American Hockey League seasons can be difficult to forecast. Until the puck is dropped, you can’t know how prospects, veterans, and everyone in between will come together on the ice. The 2018-19 Providence Bruins will want to regroup after opening losses to the Hartford Wolf Pack 4-2 and Laval Rocket 3-2. Despite the 0-2 weekend, there are some positive signs that came out of the P-Bruins’ opening weekend. The forecast isn’t dreary for this team.
Vladar Makes Impressive Debut in Net
Zane McIntyre will want to quickly forget his start to the 2018-19 season, getting the hook after facing 10 shots as the Wolf Pack jumped out to a 3-0 lead. In fairness to McIntyre, the P-Bruins started slow. Hartford scored on their first power play chance of the season and a short-handed tally ended McIntyre’s night 12:39 into the game.
Consistency plagued McIntyre last season, as the Bruins’ 2010 sixth-round pick was played often. However, his workload is likely to change in 2018-19, as Dan Vladar joins the P-Bruins. Unlike McIntyre’s goaltending partner, Jordan Binnington, from last year, Vladar is Bruins property.
He is entering his third season in the organization at 21 years old and he has been brought along slowly, given his age, making spot-starts for Providence while getting the bulk of his playing time in the ECHL. The 6-foot-5 netminder was impressive in his season debut, both in relief and in the loss to the Rocket.
As the P-Bruins fought their way back into Friday night’s game in Hartford, Vladar was perfect with eight for eight in saves. The P-Bruins were outshot the next night against Laval, but Vladar stopped 31 of 34 to give his team a chance to win.
A real goaltending battle will benefit the P-Bruins this season. Although Binnington was an AHL All-Star in 2017-18, McIntyre was always going to see the bulk of the work. With two young goalies on the roster and their sights set on Boston, expect the position to be a strength all season. Vladar has the impressive physical tools while McIntyre has proven he’s capable of stringing together solid outings in the AHL
Positive Signs For Bottom Six Forwards
Providence will be a difficult team to play against all season. Goaltending will factor in that, as will the abundance of options on the blue line. Another factor is a strong bottom-six forward group. The play of Anton Blidh, Austin Fyten, and Tanner Pond was encouraging on opening weekend. It’s not the most flashy group, but look for them to bring energy and relentless effort during the long grind of an AHL season.
Blidh is no stranger to the organization. This is the Swede’s fourth season in the organization. While he doesn’t wow you with his skill, his responsible but gritty style has earned him 20 appearances in Boston.
Fyten was a late addition in the offseason, signing an AHL deal. He joins the P-Bruins after taking part in a Calder Cup Final run last season with the Texas Stars. He has 21 goals in 231 career AHL games, so the odds were against him to score the P-Bruins’ first goal of the season, but that’s what he did. With Hartford on the power play, Fyten beat the Wolf Pack defenders to a loose puck before roofing a wrist shot over the shoulder of Marek Mazanec.
The short-handed goal was a glimpse of the energy a veteran like Fyten brings to the lineup. The weekend was quite an introduction for Fyten who dropped the gloves with Laval agitator Michael McCarron the next night. The P-Bruins need someone willing to fill that role, protecting the young, skilled prospects. Pond will also help in that department, he logged 163 penalty minutes in 61 ECHL games last season.
A final thought from the weekend isn’t a positive, but a “don’t panic yet.” The P-Bruins won’t win often averaging two goals per game. The good news is the scoring should improve as the season rolls along, but the team needs their young players to score in order to be successful.
Winger Ryan Fitzgerald played with Jordan Szwarz and Peter Cehlarik. This is a line that should click. Cehlarik entered the opening weekend coming off an emotionally draining training camp. By all accounts, he did enough to make the team but the big club just has too many wingers right now. He should get back on track and be a consistent scoring threat for the P-Bruins. Fitzgerald has some experience playing with Szwarz and should top his rookie goal total of 21 with a healthy season.
Bruins fans will be closely monitoring Zach Senyshyn’s progress this season. He will benefit from the P-Bruins’ added depth at forward this season. Last year in a bottom-six role, Senyshyn didn’t find himself in many scoring areas. In the season’s opening weekend, he was centered by Trent Frederic with Karson Kuhlman playing the other wing. That’s a third-line with more skill than last season.
Senyshyn’s performance could go a long way to dictating how good this P-Bruins team is. If he can bump his 11 goals from last season up to 20 while playing on a more skilled line, it would be a huge positive for his personal development and the team.
It wasn’t the start the P-Bruins were hoping for but it’s not panic time. Veteran AHL defenseman Cody Goloubef was absent in the opening two games with an injury but should return soon. After a slow start Friday night in Hartford, the P-Bruins will get to do it all over again this Friday night against the Wolf Pack. It will be their first three-games-in-three-days of the season with the P-Bruins hosting the Pack on Saturday and travelling to Springfield Sunday.