By Tim Richardson | Follow Me On Twitter @TimARichardson
Week 24 of the AHL season is upon us, and the Providence Bruins skate into it 32-22-8-3 (75 points) and 4-3-1-2 in their last 10 games. This is good for fourth in the Atlantic Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference. Even though the Baby B’s sit firmly in a playoff spot, with a little help they could move up in the standings if they have a good weekend. With only 11 games left in the regular season, now is the time for our boys in black and gold to make their big push in the playoff standings. The weekend hopes to be fruitful as the Providence club comes home for two games before embarking on another three-game road trip.
The weekend kicks off on Friday, March 22, 2019, when the Belleville Senators invade the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, Rhode Island. The hockey action continues Saturday, March 23, 2019, when Binghamton Devils roll into town hoping to conjure up a W at the Dunk. After the weekend of home cooking, the Providence Bruins head out on the highway and take on the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins on Wednesday, March 27, 2019, at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza. It should be an exciting weekend of hockey that you are not going to want to miss.
Friday, March 22, 2019, Providence Bruins vs. Belleville Senators (HOME)
The Friday showdown will mark the second time the Bruins take on Belleville this season. The Senators are in the North Division, so because of that they only play each other twice a year once at home and once on the road. In the first match-up, the Bruins fell 3-2 getting goals from Connor Clifton and Zach Senyshyn. Goalie Dan Vladar was adequate in net turning away 20 of the 23 shots that were fired his way. The Belleville Senators come into the match-up 33-25-3-5 (74 points) and 6-2-1-1 in their last 10 games. This is good for fourth in the North Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference. Over the past five seasons, the two teams have not played each other very much because of being in different divisions, but the baby B’s are 1-1-1 against the Ottawa affiliate in that time frame.
As with most games, situational scoring is going to be very important to whoever wins this game. When leading after two periods, the Belleville Senators are 23-0-0-1. Meanwhile, when losing after two periods, the Ottawa affiliate is 5-21-0-2. The Providence Bruins, on the other hand, are 25-3-2-2 when they have a lead after the second period, and a record of 4-18-3 when down after two. Speaking of situational scoring, special teams will also play a major role in the game. The Sens have a power play percentage of 19.2% this is good for sixth in the Eastern Conference. They’ve scored 53 power play goals and 211 goals overall on the season. This means 25.1% of their goals have come with the man advantage. On top of that, they’ve only given up three shorthanded goals on the year. Meanwhile, the Baby B’s have the third-best penalty kill in the Eastern Conference at 85.7% and have scored 10 shorthanded goals, which is fifth in the East.
The Boston affiliate, meanwhile, has a power play percentage of 17.2% which is good for 12th in the East. They’ve also given up the second most shorthanded goals in the East at 13. The Senators’ penalty kill is at 75.9% this is last in the Eastern Conference, and they’ve had eight shorthanded goals. If the Bruins can manipulate these scoring situations in their favor, they will have a fantastic chance of coming out of this game with a victory. With the Belleville hockey club sitting in eighth place in the conference, a win here would absolutely help pad the lead the baby B’s have over them.
Saturday, March 23, 2019, Providence Bruins vs. Binghamton Devils (HOME)
The Saturday battle marks the second time the Bruins have played the Devils this season. The first match-up saw the Binghamton hockey club come out on top 6-3 with the Bruins getting goals from Connor Clifton, Gemel Smith, and Anton Blidh. Goalie Zane McIntyre had a game that he would probably like to forget stopping 17 of the 22 shots that were fired his way. Despite the bad game earlier this year, the baby B’s have had great success against the New Jersey affiliate over the past five years going 13-6-1-1 during that time span including 9-2 at the Dunk.
The Binghamton hockey club has had a rough go of it this year. They skate into the contest 24-35-6 (54 points) and 1-8-1 in their last 10 games. This is good for eighth in the North Division and 16th in the Eastern Conference. Team defense will be a major key in this game. The Binghamton Devils have given up 233 goals on the year. This is not only the worst in the Eastern Conference, but it is the worst in the entire AHL. This is 3.58 goals a game that they are giving up. Our boys in black and gold, on the other hand, have given up 181 goals on the season which is 2.76 goals a game. Only three other teams in the East have given up fewer goals on the year.
On the other side of the puck, the New Jersey affiliate has one of the worst offenses in the East scoring 170 goals on the year which is 2.61 goals a game. Meanwhile, the spoked P has scored 196 goals on the year which is 3.01 goals a game. These stats bode well for the Providence hockey club in this game. Despite the tough year, the Devils are 15-1-1 when they are leading after the second period. If the Bruins stingy defense can keep Binghamton from scoring, they have a fantastic chance of coming out on top.
Wednesday, March 27, 2019, Providence Bruins vs. Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins (AWAY)
The Wednesday match-up will mark the sixth time that these two teams have played each other, and Providence has had their way with the Pittsburgh affiliate thus far. The first battle saw the Bruins beat the Penguins 2-1 in overtime getting goals from the now departed Martin Bakos, and Ryan Fitzgerald (OT). Goalie Dan Vladar was superb in net denying 27 of the 28 shots that came his way. The second installment saw the Baby B’s route Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 5-2 getting goals from the now traded Ryan Donato (2), Martin Bakos, Joel Messner, and Zach Senyshyn. Goalie Zane McIntyre was great in net stoning 20 of the 22 shots he faced.
The third match-up saw the boys in black and gold win 4-2 getting goals from Ryan Fitzgerald, Peter Cehlarik, Ryan Donato, and Jakub Zboril. Goal Zane McIntyre was excellent in net stopping 32 of the 34 shots that were fired his way. The fourth match-up saw the Bruins lost 2-1 in a shootout getting their goal from Chris Breen. Goalie Zane McIntyre was superb in net turning away 39 of the 40 shots that came his way. The most recent battle saw the Bruins fall 2-1 in overtime getting their lone goal from Ryan Fitzgerald. Goalie Zane McIntyre was great in net stoning 26 of the 28 shots that were fired his way.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins come into the game 30-23-7-3 (70 points) and 5-2-2-1 in their last 10 games played. This is good for fifth in the Atlantic Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference. The Providence Bruins have not only played extremely well against the Pittsburgh affiliate this year going 3-0-1-1, but over the past five seasons, the Baby B’s are 13-6-3-3. A major key for the boys in black and gold will be how their offense plays. The Penguins have given up a total of 185 goals on the year. Only four other teams in the Eastern Conference have given up less. Meanwhile, the Bruins have scored 196 goals this year which is the 11th most in the Eastern Conference. Hopefully, the offense is up to that task.
Special teams will also be a key in this game. The Providence Bruins are not only fourth in the Eastern Conference in goals given up with 181, but they are also third in penalty kill at 85.7%. That coupled with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton having the 13th ranked power play in the Eastern Conference at 17.0% means that if the spoked P can play their game and hold their ground, it bodes well for the overall outcome. Another major key for the Pittsburgh affiliate is whether they outshoot their opponent when they do, they are 18-14-2-2 but are 7-8-4-1 when being outshot. On the other side, the Baby B’s are 9-6-3-2 when being outshot and 21-14-5-1 when outshooting their foe.
Who’s hot and Who’s not for the Bruins
Jordan Szwarz: The Providence Bruins Captain has been very good all season. On the year, the veteran forward has found the back of the net 19 times while dishing out 16 assists for 35 total points and a point per game total of 0.60. This includes netting one goal and dishing out five assists for six points in his last seven games. The next goal that the OHL product scores will be his 20th on the year and it’ll be his third season in a row with Providence with 20+ goals on the year. Szwarz would be the fifth player in Providence Bruins history to do that. It’s something to look out for coming up.
Ryan Fitzgerald: Ryan Fitzgerald had found himself in the not category last week, but he’s slowly starting to find the rhythm he had at the beginning of the year. At the beginning of the year, the former Boston College Eagle was arguably the best forward for Providence. An injury partway through the season derailed his momentum, but he’s slowly starting to find his stride again. In 51 games he has found the back of the net eight times while dishing out 25 assists for 33 total points and a point per game total of 0.64. This includes netting one goal and dishing out three assists for four points in his last six games played. It’s nice to see the young forward find his scoring touch for the playoff push.
Gemel Smith: Gemel Smith has been excellent since coming over to Boston in a trade with Dallas back in December. For a little while, it seemed like the OHL product found himself in the “hot” category every single week. Recently, it seems like the gritty forward has found his first real cold streak of the season. Over Smith’s last nine games he has found the back of the net once and dished out three assists for four total points. Despite the cold streak, in 37 games since joining the baby B’s he has netted 13 goals and dished out 18 assists for 31 total points and a point per game total of 0.83. Hopefully, as Providence gets closer to the playoffs, the young forward will find his scoring touch again.
Mark McNeill: Mark McNeill has proven to be streaky for Providence this season. Over his past 18 games, he’s registered three points dishing out three assists and has not scored a goal since January 26, 2019. This means the WHL product netted seven goals while dishing out 14 assists for 21 total points and a point per game total of 0.65. Since then his point per game total has plummeted to 0.48 (7-17-24 in 50 games played). Hopefully the gritty forward can find his scoring touch as the baby B’s push towards the playoffs.
My players to watch this weekend
Zach Senyshyn: Zach Senyshyn has proven to be very streaky for Providence this season. In 57 games this season he has netted 14 goals and dished out 10 assists for 24 total points and a point per game total of 0.42. Despite this, last weekend he scored his first goal since January 26, 2019. Sometimes, all you need is one to break the floodgates open and go on a scoring streak. I am hopeful that the young speedster is going to do just that and get back on a role. Though, many are disappointed that the young forward hasn’t gotten the opportunity to showcase his skills in Boston, if he sticks with it and continues to work hard it’ll be only a matter of time before that happens.
On the Blue Line
Cooper Zech: Cooper Zech recently signed a deal with Providence and played in his first professional games. In his first two games, he played around 20 minutes each game and looked very good. The 20-year-old defenseman comes to Providence from Ferris State as an undrafted college free agent. In his freshman season with Ferris State, he was the WCHA (Western Collegiate Hockey Association) top-scoring freshman, the top scoring freshman defenseman, WCHA Rookie of the Year, and the first freshman to lead Ferris State in scoring since 1987-88 netting 8 goals and dishing out 20 assists in 36 games played for the Bulldogs. The former Bulldog also recorded his first point on Wednesday against Laval getting the primary assist on a goal. After the season he’s had, there certainly are some lofty expectations moving forward. Hopefully, he has a big weekend for Providence.
Zane McIntyre: Zane McIntyre has had an up and down season this year. On the year the veteran netminder has a record of 22-10-7 with a 2.51 goals against average and a save percentage of .901. The University of North Dakota alum has been a lot better at home than on the road this season, and when the Bruins went on their crazy point streak, he was a large reason for that. With two games at the Dunk, look for Zane to have a big weekend.
The Providence Bruins are currently sitting in playoff position by four points. A good weekend and they could pad that standing and possibly move up a spot in those standings. With 11 games remaining the team’s magic number is 20. The magic number is the number of points needed to clinch the playoff spot. The magic number goes down when it earns points either with victory, or overtime/shootout losses. The magic number also goes down when the team with the highest possible point total that isn’t currently in playoff position, loses. This means the baby B’s are sitting in a good position right now and can hopefully make that magic number dwindle down this weekend. We will catch up with you next week to let you know how the team fared but feel free to send any questions or comments to me on Twitter. I hope everyone enjoys the games this weekend and Go, B’s, Go!