceoff. Maria Lewis’ Maine Black Bears are at a point where they are tougher to put away than David Letterman’s Late Show Bear.

Divisional Dates Will Decide P-Bruins’ Fate

The Providence Bruins need not worry about the top dog St. John’s IceCaps for the remainder of the regular season. That statement holds true on two critical fronts in that no other cross-border meetings are on the docket and the Caps hold a solid, runaway, 14-point lead for tops in the Atlantic Division.

The rest of the circuit, though, is comprised of four New England franchises all vying for one of those last two slots in the Eastern Conference playoff picture and all separated by five points entering this weekend.

Out of the P-Bruins’ 22 remaining games, 10 will be against the other three Atlantic mid-to-welterweights, including five bouts with Worcester, starting with Friday’s venture to the DCU Center. (As it happens, another two will be constituted by visits to the Albany Devils, who currently hold the tiebreaker for ninth in the conference by virtue of a better winning percentage.)

The late-starting Sharks, who were 2-0-1 back on Oct. 21 in the wake of taking three of a possible four points from Providence, still have three games in hand as they safeguard a one-point edge for third in the division and eighth in the conference.

The Bruins will combat the Sharks once in each of the next four weekends and once more April 6. But in the three-week interim between that bout at the Dunkin Donuts Center and another encounter March 16, the Bruins will conduct another seven contests to the Sharks’ nine.

Their season series finale with Worcester will constitute the P-Bruins’ fifth-to-last game. The Sharks will have one extra opportunity to seize a two-point package between April 7 and the April 15 conclusion.

In order to not risk bobbling control of its own destiny, Providence will need to take a decisive majority of the points from their next four confrontations with the Sharks. A differential of at least four points gained from the matchup would be the ideal minimum.

On the flip side, the Monarchs, who will host the Baby Bs this Sunday at Verizon Wireless Arena and visit the Dunk once more March 23, have three more points but three fewer games remaining. A pair of virtual four-point victories on the part of Providence ought to instill a little extra sweat to its Granite State rival when the race approaches its judgment phase in April.

But as much as the Bruins need to create and sustain pressure on those two parties, they must also keep their head on a swivel for the No. 11-seeded Portland Pirates. Currently one point behind with one game in hand, the Bucs will engage the Bs three more times (March 11, March 25 and in the April 15 season finale).

And while they are each more than a month away and an extra-divisional card, a pair of visits to the Devils March 30 and April 14 could be worth underlining as well. The aforementioned virtual tiebreaker for the last non-playoff spot favors Albany by virtue of two games in hand.

Accordingly, if the Devils make good of the opportunity to separate themselves, the Spoked-Ps will likely have zero margin for error when they drop in on the Times Union Center.

Either way, with a little more than half of the forthcoming slate consisting of fellow postseason aspirants, Providence has a cut-and-dry choice between inflicting mass adversity on itself or its adversaries.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: February 24

1995: The P-Bruins play to a 3-3 tie with the Carolina Monarchs in their first-ever visit to the Greensboro Coliseum.

2001: A hat trick and two assists via Eric Nickulas is the story of a 6-1 romp at the Worcester Centrum, giving the P-Bruins three out of four points in a home-and-home with the AHL-leading IceCats.

2007: Between 19:21 of the first period and 7:07 of the third, Marco Rosa and T.J. Trevelyan each strike twice as the P-Bruins score four unanswered goals and pace themselves to a 6-2 win in Springfield.

2009: The P-Bruins take a point out of a 3-2 shootout decision in Manchester, giving them six consecutive road games without a regulation loss. The single point is effectively salvaged when Vladimir Sobotka draws a 2-2 knot with only 66 seconds to spare an otherwise scoreless third period.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

This Date In Providence Bruins History: February 23

2001: Andrew Raycroft pilfers a point from the almighty Worcester IceCats, backstopping a 2-2 tie before a capacity crowd at the Civic Center with 41 saves.

2002: Ivan Huml snaps a 2-2 tie with 71 seconds left in regulation to finalize a win over the host Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the P-Bruins’ first-ever visit to the Arena at Harbor Yard.

2003: The visiting Springfield Falcons delete a pair of one-goal deficits, with the first equalizer coming from quintessential enforcer and future P-Bruins coach Rob Murray. But Carl Corazzini puts Providence ahead for good en route to a 4-2 win at The Dunk. The win would ultimately mark the end of an otherworldly 19-game unbeaten streak (16-0-3) on home ice.

2005: Chris Madden outduels Cam Ward in the nets as the P-Bruins squeak past the Lowell Lock Monsters, 2-1, at The Dunk.

2008: Nate Thompson assists on each of the first two goals and is joined by Matt Hendricks in the multipoint club at the end of a 4-1 win at Springfield.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Friars Puckbag: An Assortment Of Observations On PC Men’s And Women’s Hockey

Alex Beaudry is virtually one, and certainly no more than two full games away from becoming the first Providence backstop to break the 3,000-save plateau in his career. And may we remind you that his career will inevitably last one semester shorter than is conventional? You could channel Crash Davis and call it a “dubious honor” and a testament to mostly flimsy defense, but every shot that is kept out of the cage counts for the same and means the same.

And under the assumption the season will not go beyond the Hockey East tournament, Beaudry and an amateur tryout constitute the only hope for a PC alumnus to tend net in a North American professional league in 2011-12. Up to this point, Bobby Goepfert is the only ex of the Friars’ goalie guild to have played anywhere, which happens to be in Germany for the DEG Metro Stars.

Each of the last three teams to have knocked off the Friars in a Women’s Hockey East semifinal has gone on to miss the postseason altogether two seasons later. Boston College followed that trend in 2006 and 2008, as did New Hampshire in 2009 and 2011 and Connecticut in 2010 and this season. So, for those who are fatalistic, may this be a heads up to BC fans in 2013.

With the regular season behind them, nobody among the PC women looks more worthy of the team’s Most Improved Player accolade than sophomore blueliner Maggie Pendleton. She enters the playoffs having already enhanced her productivity by three goals and 12 points and is the Friars’ plus/minus leader (+15) after finishing second-to-last in that category last season at minus-4.

In the downhill years of the Tim Army era, the PC men made an annual habit of losing exactly one of the last 11 games on their regular-season schedule. In this, Nate Leaman’s first season at the helm, the Friars have played the first seven of their final 11 scheduled contests and gone 2-3-2 with each game decided by two goals or fewer.

Sunday’s 2-1 falter at Northeastern marked the first time the PC women finished their regular season on a losing note in 10 years. The last time that happened, in the form of a 1-0 nick via Boston College, the Friars shook it off and proceeded to win their last ECAC pennant.

Former Friar and top Houston Aeros’ scorer Jon DiSalvatore is the only Aero to have seen action in all 53 games up to this point. One of 20 players to have traveled through the pipeline between Houston and the parent Minnesota Wild this season, DiSalvatore’s season in the NHL has still been confined to a single day, when he was recalled Dec. 27 and reassigned Dec. 28.

If Ashley Cottrell can muster at least three points in the playoffs, she will be the first Providence women’s player to hit triple-digits in the career points department since Kristin Gigliotti and Sonny Watrous both made their tracks in 2007.

With a nightly average of 2.5 more shots on goal than the opposition, the Friars are on the plus side in that department for the first time since their last postseason campaign in 2007-08.

Unless we happen upon the unlikely event of a blowout in the postseason, I doubt anyone will see praise-magnet puckhandler Genevieve Lacasse make any attempts to score on an opponent’s vacated cage at any point in her decorated college career. What a bummer.

One more Friars victory and one more loss for either UMass-Amherst or Northeastern. That is all it will take to put the PC men back in the conference playoff bracket. Providence will have to pull a September 2011 Red Sox and someone in the Bay State will have to pull a September 2011 Tampa Bay Rays to mess this up.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: February 22

2002: Andy Hilbert stands out with a hat trick in a losing cause as the Chicago Wolves claim a 4-3 decision at The Dunk.

2009: The P-Bruins win their third game in as many days, skating past Springfield, 5-4, at The Dunk. The Falcons delete a 4-2 deficit in the third period, only to have Johnny Boychuk pull Providence ahead to stay with 3:16 remaining in regulation. The winning assists give both Wacey Rabbit and Matt Marquardt a two-point outing to go with Jeff Penner’s goal-assist value pack.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bruins Puckbag: An Assortment of Observations on Boston and Providence

Over Claude Julien’s first four seasons behind the bench, Boston had two significant stretches where it failed to merely string together a set of back-to-back wins. Those both occurred in the turbulent 2009-10 campaign, when the Bruins went through one lull of inconsistency spanning 18 games and 40 days and another lasting 18 games and 41 days.

Regardless of the outcome of Wednesday night’s bout with the St. Louis Blues, those previous winning-streak droughts are bound to be eclipsed. Having lost each of their last two contests, the Bruins will inevitably enter Friday’s visit to Buffalo 19 games and 43 days removed from their last two-win chain.

As Max Sauve goes, so go the P-Bruins, or so the three scoresheets from this past weekend would hold. Returning from a 10-weeek, concussion-induced absence for Friday night’s bout with Hershey, Sauve chipped in two helpers as part of a 6-0 romp. He went pointless and brooked a minus-one rating in Saturday’s 4-1 loss at Springfield, then notched the secondary helper on Jamie Arniel’s goal amidst a 4-3 clipping of Connecticut on Sunday.

Has the search for a satisfying puck-moving defenseman become the Bruins’ answer to the Red Sox’ revolving door at shortstop? The answer to that will likely hinge on Joe Corvo’s performance in the homestretch and playoffs and whatever general manager Peter Chiarelli does with his lone offseason trade acquisition afterwards.

Talk about your opposing trends: The first of four times Boston’s No. 1 backstop Tim Thomas has allowed at least four goals in a single start occurred on Dec. 31. The last of nine times Providence starter Anton Khudobin has authorized at least a four-strike night was on Dec. 26. Although, both masked men have yet to pitch a shutout in this calendar year.

Between Steven Kampfer’s second-period turnover and Khudobin’s third-period tumble behind his goal line that left the cage gaping, the P-Bruins spilled their initial 3-1 lead on the Whale Sunday in one of the most collectively unseemly manners. But even while their two best available defensive pieces were not at their best for a day, the best available striker, Carter Camper, had a most liberating tiebreaker in him to cap his hat trick and the win Sunday.

Speaking of Camper, his Monday call-up to the parent club, even more so than the promotions of Josh Hennessy and Andrew Bodnarchuk, evokes more memories of 2009-10. That was when the likes of Johnny Boychuk, Brad Marchand and Adam McQuaid were pressed into supplementing an injury-plagued roster before they were ready to break into The Show. But look at what that ultimately did for them and the Bruins in 2010-11.

The P-Bruins trail Worcester by only one point in the hunt for the last playoff seed in the AHL’s Eastern Conference, but the Sharks still have a luxurious four games in hand. With five confrontations still to come, Providence needs to take at least eight points and concede no more than two or three to Worcester in order to keep control of its own destiny.

We keep coming back to this. As everyone ought to have learned from the 2009-10 season, you cannot really coach against injuries. But as everyone ought to have learned from last year’s Stanley Cup finals, a team can derive quite the effective, emotional sparkplug in the absence of a key player. The Bruins are about a month overdue to rekindle the “Win it for Horty” mentality.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: February 21

2003: One night after the infamous Station Nightclub Fire in Warwick, the team presents an aggregate donation of $8,500 for relief efforts. On the ice, the Bruins thrash the Lowell Lock Monsters, 6-0, with two goals coming from Tyler Beechey in his AHL debut.

2007: Recovering from a home-and-home sweep at the hands of the Hartford Wolf Pack, Jordan Sigalet backstops the P-Bruins with a 30-save, 4-0 shutout of Portland at The Dunk.

2008: Six different goal-scorers obliterate the Hartford Wolf Pack, 6-1, to kickstart a seven-game road trip.

2009: Matt Lashoff, Mikko Lehtonen and Brad Marchand each have a two-point night at the DCU Center. Marchand, along with goaltender Tuukka Rask, picks up an assist on Jordan Knackstedt’s empty-netter to end a 4-2 win over the Sharks.

Monday, February 20, 2012

P-Bruins Indulge In American Influence Over Country’s Hockey Weekend

Few AHL teams are more Americanized than the Providence Bruins. The way each roster is presently structured, the Baby Bs are in a five-way tie for the most U.S.-born players on their bench with 10.

Only the Albany Devils (12) and aptly named Rochester Americans (11) had more active Star-Spangled skaters as of this weekend. And if not for Josh Hennessy’s call-up to Boston, the P-Bruins would be tied with Rochester for second on this list.

Regardless, six of the 10 American-born P-Bruins made a tangible contribution to the team’s cause as part of a 2-1-0 run through Hockey Weekend Across America. Forward Lane MacDermid and Zach McKelvie were the only two players in question to go pointless and not tack on any plus/minus points over the three most recent games.

As for the others, the man-by-man highlights as follows:

Matt Bartkowski (Pittsburgh, Pa.): A plus-three rating, which tied teammates and countrymen Kyle MacKinnon and Kevan Miller for the best on the night in Friday’s 6-0 win over Hershey.

Carter Camper (Rocky River, Ohio): First professional hat trick in Sunday’s 4-3 win over Connecticut, including the go-ahead, game-clinching strike.

Colby Cohen (Villanova, Pa.): Goal and assist on Friday, including a helper on Jamie Tardif’s icebreaker and eventual game-winner.

Steven Kampfer (Ann Arbor, Mich.): A plus-one rating on Sunday.

Kyle MacKinnon (Walnut, Calif.): Assist in Friday’s win.

Kevan Miller (Los Angeles, Calif.): Goal, assist and a plus-three rating on Friday. Another helper in Saturday’s 4-1 loss at Springfield.

Brad Robins (Peshtigo, Wisc.): Assist on Friday.

David Warsofsky (Marshfield, Mass.): Assist on Friday and a plus-one rating on Sunday.

In summation, five of the P-Bruins’ 11 goals and six of their 17 assists were supplied by homeland hockey talent.

This Date In Providence Bruins History: February 20

2005: Filling in for the injured Hannu Toivonen, rookie goaltender Chris Madden turns away 18 shots to shut out the Springfield Falcons, 3-0, with the help of goals by Brad Boyes, Ben Guite and Andy Hilbert.

2009: Jordan Knackstedt opens the scoring unassisted before Johnny Boychuk chips in a goal and two assists for a four-goal first-period outburst. From there, the P-Bruins pace themselves to a 5-2 home win over Manchester.

2010: The P-Bruins go to a shootout for the third consecutive day and ultimately settle for five out of six points on the weekend, conceding a 4-3 decision to Worcester at The Dunk. Michael Hutchinson stops 42 regulation shots to give himself a cumulative 117 saves in a three-night span.