By: Nathan Strauss | Follow me on Twitter @NathanPStrauss
A pair of shootouts decided the opening two games in Providence’s season.
The Providence Bruins opened their season on Saturday night as two-time defending divisional champions. Having played last year in Marlborough, the team returned to the Dunk for the season-opening contest against the Bridgeport Islanders, formerly the Sound Tigers. With a top-line featuring Chris Wagner and Jack Studnicka, expectations were high for Ryan Mougenel’s team in his debut as Providence head coach.
Saturday’s contest featured a pair of early goals, one for each side, as new signing Ty Lewington scored his first Providence goal just seven minutes in before the veteran Andy Andreoff tucked one home to level the score. Despite being outshot 16-11 in the first, Providence bounced back and wound up outshooting Bridgeport 32-19 over the final two frames and overtime. Starting goaltender Troy Grosenick left after the first period with a lower-body injury, but Kyle Keyser was stellar as his replacement, stopping all 19 shots he faced and stonewalling the Islanders in the shootout. Both Studnicka and Jesper Frödén scored in the shootout to deliver the win to Providence.
Sunday saw Providence take their first road trip to the XL Center to face the Hartford Wolf Pack (New York Rangers). Kyle Keyser got the start in net, as Callum Booth was recalled from Maine due to Groesnick’s injury. Studnicka, wearing an A, opened the scoring less than two minutes in after great work from Jakob Lauko set him up with an easy finish. Samuel Asselin, who put up eight goals and eight assists in his debut season for Providence in 2020, scored the second of the day on a net-front drive after Hartford had equalized on the power play.
In the second, Hartford drew level on a Tim Gettinger goal after seven minutes, moments after Kyle Keyser made several key stops to keep Providence in front. A defensive breakdown on the power play led to Johnny Brodzinski giving Providence their first deficit of the year. Frustrations began to boil over after Anthony Bitetto delivered a late hit to Studnicka, resulting in a brief fight between Bitetto and Lauko. The Bruins would equalize, as Chris Wagner scored his first AHL goal since February of 2017, potting a power-play goal six and a half minutes into the third.
An uncharacteristic error from Hartford’s Zac Jones gave Lauko a gilt-edged chance to win the game with minutes to go in the third, but Kieth Kinkaid made a huge save to keep the game tied. For the second straight night, 60 minutes were not enough to find a winner. The OT was frenetic, with Providence surviving a late penalty to send the game to a shootout. The shootout was nothing short of spectacular, with five rounds passing without a single goal. Tim Gettinger scored in round six before Lauko was denied by Kinkaid, as Providence was denied a second straight shootout win.
All in all, Jack Studnicka and Kyle Keyser provided real sparks for the P-Bruins this weekend, and there are plenty of encouraging signs for this team as they complete their first weekend of the season. Providence gets back in action on Friday, as they travel to Utica before returning to the Dunk to face Laval and Springfield on Saturday and Sunday.