A Look Into The New Year For The Providence Bruins

The Providence Bruins split a pair of road games in Hartford and Springfield over the weekend to remain on top of the AHL’s Atlantic Division. Missing from Friday’s 6-4 loss to the Hartford Wolf Pack was forward and P-Bruins alternate captain Colby Cave. A native of Battleford, Saskatchewan, Cave was busy on Friday night making his NHL debut in Boston. The call-up was a nice reward for the young forward in his third season with the Bruins organization.

The P-Bruins were also missing an important pair of forwards for both games over the weekend in Jordan Szwarz and rookie Ryan Fitzgerald who are both injured. Fitzgerald has been missing from action since December 9, but should be back soon. Szwarz is also not expected to miss much time. Any team would wish for a healthy lineup for the remainder of the season, that is especially true of the P-Bruins who weathered an early storm of injuries.

Defense Key Heading Into New Year

As the new year approaches and the P-Bruins close in on the halfway point of the schedule, it’s a good time to take a look at how the Atlantic Division leaders can improve in the new year.

The team ranks sixth in the league in goals allowed. Goaltender Jordan Binnington ranks second in the league in goals against and third save percentage. Binnington has played less than Bruins draft pick Zane McIntyre but has outperformed McIntyre. McIntyre’s save percentage is .899, but he’s appeared in 18 games to Binnington’s 10. With one netminder struggling, it’s a credit to the Bruins’ defense that the team is able to limit their opponents’ chances. McIntyre returning to his 2016-17 form would be a huge boost for the team the rest of the way.

Jakub Zboril
Jakub Zboril (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

Rookie defenseman Jakub Zboril isn’t lighting up the scoresheet with four assists in 26 games but he is second on the team with a plus-15. He only trails Szwarz on the roster and ranks in the top 20 in the AHL. While plus/minus can sometimes be a misleading stat, the sample size is large enough and Zboril’s number is high enough to say he has had a positive impact. Although he hasn’t replicated the offensive numbers he put up with Saint John of the QMJHL, the 20-year-old defenseman is off to a nice start to his professional career.

The P-Bruins are getting more solid play from 2011 fifth-round pick Rob O’Gara. The imposing 6’4″ defenseman is a name Bruins fans have heard for a while, but he is only in his second full professional season after four years at Yale. He appeared in eight games for Boston this season as a result of his strong play and the team will rely on his continued development, along with Zboril, to remain among the top of the league in goals against.

P-Bruins captain Tommy Cross logs a lot of minutes and has been a stalwart for one of the league’s top defensive groups.

Beleskey, The Need For Secondary Scoring

The much-talked about Agostino-Szwarz-Czarnik line will be able to win games on their own but elite teams need secondary scoring. Matt Beleskey is a recent addition after being sent down by Boston and clearing waivers. The hope is for Beleskey to regain some confidence in his play and have a positive impact in Providence as an NHL veteran.

Beleskey netted his first goal for Providence over the weekend. He spent some time on the first line in the absence of Szwarz and also played with Cave and rookie Zack Senyshyn. The goal was his first in the AHL since a three-game stint with Norfolk in the 2013-14 season. He hasn’t been a regular in the league since 2010-11. Sending a veteran down can sometimes have mixed results, but Beleskey appears to be excited for the opportunity to play after a number of healthy scratches with with the Bruins.

Consistent Lineup in the New Year

The return of a healthy Fitzgerald and adding a veteran like Beleskey to the lineup will help give the P-Bruins the secondary scoring they need down the stretch. Obviously, if Beleskey is able to return to form a call-up may happen or perhaps another organization will come calling, but having a veteran like him in the locker room will have a positive impact on the young players. Providence is in the middle of the pack in goals scored. When healthy, Fitzgerald will help the team score on a more consistent basis.

The roster is falling into place for the P-Bruins as the organization has done less shuffling over the last month and have an 8-2-0-0 record over the last 10 games. Aside from injuries, trades made by the big club can have a ripple effect at the AHL level. While Boston looks to be playoff contenders, a big deadline move would be surprising as the organization is full of young players at both levels and they may be reluctant to part with anyone this season. It would be positive for the P-Bruins to remain intact as they look to be one of the AHL’s top contenders.