The Providence Bruins came out on top in the season opener thanks to a breakaway goal by Nick Johnson 2:04 into overtime and 40 saves by Niklas Svedberg, beating the St. Johns Ice Caps 4-3. The goal was Johnson's second of the night.
The top line of Matt Fraser, Ryan Spooner, and Nick Johnson was almost unstoppable. Fraser opened up the scoring 14:28 into the first period. He capitalized on the rebound of a Johnson shot, lifting the backhand shot over Ice Caps goalie Eddie Pasquale. Johnson and Spooner got the assists.
The top line struck again to extend the lead to two goals 13:13 into the second period. This time, it was Johnson scoring, assisted by Spooner and Fraser. The aggressive forecheck of the Spooner line forced St. Johns defensive miscues, allowing Fraser and Spooner to gain possession behind the net. Spooner sent a pass from behind the net to a wide open Johnson in front.
Svedberg was Svedgreatest
The Ice Caps peppered Svedberg with shots consistently throughout the game, forcing him to make quality saves to the point where the Ice Caps announcer was probably near tears. In the first period, the Ice Caps out-shot Providence 16-9. In the second period, Providence had the edge in shots, 11-9, but Svedberg made many important saves to keep them in the game, clinging to a one goal lead.
St. Johns finally solved Svedberg on their 24th shot of the game, almost halfway through the third period. A shot on net got misdirected and rendered Svedberg out of position, and Adam Lowry was awarded the goal with assists to head-hunter galore Patrice Cormier and Jordan Hill.
Providence Power Play
The lead didn't last long. The P-Bruins went on two consecutive power plays, the first power play coming less than a minute after the Ice Caps goal. Cormier hit Kevan Miller from the blindside and he left the game in a daze. The call was two minutes for "checking to the head" but it should have been a misconduct at the very least. According to The Providence Journal's Mark Divver, Providence has submitted the hit to the AHL to review for supplemental discipline. Cormier is a repeat offender. Below is video of the hit, courtesy of @dafoomie.
Providence failed to convert on the first power play, which was their first of the game. They got another chance about thirty seconds later, when St. Johns was whistled for too many men. This time, Jared Knight converted to give Providence the two-goal lead again. His first of the season was assisted by Alexander Khokhlachev.
St. John's Comes Back
Unfortunately, Providence succumbed to some of the same problems they saw often last season. Despite Svedberg's outstanding play, they blew the lead late in the game. With just under two minutes left and goaltender Pasquale barely to the bench for the extra skater, the lead was cut in half on a goal by JC Lipon, assisted by Brenden Kitchon and Jason Jaffrey.
With 57 seconds left, St. Johns tied the game at three when Eric O'Dell beat Svedberg. He was awarded the first star as a result, which speaks to the system of rating stars at the end of a game when the home team loses. (Svedberg was the second star, and Johnson the third). The O'Dell goal, which was scored with the extra skater on the ice to make it 6-on-5, was assisted by Kael Mouillierat and Jerome Samson.
Johnson Wins it in OT and Game Highlights
Johnson scored his second of the game 2:04 into overtime, assisted by Khokhlachev on his second assist of the game. Johnson was able to break in alone on Pasquale after the defender with possession just inside the Providence blueline broke his stick while attempting to take a shot. To see the goal, as well as other highlights from the game (except the Knight goal, curiously), watch the video below.
The highlights above show a fight between Tyler Randell and Blair Riley early in the game. Both players remove their helmets and exchange punches. The video doesn't show the end of the fight. It ended with Randell landing a punch to Riley's head, nearly knocking Riley out cold. He collapsed to the ice and had to be helped off, clearly dazed and injured. Both players were given extra minor penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct for removing their helmets. (Here's a thought, NHL/AHL: a stricter penalty, perhaps a fine, for removing helmets might deter this, because clearly they don't care about the extra two minute penalties.)
Riley, like Miller, never returned to the game. According to Mark Divver, Miller will be out tonight, which comes as no surprise. He will be replaced tonight at defense by Chris Casto, who was a healthy scratch last night.
Matt Lindblad was also injured in the game, which explains why he was scarcely seen. He will be replaced tonight by Alex Fallstrom, who was also a healthy scratch last night. The game tonight, which is the final game in the weekend series, begins at 6pm EST, because Newfoundland. Malcolm Subban will get the start.
The lines and defense pairings last night were hard to gauge, but here is what I think they were:
Matt Fraser - Ryan Spooner - Nick Johnson
Matt Lindblad - Alexander Khokhlachev - Jared Knight
Anthony Camara - Carter Camper - Craig Cunningham
Justin Florek - Rob Flick - Tyler Randell
Obviously that will change tonight based on where coach Bruce Cassidy wants to put Fallstrom. The defense pairings, which will, obviously, also change due to Miller's injury, were as follows last night:
David Warsofsky - Kevan Miller
Mike Moore - Zach Trotman
Joe Morrow - Tommy Cross
No word yet on what the new pairings will be, or who will wear the rotating alternate captain "A"s tonight. Miller wore one last night, along with Cunningham and Moore.
Other game notes: Johnson finished with three points (two goals, one assist), a plus-one rating, and two shots on goal...Fraser had one goal and one assist and three shots on net...Spooner had two assists and three shots on net...Khokhlachev was a plus-one with two assists and three shots...Camara, Camper, Cunningham, and Moore all finished with a minus-one rating...Trotman led Providence defense with three shots on net.
Preview: P-Bruins @ St. Johns Ice Caps, 6 pm.
Let's hope Providence pulls themselves together on defense overall, because it would be cruel to leave Malcom Subban out to dry in his first pro debut after that crapshow in the preseason against Detroit. The goaltender will be starting his first professional regular season game. St. Johns will probably start goaltender Jussi Olkinuora.
The momentum and chemistry of the Spooner line should be a treat to watch this season. Fraser, who came over from Dallas in the Peverley trade, has spent the last two years with the Texas Stars of the AHL and scored over 30 goals each year, leading the AHL. He hasn't been heard of much prior to the trade because Providence never plays Texas, a Western conference team.
Aside from the top line, and Khokhlachev's two assists, The forward lines - especially the Camper line - will need to be better. As we saw in the playoffs last year, when the top line is the only one that is producing and can be effectively shut down like Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was able to do to the Spooner-Chris Bourque-Jamie Tardif line, the lifeline of secondary scoring needs to be reliable. Camper and Cunningham along with Jordan Caron were indeed reliable, but with the top line producing no points in the last few games that saw the P-Bruins blow the series, it wasn't enough.
Defense needs to be better too. Decision making in all three zones needs improvement, with better coverage in their own zone and better shot selection in the offensive zone. Without defensive scoring contributions from guys like Trotman, they will never be the powerhouse they were last year with the likes of Torey Krug on the blueline. Miller, one of the more reliable defenseman in his own zone, will be missed.
I expect a high scoring game tonight, and sincerely hope to see the goaltender in Malcolm Subban that warranted a first round draft selection.