PROVIDENCE, RI – Not so long ago, the Providence Bruins suffered due to a lack of scoring. For several seasons, the Bruins were well below average in the AHL in regards to goal scoring and subsequently their power-play was abysmal.
The tide has turned and the boys from Providence now possess skilled scorers on several offensive lines and have a balanced scoring attack despite their youth. Coach Bruce Cassidy states that, “Our offense is coming around but we need to do a better job keeping it out of our net. Offensively, this team is really good. Offense is not our problem.”
With 21 games played, the Bruins have scored 74 goals, only four AHL teams have scored more goals. In the East, only Binghamton has scored more than Providence, with 78 tallies. Center Ryan Spooner is averaging a point a game and leads the team in scoring with 19 points. Spooner was recalled to Boston and missed two games. Late Boston roster cuts, Matt Fraser and Nick Johnson have 12 and 10 goals respectively to lead the club. Rookies Alexander Khokhlachev, Jared Knight, Seth Griffith, Matt Lindblad, Anthony Camara, and Alex Fallstrom have all scored key goals and show the balance in the teams scoring.
The downside thus far at about the quarter pole of the AHL season has been the inability to keep the puck out of their own net. The defense according to Cassidy has had numerous “bad breakdowns” and need to be better at “bringing the puck out of our zone and defending our end.” Cassidy wants his defensive players to use better judgment and be more efficient. “We need to fix it.”
Joe Morrow and David Warsofsky are talented offensive defensemen and their plus/minus numbers are pretty good but the core group has to improve as the season progresses for Providence to get back to being a strong playoff contender. The Bruins have given up 71 goals, just three less than they have scored. Bridgeport and Rockford are the only teams to give up more goals this season in the AHL.
The team’s penalty killing is another sore spot for Providence. The Bruins are 30th or last in the league in killing penalties. Their 73% efficiency while down a man is subpar for a team with good skilled players and coaches. I look for significant improvement as the season moves along with their penalty killing commitment.
They say the best penalty killer on the team is the goaltender. The goaltending has been a mixed bag thus far. AHL All-Star netminder, Niklas Svedberg, has been inconsistent and battling pucks for most of the season. Cassidy has refused to blame the goaltending in most cases, citing the defensive breakdowns which have led to both goaltenders being left out to dry. Svedberg has played in 14 of the 21 games thus far and has a decent 8-3-2 record, a 3.21 GAA, and an even .900 save percentage. Rookie Malcolm Subban who has improved at every level he’s played has been playing better of late and has a 3-5-0 record, a 2.67 GAA, and a .909 save percentage. Cassidy says that Svedberg was “the best goalie in the league for a reason”, and expects both guys to improve as the defense works to get better in their own end.
So with a little over a quarter of the season played the Providence Bruins sit in second place in the Atlantic Division, tied with St. John’s, and trailing the red hot Manchester Monarchs by 9 points with two games in hand. After a six point weekend on the road in Norfolk and Hershey, the Bruins face Manchester on Friday night in Providence. A place where they want to play a better 60 minute game. Second in the league in attendance, it behooves the Bruins to play maybe their best game of the year and start correcting some of the team’s early flaws.
Stay tuned, this Providence team is solid, versatile, and should compete for the Eastern Conference crown before all is said and done. It starts with the Manchester game on Friday night.