The start of the 2017-18 season has gone about how we expected it to for the Boston Bruins. The team’s youth alone was enough to expect some inconsistent play early on, but an ongoing battle with the injury bug has made things even tougher for a Bruins lineup that is still looking to establish an identity.
The B’s aren’t in bad shape by any means — they currently sit in the fourth spot of the Atlantic Division despite playing the fewest number of games, meaning that the Bruins have games (and therefore, points) to make up. As of now, the B’s sit three points behind the third-place Maple Leafs with three games in hand, making this week’s home-and-home series an intriguing early-season double-header.
A little ways down I-95 in Providence, though, things have gotten off to a better start for Boston’s top minor-league affiliate. The Providence Bruins are off to a strong 7-4-0 start, headed by netminder Zane McIntyre, who once again is looking like one of the AHL’s top goaltenders early on.
McIntyre Picking up Where He Left Off
Last season, McIntyre was the best goaltender in the AHL. In 31 games with Providence, McIntyre went 21-6-2, posting a league-leading .930 save percentage accompanied by a second-place 2.03 goals against average.
This season, he has again looked strong out of the gate. McIntyre has given up two or fewer goals in four of the six AHL games he’s played, although he did get shelled for six goals against in Sunday’s matchup with Bridgeport.
Like last season, though, the true test for McIntyre will come when he gets another call from Boston. Last year, in just his second professional season, McIntyre got eight looks at NHL action. In those eight games, he failed to collect a win, posting a .858 save percentage and a 3.97 goals against average. The Bruins will certainly be on the lookout for signs of improvement when he inevitably gets a look this season.
Until then, McIntyre will look to continue his reign of supremacy among the AHL’s top keepers. If he continues to prove he’s too good for the AHL, then he shouldn’t have to wait too long for another chance with the NHL club.
Providence Fighting Through Boston’s Injuries
Providence’s 7-4-0 start is decent by its own merits, but it’s especially impressive when you look at the players the Baby B’s have lost to the varsity squad. Injuries to NHL regulars have forced the Bruins to call up several of Providence’s top players, forcing the AHL squad to battle without some of their key pieces.
Right now, Providence is without three of its top four scorers – Austin Czarnik (leading scorer, 10 points in five AHL games), Jordan Szwarz (t-3rd in team scoring, eight points in six AHL games), and Danton Heinen (t-3rd in team scoring, eight points in four games) – all of whom are currently filling NHL roles.
But, strong team defense (Providence has given up the second-fewest goals in the league) combined with a balanced Providence offense that has seen points registered from 20 different players (including 12 who have scored) has kept the Bruins afloat.
As the varsity squad gets healthier, and the reinforcements make their way back down to Providence, the AHL squad should only get stronger.
As the NHL regular season progresses, keep an eye on Providence’s success too, particularly with regards to the youth the Bruins are developing in AHL this season. As we’ve seen already, suiting up in Providence one night won’t stop you from taking the ice in Boston the next.
Cam is a Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Maryland. He’s the Boston Bruins Beat Writer at The Hockey Writers, and is an avid college hockey fan. Find him on Twitter @CamHasbrouck!