The Providence Bruins emphatically halted a 0-3-1 skid Saturday, dropping the Hershey Bears by a final score of 6-2. The win was much needed for a P-Bruins team that failed to get a point on road trip that included stops in Rochester, Belleville, and Utica. The tough schedule is nothing new to AHL teams, but the slide contributed to the P-Bruins currently sitting three points out of the playoff picture. There are some deficiencies the team will need to address to get back into a playoff spot.
P-Bruins Struggling at Even Strength
The peripheral numbers for the P-Bruins look fine. In fact, there are plenty of positives. Providence leads the league with an 87-percent penalty kill rate, while sitting eight on the power-play at 21-percent. Taking special teams out of the equation really highlights where the P-Bruins are lacking.
Providence currently has a minus-9 goal differential at even strength, 64 to 73. A statistic like that makes more sense when looking at the makeup of the Providence roster. The P-Bruins are a difficult team to play against, with solid team speed and players that aren’t afraid to be physical. However, the early returns suggest the team may be missing the individual creativity and playmaking ability players like Austin Czarnik and Kenny Agostino brought to the lineup last season.
Anton Blidh and Peter Cehlarik are impact players on the roster. They fall into the difficult to play against category. Jordan Szwarz falls into that category as well, but the P-Bruins need to find more offense 5-on-5. At the professional level, that usually comes from skill players that also have a knowledge of the game, and use it to find space and create shots.
There are signs of younger players starting to find that balance of skill and patience. Ryan Fitzgerald sticks out as one of the P-Bruins top performers through the first 28-games. Fitzgerald set up Szwarz twice for goals on Saturday, and the second-year pro has looked like a much more confident player since the beginning of November.
Fitzgerald has been a point-per-game player in 19 games since Nov. 2. His line, playing with Szwarz and Anders Bjork, has been the most consistent to generate even strength scoring chances. Fitzgerald will need to continue to be a dynamic playmaker for the first line to keep producing.
After the top line, Zach Senyshyn and Cehlarik look to be the best options to provide secondary scoring. Senyshyn currently leads the team with 10 goals in 28 games, only two shy of his total last season in 66 games. The difference has been Senyshyn taking his straight-line speed to the net. The result may not be highlight-reel goals, as he’s had pucks bounce off him and a couple of backdoor tap-in goals, opportunities created by speed and a player that looks more assertive in the offensive zone this season.
If there’s one area Senyshyn could improve it’s putting more pucks on net. He’s averaging less than two shots on net per game. The same can be said for Cehlarik. The P-Bruins will hope increased shots will come with Senyshyn’s development. Looking at Cehlarik, he’s been a solid playmaker this season, but needs to score at a better rate than four goals in 25 games for Providence to be successful.
P-Bruins Need Consistency in Net
The final piece to improve is goaltending. Providence is 11 out of 31 teams in goals against this season, but once again a deeper dive into the numbers shows a deficiency. The P-Bruins are allowing the second-fewest shots in the league, but their goaltending duo of Zane McIntyre and Dan Vladar is posting a combined save percentage of just .891.
Vladar has the better save percentage, .903, between the two netminders. He’s been brought along slowly in his first AHL season, as the 21-year-old has 12 starts to McIntyre’s 16. Vladar has been impressive at times. He moves well for a 6-foot-5 goaltender, which has led to some highlight saves.
The P-Bruins will hope Vladar can find more consistency moving forward. He surrendered four goals in his most recent outing, an overtime loss to Bridgeport. It was the fifth time out of his 12 starts he’s allowed four or more goals. On the other hand, Vladar has a 35-save shutout and three appearances with only one goal allowed. The manageable workload may help Vladar find the consistency he’s been lacking.
McIntyre will likely continue to lead Vladar in starts. He’s struggled early in his third season with the P-Bruins. It could be that McIntyre is adjusting to having younger competition join him on the roster. Last season, McIntyre was outplayed by Jordan Binnington, but Binnington belonged to St. Louis. Vladar poses a real threat to passing McIntyre on the organizational depth chart. However, McIntyre been resilient in the past.
After a mediocre start to the 2017-18 season, McIntyre posted five shutouts in an impressive 16-game stretch that began in January and lasted through March. The P-Bruins will hope for some kind of bounce back as he’ll still be given plenty of opportunities to turn it around.
There’s still time for the P-Bruins to get back into the playoff race. Goaltending is an important piece. They will also need to find ways to create offense at even strength. The P-Bruins must also continue to be a hard-forechecking team and use their speed. It’s kept them in most games even when the goals aren’t coming. Out of 11 regulation losses, seven have been by a one goal, which should give hope for a turnaround.
A life-long follower of the game of hockey. Communications experience with the AHL’S Portland Pirates, and a former coach at the college club level. Covering the Providence Bruins and prospects.