Are the Providence Bruins Aware Hockey Season has Begun?
Providence, RI: The Providence Bruins have dug themselves into an ever-deepening hole. In the first 5 games of a young season, the Boston Bruins affiliate has only managed a 1-4-0 record with a 0.200 win percentage. Since the AHL calculates standings based on win percentage, Providence’s record translates to 15th place out of 16 in the Eastern Conference. Similarly, other high-powered playoff teams from the past season like Syracuse Crunch and even the Calder Cup winning Toronto Marlies have stumbled out of the gate with similarly dismal records.
Providence’s main problem stems from a lack of engagement early, or a consistent sixty-minute effort when scoring early. Two of Providence’s four losses resulted from poor starts against the Hartford Wolf Pack, where the opponent took command of the game immediately and suffocated Providence for most of the contest. The other two losses were early leads built by Providence they let slip away at home against Laval and on the road in Springfield.
Even in their lone win thus far, Providence took an early lead only to watch the Wolf Pack storm back with three unanswered goals. To secure the two points, Providence had to rely on third period heroics and some fortuitous puck bounces to score three unanswered goals of their own. As mentioned in previous articles, this model is unsustainable, even for a team as talented as Providence.
Undeniably, Providence ices a lot of talent in the lineup. Second year head coach Jay Leach routinely plays four first-round draft picks in his care. Zach Senyshyn, Jakub Zboril, Trent Frederic, and especially Urho Vaakanainen have all earned their first-round draft pick status through their combinations of pedigree and skill. This brief list excludes other noteworthy Providence skaters Jordan Szwarz, Peter Cehlarik, and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson among others. My sharpened criticism of the team stems from routinely reliable skaters all underperforming with no apparent team chemistry developing.
Unsurprisingly, this funk has seeped into the crease. Zane McIntyre, once envisioned to secure a spot in Boston, has let in a pile of goals. Dan Vladar hasn’t fared much better, with no wins to his credit, despite no regulation losses in any appearances with Providence before this season. The porous Providence defense has allowed an alarming number of odd-man rushes, turnovers in the slot, and clean zone clearing.
As a result, Providence goalies and skaters face extended time under siege in their own zone. This translates into more scoring opportunities against, eventually grinding down the team’s fighting spirit. From the goaltenders out, every player must reassess and reevaluate their performance to this point if the Providence Bruins live up to what they are capable of producing.
Okay, now that’s out of my system, we can look on the bright side.
Glass Half Full:
The season is still young. Providence endured a similar losing streak January of last year and still made the playoffs handily. At one point, they even took the first spot in their division after the losing streak. Despite the ominous cloud hanging about the Dunk, 71 games remain on the schedule. Two good weekends will go a long way to reversing this initial downswing.
Further, the addition of Cody Goloubef and Martin Bakos to the roster should bolster the Providence Bruins’ offensive punch. Goloubef, a veteran of the AHL and NHL, functions as an offensive-defenseman who transitions the puck out of the zone quickly and efficiently. Bakos displayed flashes of brilliance during development camp with the Bruins in June. Despite no stints in North America, he has reliably produced for former teams in Slovakia and the KHL and should provide a calming veteran presence.
Providence Head Coach Jay Leach: “We work way too hard to be making the mistakes we are making. It’s mental more than anything.”
“We’ve had a history of having details in our defensive game. We need to Make sure these guys know what they should be doing, so when things happen they can rest on those details and structure, and it’s not just a panic mode situation.”
“Our goalies have seen more backdoor [passes] than they saw all of last year.”
Credit and gratitude to Mark Divver, Providence Journal.
Earlier in the week, parent club Boston Bruins moved prospects Joona Koppanen and Jesse Gabrielle down to the ECHL affiliate Atlanta Gladiators. Gabrielle played 21 games with Providence last season before the organization returned him to the WHL’s Regina Pats. After his season overseas ended, Koppanen played 10 games with Providence last season. The move sets both youngsters up to log heavier minutes than they would in a loaded Providence roster.
On the heels of finishing that last sentence, the Providence Bruins signed KHL veteran Jan Kovar to a professional tryout agreement (PTO) on October 18th. Kovar has racked up 97 goals, 189 assists in 5 years with the Metallurg Magnitogorsk. The Czech forward was originally signed by the New York Islanders, but failed to make the team out of training camp. After failing to make the team out of training camp, he was sent to the AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He did not report, and instead was unconditionally waived in order to terminate his contract. No doubt Kovar realized the unflattering light that incident painted him in, and looks to repair his reputation in Providence.
Per Jay Leach, Kovar has not skated much recently, and unlikely to play this weekend. He will spend time getting up to game speed and learning the Providence system before he laces up for the Bruins.
Dan Vladar starts tonight in Bridgeport, while McIntyre gets the nod Saturday.
The Providence Bruins take aim at the team directly above them in the standings this weekend. The Bridgeport Sound Tigers’ 1-2-1 record places them inches above the Bruins and within striking distance of Providence leapfrogging them. From the game reports out of Bridgeport, the Sound Tigers have dealt with many of the same issues as the Bruins: allowing early goals in the first period, not converting 5-on-3 powerplay opportunities, shaky goaltending, and ineffective defense.
With the added firepower of Bakos and possibly Kovar, Providence should come out with renewed intensity. As every hockey interviewer has said at some point, the team needs a full 60-minute effort—as it stands, they’ve been taking a period or two off in their games to date and are now paying the price.
Given that the AHL is a developmental league, a “must-win” situation does not exist in the conventional sense. However, a winning culture better fosters development of prospects. Providence needs to right the ship with at least one win this weekend. However, sweeping the home-and-home on back-to-back nights would do well to clear the air and reset everyone’s body language on the bench going forward.