Before we start talking Bruins, I wanted to thank all of my new followers on Twitter/blog readers; when this blog started, it had few readers, but lately it has blossomed quite well in the 2 months I’ve been writing thanks to all your support. You’re the best, friends.
Back to the Hockey…
First year head coach Jay Leach deserves a recent honor bestowed on him: He has been selected to coach the AHL All-Star Game in late January. With the Providence Bruins boasting an impressive 21-8-2 record, those honors are well deserved. Despite losing many of his top talents to parent club Boston, Leach mixed and matched lines to discover winning combinations. Credit to him for also coaching up first-year professionals Jackob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Zach Senyshyn, Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, and Emil Johansson. JFK and Senyshyn are among the team’s top scorers and might be sniffing a chance at the NHL level next year, while Zboril went from a punchline to quietly silencing the critics with fluid, reliable play night in and night out.
2017 ended on a high note: Leach had been named to the All-Star game, and the team ended a long stretch of 8 games on the road with an impressive 5-2-1 record and a +18 goal differential. Their win % puts them among the top of the entire league, and hteir point totals aren’t far behind. Similar to the NHL Bruins, they have games in hand against a lot of the competition (including most teams with more points). The year was not all sunshine and rainbows, however. Zane McIntyre has regressed severely from his 2016-2017 all-star year. In his past several starts, he has given up several soft goals in the opening minutes of games with enough regularity to set your watch by. His record is decent (11-7-3) but SV% is mediocre at .894 and GAA of 3.10. To put this into perspective, last year his numbers were .930 and 2.03. The other biggest concern about this team is a consistently bad powerplay: despite having an arsenal of offensive talent, their powerplay is ranked 26th, hovering around 13%. Their formula seems to revolve around working the puck around the perimeter of the umbrella PP formation looking for any lane to open up. Even when a lane opens, it seems everyone is too unselfish for their own good, opting to pass first. If they aren’t working the puck around the perimeter, they try the cross-crease pass, or a short pass below the goal line to stuff what looks like a wraparound. Neither of these schemes pay dividends, and the Bruins have left a plethora of goals on the table.
Criticisms aside, 2018 shapes up to be even more exciting than the first half of the season. Foremost, as previously mentioned, Zach Senyshyn and JFK are leading rookies in the scoring department and exhibit impressively good hockey IQ to complement their toolbox of talent. They have routinely been deployed on the top lines, and on special teams. At the faceoff dot, deploying JFK is like using cheat codes; his effectiveness as a pivot is crucial to a lot of their success. Austin Czarnik despite starting the year off with Boston, sits among the top point getters of the entire AHL. Czarnik has an excellent, workman’s attitude, and I believe if the Bruins didn’t have such a logjam at center, would still be with the big club. (Quick side note: he made this year’s AHL all-star team alongside Jay Leach and Jordan Binnington.) Peter Cehlarik has rejoined the team after injury shortened his call-up with Boston. Despite rust in his first game back, he’s an offensive juggernaut, putting up 38 points in his rookie campaign with Providence. If Peter returns to last year’s form, I see him driving back up I-95 sooner than later. Anders Bjork and Matt Beleskey are also down from the NHL Bruins to build confidence. While Beleskey isn’t quite the finesse talent Bjork is, the latter has already added offense to Providence to the tune of a couple goals. Since Matt Martin collided with Anders Bjork, the latter has been searching for consistency to his game. Given Bjork’s high-end offensive talent, personally I don’t believe his stint with Providence will last long. Lastly, gritty forward Jessie Gabrielle has been returned to the WHL (Canadian Major Junior league) for more development. Rumors had been circulating that he’d be headed to the ECHL (viable option because he’s on an ELC), however Sweeney determined returning to Major Junior would be better for his development. Don Sweeney was quoted to say to Mark Divver: “We’re keeping every option open. …We’ll have discussions about what’s best for the individual player and his development as well as for the organization.There have been times when Jesse’s played well and times when he’s struggled. It’s part of becoming a pro”.
On the defense: First-year rookies Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, and Emil Johansson have been a pleasure to watch manning the blue line alongside Journeyman Rob O’Gara and some of the Providence veteran defensemen. Fellow blueliner Matt Grzelcyk doesn’t look like he’ll be returning from Boston anytime soon, and I wish him the best of luck. My only concern with the Providence defense corps is the mysterious injury to Jeremy Lauzon that has kept him out of the lineup since Nov. 22nd. In the coming days, I plan to research what exactly went wrong via AHL Live replays and write up a little post; stay tuned!
While Zane has struggled, St. Louis Blues loaner goalie Jordan Binnington has an all-star run. His streak is 9-1-2 in 11 starts, and his goalie-specific statistics illustrate why he was anointed to the AHL all-star game: SV% .941 and 1.51 GAA. The actual goalie controversy in the Bruins System wasn’t in Boston, but Providence all along as starter Zane McIntyre has been a shell of his former self and routinely the team has to play from behind.
Despite the peaks and valleys illustrated in this post, the Bruins have been scary good in 2017. With reinforcements inbound, 2018 will see them making a competitive run for the Calder Cup. Their schedule becomes a lot more forgiving in the coming months, with only 2 week-long road trips, and day trips to neighboring cities Bridgeport, Hartford, and Springfield for away games within the division. Their toughest opponent will be the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, who they will play 4 times in the back half of March. Lehigh Valley is directly below them in the standings, and Providence has games in hand over the Phantoms. These games, along with a handful of tilts against the Charlotte Checkers in April will determine playoff seeding and the ease in which Providence will march toward the Calder come May.