The Providence Bruins are searching for a little consistency in the early part of the season. After three games in three days over the weekend, the P-Bruins are sitting next to last in the Atlantic Division with a 1-4 record. There have been stretches within each game where Providence has dominated, only to fall asleep. Fourteen players have suited up for the P-Bruins this season who are either rookies or second-year pros and the young team is struggling to put together a 60-minute effort.
Mistakes Haunt P-Bruins Early On
After a split with Hartford, Sunday’s road game against the Springfield Thunderbirds highlighted the P-Bruins’ early struggles. Zack Senyshyn buried his second of the weekend to give Providence a 1-0 lead after the first period. That was probably the highlight of the day as fans may still be waiting for the P-Bruins to come out for the second period.
The Thunderbirds reeled off 3 goals in the opening 3:22 of the second, an early-season symptom of a young team. With both teams playing their third game of the weekend, Springfield’s veteran forwards victimized the P-Bruins. Harry Zolnierczyk and Paul Thompson controlled possession and Zolnierczyk was a factor in the first two goals.
There wasn’t much goaltender Zane McIntyre could do during the quick scoring surge. There was a collection of mental mistakes in front of him. Peter Cehlarik turned the puck over in the defensive zone which led to the first goal, followed by a slow change that resulted in a break away opportunity for the T-Birds’ Anthony Greco. The three-minute stretch was capped off by Jakub Zboril and Jacob Forsbacka Karlsson who failed to connect on a relatively simple breakout pass, another mental mistake that ended up in the back of the net.
— Springfield T-Birds (@ThunderbirdsAHL) October 14, 2018
However, in the same weekend, the P-Bruins nearly pulled off a 4-goal third period comeback. They netted three goals late in the third period Saturday after trailing the Hartford Wolf Pack 4-0, but were unable to find a fourth goal. Most concerning is that they were in that hole in the game that followed their first victory of the season. There are a handful of strong AHL veterans on this team but, as a whole, the young group will need to be more focused through a tough AHL schedule.
Some Positive Takeaways From Inconsistent Stretch
Anton Blidh may be the most consistent player in a Providence sweater through five games. The 23-year-old has 20 games of NHL experience under his belt and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him add to that total this season. He is versatile and doesn’t look out of place when put on a line with skilled players in a top six role and he’s best known for his relentless forecheck and puck pursuit.
Blidh has been a spark of energy early on. He doesn’t have overwhelming skill or speed, but still manages to get in the zone and on top of opposing defensemen before they make a decision with the puck. He creates havoc that has led to a number of chances this season.
He’s in his fourth season with the organization, after signing another one-year deal with the Bruins over the summer. Providence head coach Jay Leach should be encouraging his young players to take note of Blidh’s effort on a nightly basis as his presence has been felt in more ways than just a heavy forecheck. The winger has picked up two goals through the first five games. His career high for goals in the AHL is 11 in one season. Blidh will be a candidate for a call-up to Boston.
The weekend set of games provided a first look at Cody Goloubef, who returned from an early season injury. In his return, he was paired with 19-year-old Urho Vaakanainen, marking the debut of the pairing. They were the strongest the P-Bruins had to offer in the three-game stretch.
It will be interesting to see if the defensive pairings remain intact moving forward. Vaakanainen is young but he’s a smooth skater that looks comfortable with the puck. Goloubef, a veteran right-shot, may be better paired with another young defenseman like Jeremy Lauzon who is entering his second season after a difficult run in 2017-18 when his development was slowed by a concussion.
Vaakanainen could then either be paired with veteran Chris Breen or Jakub Zboril. All three defensemen are left-shooters but Providence won’t be able to escape having at least one pair with that issue. Overall, defense should be a strength for the team and shuffling the pairings could help the team find some consistency. As it stands, Goloubef and Vaakanainen have been the best at moving the puck out of their own zone.
The slow start to the season is a little surprising given the talent on the P-Bruins roster. They have seven players that were taken in the first two rounds of the NHL Entry Draft, if you include Mark McNeill who was drafted 18th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011. With the exception of McNeill, most of the high draft picks are either first or second year pros chosen by the Bruins. They’re showing signs of their age right now. Once the P-Bruins clean up the mental lapses and mistakes, this can still be a dangerous team in the AHL.