Friday night was the Providence Bruin's home opener against the Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings AHL affiliate). After blowing a two goal lead in the third period two weeks in a row, they fell to the Monarchs in a shootout. On Saturday, some new faces made their way into the line up as they traveled to Lewiston, Maine to play another division rival, the Portland Pirates (Phoenix Coyotes AHL affiliate). Thanks to a four-goal explosion in the second period and the always reliable Niklas Svedberg, Providnece came away with their first regulation win of the season.
Recap: Manchester 3, Providence 2 (SO)
In front of an impressive crowd of over 10,100 fans at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, the P-Bruins home debut ended in the disappointment of a shootout loss. Prior to the puck drop, the team introduced two new banners in the rafters: one for winning the division last season, and another for finishing first overall in the league.
The game started 45 minutes late because the Monarchs think leaving Manchester, New Hampshire at three pm on a Friday is going to be sufficient time to make it to Providence. After years of making this trip at least six times a season, they should have known better. I take the same route to Providence from my home in New Hampshire and I left at one pm. Get your shit together, Manchester.
First Period: 0-0
In net, Niklas Svedberg made his second start of the season. Martin Jones started for Manchester. Both goalies turned aside all shots faced in the first period. The official score sheet says the shots were 6-7 in the first period in favor of Providence, although I suspect Manchester had a few more than that. Each team had a power play opportunity in the first period, although neither scored.
Second Period: 2-0 Providence
The second period brought more action. After each team had another shot at the power play early in the period without success, Nick Johnson put Providence on the board 1-0 at 7:40 of the second period. The play was set up by some good work from Ryan Spooner and his new linemate, Alexander Khokhlachev, to put pressure on in the offensive zone. Zach Trotman got the puck at the blue line and wound up to take a slap shot, but instead sent a slap-pass to Johnson beside the net. It was Johnson's third goal in three games, with assists to Trotman and Khokhlachev.
Five minutes later, Providence would strike again. In the aftermath of a Manchester drive to the net that was saved by Svedberg, Monarch defenseman Nick Deslauriers made too much contact with Svedberg, who responded by throwing a few punches at Deslauriers. It was great. Svedberg and Deslauriers each got two minutes for roughing, and Deslauriers got the extra minor for slashing, which put Providence on the power play for the third time.
Although they did not convert on the power play, they remained in possession of the puck in the offensive zone after the penalty expired. Jared Knight scored his second of the season eight seconds after Deslauriers penalty had expired to put Providence up 2-0 in the second period. Knight's goal came at 12:42 of the second period and was assisted by Alexander Fallstrom, who made a great pass to get it to Knight, and Justin Florek.
Manchester outshot Providence 11-9 in the second period, and through two periods were outshooting the P-Bruins 17-16.
Third Period: 2-2
For Providence, the entire game was filled with careless errors, sloppy passes, defensive zone turnovers, miscommunication, and flat-out getting beat in battles for the puck. This was amplified in the third period by Manchester's push to get back in the game.
Craig Cunningham took a tripping penalty five minutes into the third period, and Manchester capitalized with a power play goal from former Bruin Andrew Bodnarchuk, who made sure to reply to a year-old tweet from the P-Bruins twitter account after the game with the hashtag "noreturnssorry". Bodnarchuk's first goal of the season was assisted by Brandon Kozun and Jordan Weal.
Manchester was the better team in the third period, outshooting Providence 16-3. Svedberg kept them in the game all night long, but even a brick wall can only do so much. Manchester tied the game under three minutes left with a goal from Kozun - his first of the year, assisted by Weal and Bodnarchuk. After blowing a two-goal lead in the third period in the season opener to the St. John's Ice Caps last week, Providence had done it again.
Overtime & Shootout: 3-2 Manchester
Providence was given the gift of an overtime penalty when the Monarchs took a blatant "too many men" penalty at 2:29 of the overtime period. Outshooting Manchester 7-1 in the extra five minutes, Providence's poorly executed power play and overall lackluster performance was a failure.
The game went to a shootout, continuing Manchester's streak of three shootout games in their first three games of the season. Providence chose to shoot first, sending Ryan Spooner out. He had a great goal, but would be the only P-Bruin to net one in the shootout. Martin stopped Khokhlachev, Matt Fraser, and Carter Camper, while Svedberg stopped only Kozun in the shootout and was beat by Tyler Toffoli, Jordan Weal, and noted dirty player Andy Andreoff.
Assessing the Problem
After the game, Providence coach Butch Cassidy identified several factors that contributed to the loss. The team's inability to properly "value the puck" being the biggest flaw. "It's a hard sell sometimes for a young group," Cassidy said on preaching a defensive system.
Poor puck management, being soft with the puck, not making plays, not going into the "dirty areas," and even lacking the desire to win are all problems that need to be addressed. Another potential factor is conditioning: "We're not giving away games because we're tired, that's not gonna happen...This team's in good shape, but are we in shape to defend leads?"
The defense this year may not be as good as it was last year, and Cassidy put it well when he said "we got spoiled last year." (We miss you Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski. Not you so much Garnet Exelby.) Manchester simply wanted the puck more, and fought harder to get it. The best example of this was on Kozun's goal, when the small player beat out multiple Providence Bruins to get control and score.
The positives to take away? Svedberg was solid, which is something the team will need to be able to rely on a lot down the road (until he takes his rightful place as back up to Tuukka Rask). He made 32 saves, and the shootout loss was uncharacteristic of someone who dominated in shootouts last year.
When asked about the possibility of lineup changes for the next game against Portland, Cassidy said that those decisions are better made in the morning, but it was clear that we could expect to see the professional debut of Seth Griffith in Portland on Saturday night after three games as a healthy scratch.
Recap: Providence 5, Portland 2
Svedberg got the start once again for the second time in two nights against Portland on Saturday. In place of Anthony Camara, Seth Griffith was inserted into the forward lineup, and Chris Casto was healthy scratched in favor of Ben Youds, who was making his debut with Providence as well. Both Griffith and Youds had a positive impact on the game, but it was Svedberg who stole the show to keep the team in it early, and Ryan Spooner who took charge with two goals and an assist.
First Period: 1-0 Portland
Portland outshot Providence in the first period 8-5. The Pirates had a very strong first period overall. Both teams had power play opportunities early, but neither capitalized - until the end of the first period, when David Warsofsky delivered a two-handed slash to Portland's Brandon McMillan. The two then dropped the gloves, but the tiny Warsofsky failed to deliver a punch and was on the receiving end of several.
Warsofsky still got the extra penalty for the original slash at 16:43 of the first period. Portland captain Jordan Szwarz netted a power play goal, his first of the season, at 17:59 of the first, with assists to Brandon Gormley and Andy Miele.
Second Period: 4-2 Providence
Providence exploded with four goals in the second period, a period in which they had lucky bounces on a goal or two but also earned the goals with a much better effort. Svedberg also kept Portland from sneaking back in the game with several great saves, including one miraculous save that he somehow made with his skate up in the air while on his back.
The shots were 14-13 in favor of Providence in the second period. Things didn't look great at first as Providence failed to convert on an early power play, leaving them still at one power play goal on the season through three-plus games.
Seth Griffith opened the scoring for Providence in the second period when he was able to sneak behind the defense and get a breakaway on a great pass from Trotman. Griffith beat Pirates goaltender Mike Lee for his first career professional goal. The goal, assisted by Trotman, came at 5:16 of the second period.
At 7:08 of the second, Matt Fraser and Chris Summers took matching roughing minors to open up the game four-on-four. A minute later, goaltender Mike Lee mishandled the puck in his crease, allowing Fallstrom to net an easy goal for his first of the season and put Providence up 3-1.
Coincidental minors were again assessed at 12:11 of the second period as Providence's Joe Morrow went off for hooking and Portland's Phil Lane for roughing. Again, Providence scored during four-on-four. This time, it was Ryan Spooner on a breakaway. He exploded with speed to beat two Portland defenders and seemed to effortlessly put the puck in the net when in alone against Lee. It was his first of the season, unassisted, at 12:43 of the second. Providence was up 4-1.
A little over a minute later, Portland cut the lead to two goals when Jordan Martinook scored a somewhat soft goal against Svedberg. Martinook's first of the season was assisted by Gormley and Daine Todd.
Providence regained the three-goal lead at 15:55 of the second period on the power play. Portland's Mark Louis was called for cross-checking, and Providence was finally able to pull their power play together after several frustrating disaster attempts. It was Craig Cunningham with his first of the season, from Ben Youds and Spooner.
Cunningham was one of the players who the team was waiting on to contribute to the offense as their second-leading goal scorer last season. Youds, who was injured earlier in the game but returned, had a strong game with good passing highlighted by his assist on Cunningham's goal.
Third Period: 5-2 Providence
The third period was relatively quiet, although Svedberg again had to come up big with 11 saves and a total of 30 saves on the night. Providence killed off a vital power play mid-way through the period with Mike Moore in the box for tripping. The victory was sealed when Spooner's speed again helped him win a race to the puck and shoot it into the empty net at 18:48 of the third period, for his second of the night and second of the season.
Weekend in Review
I had expected Malcolm Subban to start, rather than give Svedberg the back-to-back games, but Svedberg likes to play as much as possible and although Subban wasn't bad against St. John's, the team overall has a little more piece of mind with Svedberg in net just because they know they can rely on him. That little extra reassurance on the back end might have helped a lot in easing the burden of searching for a win after a disappointing loss and what seemed like a struggle to get in sync.
Svedberg now has a 2-0-1 record on the season. His save percentage is .936 and his goals against average is 2.25.
Spooner's three-point, first-star performance on Saturday night propelled him to the top of Providence's scoring leaders. He leads the team with five points (two goals, three assists) in four games. He has a plus-two rating and is tied for the team-high 11 shots.
Johnson's three goals are the most on the P-Bruins after four games. Along with Spooner, Jared Knight has the second-highest goal tally with two. Khokhlachev is tied with Spooner for most assists with three.
The team is still rotating the three alternate captain "A"s each game. On Friday, Carter Camper, David Warsofsky, and Nick Johnson sported the A. On Saturday, it was Mike Moore, Craig Cunningham, and Matt Fraser.
Injury Updates and Upcoming Games
I would guess that Griffith and Youds will remain in the lineup for the next game given the success they had on Saturday night. Coach Cassidy already confirmed that Matt Lindblad will still be out next week with a lower body injury (groin), but the status of Kevan Miller, who has been out with an upper-body (head/concussion) is unknown for next week. Bobby Robins also remains out for at least a few more weeks as he recovers from a knee injury, but he has indeed started skating.
Providence plays next on Friday, October 18, at home against the Springfield Falcons (Columbus Blue Jackets AHL affiliate) at 7pm. On Saturday, October 19, Providence will travel to Manchester to face the Monarchs.