Despite an onslaught of shots, an average of nearly 33 per game to only 25 allowed, and several quality scoring chances, it proved to be a difficult second weekend for the Providence Bruins as the club went just 0-2-0-1.
Providence opened last weekend on Friday with its third straight meeting with Springfield, a proverbial rubber match after each team captured one road match-up against the other during the league’s opening weekend. The P-Bruins, powered defensively by the season debut of veteran goaltender Nolan Schaefer, were deadlocked in a 1-1 tie with the Falcons and saw the game ultimately go to overtime and a shootout after having what would have been the eventual winning goal waived off in the third frame due to a controversial ruling that the puck was batted into the net by a high-stick. The play was not reviewed and Providence, after struggling in the shootout, had to settle for one point in a 2-1 defeat.
On Saturday, the P-Bruins fell victim to poor special teams play and untimely penalties as the Manchester Monarchs scored twice on the power play, including once on a penalty shot. Providence rallied from two goals down in the third frame on first goals of the season by both Jamie Arniel and Jordan Smotherman, but Manchester tacked on three goals in the final seven minutes of regulation to garner a 5-2 victory.
Providence’s third game in as many days belonged to Hartford last Sunday as the Wolf Pack scored three times in the opening period, including two man-advantage strikes in the first five minutes of the contest. The P-Bruins largely controlled the tempo in front of rookie goalie Michael Hutchinson, out-shooting the Pack 41-18 for the game and 17-4 in the second frame, but it was fellow first-year net-minder Cameron Talbot who shined in the win for Hartford, earning the shutout and top star honors in his first professional start. The game finished with a 3-0 final, wrapping up a lengthy history between Providence and Hartford, over which time the P-Bruins went 50-61-12 during the regular season and 3-1 in playoff series. The next time that personnel from the two squads square off will be on Dec. 3, roughly one week after the Hartford Wolf Pack are re-branded the new Connecticut Whale.
Over the weekend, offense proved to be the biggest concern as Providence scored an average of just one goal per game while surrendering a total of ten. P-Bruins head coach Rob Murray certainly didn’t like the trend, but he’s well aware that five games into a very young season is no time to panic.
“I wasn’t displeased with how we played,” said the coach, “I’m just disappointed we didn’t get any points other than the one point on Friday. It seems right now, this beginning of the season, feels like the way the season ended last year and we’re struggling to score goals, struggling to win games and coming away from it with positives in games. But, right now, the only positives I can wish for is to win some games so that’s where we’re at.
“You know, it’s early,” Murray continued. “It’s five games in, definitely no time to panic. There is a long, long way to go, so you’re going to go up and you know you’re going to go through cycles during your season. We take it at five-game segments – so that five games we were 1-3-1. You might be four out of five the next segment or what have you but there will be segments, five-game segments, throughout the season when you are 1-3-1, I don’t care what team you are. Obviously it still gnaws at you when you do go through a segment like that but, in the big picture and putting things in perspective, we have to make sure that we’re going in the right direction and keeping a positive attitude. That five-game segment is behind us and now we’ve got to move on to the next one.”
At 1-3-0-1 and three points, the P-Bruins are percentage points behind Worcester for sixth in the Atlantic Division.
Rob Murray’s Player of the Week: Nolan Schaefer
“I thought Nolan Schaefer played very well Friday night, other than the shootout (where three of four shooters scored), and Saturday there was a situation where we were starting to come back and playing better in the third. We had scored a goal and Manchester had a couple of good quality scoring chances, including a penalty shot that [Schaefer] was able to stop, and that gave us, at the time, the opportunity to stay in the game. If it’s a 3-1 deficit at that point, it would have been probably insurmountable, but he kept it at 2-1, we’re able to tie it up, 2-2, and we probably deserved at least a point that night.”
Gone for Now
On Monday, Providence trimmed its 24-man roster by one, sending second-year goalie Matt Dalton to the ECHL’s Reading Royals after appearing in only one game for the P-Bruins this year, the club’s season-opener. In the contest, the 24-year-old worked the first two periods, stopping just 12 of 16 shots in an eventual 5-1 loss.
With Schaefer firmly in place as Providence’s top option and the first-year Hutchinson showing enough promise to leave his coaches craving more, that made Dalton expendable. He leaves Rhode Island with a 6.00 GAA and .750 save percentage.
Reading will be familiar territory for Dalton after backstopping the Royals to the American Conference Finals as a rookie in 2009-10. The former Bemidji State standout was named Reading’s Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year and Fan’s Choice after finishing the regular season with a 22-20-4 record, one shutout, a 3.47 GAA and .906 save percentage in 46 outings. He added a 10-6 mark in the postseason, along with a 3.02 GAA and .914 save percentage, but suffered an all too familiar fate to fans in New England after allowing the Cincinnati Cyclones to recover from a 3-0 series deficit to advance to the ECHL’s championship round.
Veteran captain Jeremy Reich remains just three goals shy of 100 for his professional career. Now in his 11th season, the left wing has scored 95 AHL goals while playing for Providence, Bridgeport, Houston and Syracuse, plus two NHL goals as a member of the Boston Bruins during the 2007-08 campaign.
While Reich waits to cash in on his milestone, a couple of P-Bruins youngsters enjoyed a few firsts for Providence last weekend. Rookie Matt Bartkowski, cut from the Boston roster while the team was still overseas, made his professional debut on Friday and earned his first career point on Saturday with an assist on Jamie Arniel’s power play goal.
Meanwhile, Russian import Yury Alexandrov scored his first career North American goal with a man-advantage strike on Saturday, aided by fellow rookies Max Sauve and Joe Colborne. Alexandrov is in his first AHL season after spending the last two years with his hometown Cherepovets of the KHL.
On the Mend
Max Sauve, Providence’s leading goal-scorer, missed the team’s game on Sunday after suffering a minor wrist injury while shooting in the third period of Saturday’s loss at Manchester. The rookie’s availability for this weekend currently remains in question.
Elsewhere, Levi Nelson, out the last three games with a muscle pull, is healthy and available to return to the line-up.
Goals: Max Sauve (3)
Assists: Steve Kampfer (3)
Points: Kampfer, Sauve (4)
Plus/Minus: Kampfer, Jeremy Reich (+2)
PIM: Nathan McIver (16)
Power Play Goals: Yury Alexandrov, Jamie Arniel (1)
Short-Handed Goals: Kirk MacDonald (1)
Shots: Jordan Smotherman (19)
Wins: Michael Hutchinson (1)
GAA: Nolan Schaefer (2.42)
Save Percentage: Schaefer (.909)
The P-Bruins have a slim one-game weekend as the club travels north on Route 146 on Saturday night to take on Worcester for the Sharks’ home-opener at the DCU Center. It’s the first match-up of the season for the often ferocious rivals and a pivotal one as both teams look to climb out of the Atlantic’s basement.
Worcester, champions of the Atlantic with 104 points in 2009-10, currently has three points to go along with a 1-2-0-1 record to start the year. Roy Sommer’s group features several very talented forwards, including former NHL 56-goal-scorer Jonathan Cheechoo (2-3-5 totals), as well as T.J. Trevelyan (0-3-3), a one-time P-Bruin and three-time 20-plus goal-scorer in the AHL. In net, Alex Stalock is also off to a 1-2-1 start after posting an AHL rookie record 39-19-2 mark a year ago.
Providence next plays at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Oct. 29 against the new-look Albany Devils.
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