Providence, RI: When the Providence Bruins embarked on the 2018-19 season, no-one envisioned them stumbling out of the gate with two consecutive losses. Alternate captain Jordan Szwarz gave me his impressions of the first two games: “Bad start, bad first period [in Hartford], but we dominated them the rest of the game. We’re a young team [that’s] still learning the ropes, working on [team chemistry].” He seemed eager for the rematch with Hartford coming up this week.
The Providence Bruins can atone for sins of the past almost immediately. In a mirror image of last weekend, they open their next set of games on the road In Hartford. Immediately following that tilt, both teams board their busses and immediately travel to Providence for a Saturday night showdown.
Fortunately, Providence benefits from six days off in which to re-tool their game plan. Recent demotion Urho Vaakanainen’s addition to the lineup gives Jay Leach a new weapon to game plan around. Despite a minus one rating in his first game action with Providence, Leach eagerly deployed the smooth-skating Finn. Urho’s quick transition game and on-ice vision benefits the team by recovering loose pucks and redistributing them efficiently. With six days of practice, especially with Vaakanainen, the Providence Bruins game plan should capitalize on lessons learned over the weekend.
Sundays at Springfield:
To end the week, Providence will face rival Springfield Thunderbirds at the MassMutual center. Historically, Sunday road matinees benefit the Bruins if last season is any indication. To-date, Springfield has only played in one game: a shootout loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. By the time they face the Bruins, Springfield will have played on the road and then at home against the high-octane Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Given both teams play a three-in-three, no team should have the advantage of rest over the other.
With a limited sample size, judging this year’s iteration of the Thunderbirds is difficult. Providence matched up against the Birds well in the AHL preseason, but then came out flat once the regular season began. Season-over-season, the Thunderbirds finish near the bottom of the league, but have played spoiler to the Bruins on several occasions.
Jay Leach on the Laval Rocket: “Laval was very good. They were physical. They were a little older than us. They worked. It was a tough game for us. We had moments where we were good and we had some sustained pressure and then we had moments where we were just holding on for dear life…They ultimately deserved to win the game. We were up 2-0, but they outchanced us handily.”
Via Mark Divver, the Providence Journal
Cody Goloubef makes his appearance this weekend for the first time this season according to Jay Leach. He will skate alongside Urho Vaakanainen as one of the top defensive pairings. Goloubef is the only RHD other than QU alum Connor Clifton; the latter will slide down a pair. No update on Jesse Gabrielle’s upper body injury but he did not attend the Providence skate with the players. AHL contracted David Broll may also appear this upcoming weekend. Broll took part in the Skate with the Players with no signs his hand injury.
Friday Scratches: Sherman, Koppannen, Pond, Gabrielle, Johansson.
McIntyre left the practice ice first on Friday morning. I expect he gets the start in the road games Friday and Sunday, while Vladar plays on home ice Saturday night.
Principally, Zane McIntyre must have a better start in net. Echoing last week’s thoughts: McIntyre cannot afford to gift the opponent early goals. Providence countered several of his bad starts last season with come-from-behind victories that often required overtime heroics. This model is unsustainable and will lead to another early playoff exit or missing the dance in April altogether.
That being said, the whole team must tighten up defensively and better manage the puck. Last weekend, they were caught out of position or bullied off the puck too easily. Hartford embarrassed them in the first period Friday and Laval harassed them into surrendering the two goal lead Providence built on Saturday.
I expect to see better performances out of Providence’s top line as well. Ryan Fitzgerald, Peter Cehlarik, and Jordan Szwarz finished last weekend individually with a -3. This weekend was an anomaly, as Cehlarik and Szwarz usually lead the team in points; meanwhile, Fitzgerald plays a responsible, grinding style of hockey that seldom leaves the team vulnerable. All three will benefit from practicing together in the six days between games.
Smart, assertive, two-way play will be the key to success this upcoming weekend. Hopefully a week of practice gets the team back on track and playing the way we know they are capable of. You do not win championships in early October, but you can certainly make the climb that much steeper.