By: James Swindells | Follow me on Twitter @jimswindells68
The Providence Bruins hosted the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins on Sunday afternoon at the Amica Mutual Pavilion. The matinee tilt was the season’s first meeting between the two Atlantic Division rivals. Both teams entered the game, having not lost a game in regulation time. Providence holds a 3-0-1 record while sitting just one point behind the Atlantic Division-leading Charlotte Checkers, while Scranton resides just two points behind Providence with a 2-0-1 record.
Every game played by Wilkes-Barre / Scranton in the first two weeks of the season has been decided by one goal. The most recent was a 4-3 shootout victory over the Hartford Wolf Pack on Saturday night at the XL Center in Hartford. Providence opened their weekend with a 5-4 overtime loss to the Bridgeport Islanders on Friday night. Georgii Merkulov scored twice while helping the P-Bruins erase a two-goal Islanders lead before falling in overtime. On Saturday evening, Providence defeated the Utica Comets 2-1 behind a 23-save performance from Kyle Keyser and goals by Vinni Lettieri and Samuel Asselin. Entering Sunday’s game, the quartet of Fabian Lysell, Georgii Merkulov, Vinni Lettieri, and Joona Koppanen are all averaging at least a point per game for the P-Bruins. The P-Bruins would go without top Boston Bruins prospect Fabian Lysell for the second consecutive game. Scranton would give journeyman goaltender Dustin Tokarski the start in net, and Keith Kincaid manned the cages for Providence.
Both teams looked to gain an advantage in the early stages of the first period and saw themselves trading numerous one-and-done opportunities. Neither team saw any sizable advantage in zone play while looking to gain momentum. At 4:03, Scranton defenceman Ty Smith was called for holding and gave the P-Bruins the first real chance to grab momentum. Providence struggled to keep possession during the ensuing power play as the Pens easily killed off the two-minute infraction to Smith.
Following another stretch of one-and-done opportunities, Providence’s Vinni Lettieri found himself serving a minor for hooking at 10:10 . The excessive stickwork call on Lettieri would give the Pens their first opportunity to run their power play unit out and seek out the game’s first goal. As with the P-Bruins’ earlier power play, Scranton found tough sledding and zero high-quality chances as Providence matched Scranton’s earlier PK effort and easily killed off the Lettieri penalty call.
John Beecher took another penalty for the P-Bruins at 15:44 and proceeded to put Providence on the kill for the second time in just over five minutes. Scranton managed to win the ensuing faceoff and worked the puck around the perimeter of the P-Bruins zone but found no easy entry efforts on Kinkaid. The Pens’ had no success with the two-minute advantage but retained possession as the Beecher penalty expired. As Beecher exited the penalty box, Kinkaid made a nice save on a point shot by Scranton’s Xavier Ouellet.
Providence would get their best chance at breaking the deadlock when Luke Toporowski was sent in clean on Pens’ goalie Dustin Tokarski by Samuel Asselin. Tokarski would turn away the Toporowksi effort with a beautiful save, and the P-Bruins would go into the first intermission, having found little success in finding a way to crack the Pens’ structure.
The middle 20 minutes would find Scranton on the penalty kill with just 1:11 burned off the clock. The Pens’ John Lizotte would head off for a hooking call, and the P-Bruins PP unit would get another crack at breaking the deadlock. Providence would win the faceoff to start the power play and would keep possession deep inside the Scranton zone, which would reap benefits late in the PP as Justin Brazeau would find Merkulov in tight to Tokarski’s left, who released a shot that Tokarski would deflect away and die in the pileup in front of him. Providence would fail to break through but now found they had the first sustained momentum of the game.
Providence’s sustained attack following the Lizotte penalty would create another good scoring opportunity: Victor Berglund’s shot from inside the blue line that Tokarski made a nice glove save on to keep the scoreboard locked at zero. Providence defenceman Dan Renouf would end the momentum the P-Bruins held when he sailed the puck over the high glass and was called for a delay of the game penalty at 12:46.
As the Pens’ power play wound into the last 45 seconds, the Pens would cycle the puck around the P-Bruins zone, and Penguins’ defenceman Xavier Ouellet would throw a shot on Kinkaid, and it would slip through Kincaid’s legs and slide just wide of the post. With the near-miss averted, Providence proceeded to kill the remainder of Renouf’s penalty, and the game continued scoreless.
Scranton’s Corey Andonovski would go to the penalty box with 3:41 remaining in the period. The P-Bruins would again fail to take advantage of the latest man advantage with a wildly ineffective power play that failed to yield positive results. The horn sounded, ending the second period, and Providence had a decided edge in play and had outshot the Penguins 11-4 over the middle 20 minutes.
Scranton opened up the third period and commenced an all-out attack on Kinkaid and the P-Bruins. In the opening six minutes of play, the Penguins’ unrelenting attack saw them put 11 shots on Kinkaid. Kinkaid would make a giant glove save on Tyler Sikura at 2:55. This would be the first in a flurry of quality chances Scranton would have. Immediately following Sikura’s chance, Kinkaid would deny a Ty Smith shot through traffic from just inside the blue line. The constant pressure by Scranton would see them finally break the deadlock at 6:01 when Lukas Svejkovsky would come racing through the neutral zone and gain clean entry into the P-Bruins zone, head into the slot and feed Ty Glover with a nice backhand pass and Glover would slam it past Kinkaid giving Scranton a 1-0 lead.
The onslaught would continue following the Glover goal. Providence would fail to clear the puck out of their zone, and Filip Hallander would weave his way out of the corner to find Valtteri Puustinen in precisely the same area where Glover had opened the scoring. Puustinen would slip his shot by Kinkaid to make it 2-0 Scranton with 12:04 remaining in the game.
Providence coach Ryan Mougenel would call a timeout in an effort to make the necessary adjustments needed to stem the Scranton attack. The P-Bruins had just under 12 minutes left to repair the damage the Penguins had inflicted on them and look to find a way to scrape their way back into the game. Their first chance to climb out of the two-goal hole came almost two minutes later when Drew O’Connor was called for holding. Providence’s fourth-man advantage of the game would go just as the previous three had, with little in the way of quality chances. The PP chance would fail, and the Scranton had burned another two minutes off of the clock.
O’Connor’s freedom would be short-lived as he would take an interference call just 29 seconds after his previous release from the penalty box. The fifth Providence power play would FINALLY yield the P-Bruins’ first goal of the game. Joona Koppanen would win the faceoff to start the PP back to Victor Berglund, who put a shot on Tokarski; the puck would find Luke Toporowksi, who pounded away at the rebound that skipped to Koppanen, who chipped the puck over Tokarski’s left shoulder cutting the Penguins lead to 2-1 with 6:13 left in the game.
Mougenel would pull Kinkaid with 2:06 to go, and the P-Bruins would fail in their attempt to knot the game at two. Scranton would miss on multiple empty net chances that would effectively end the game. The game would end with Providence slamming away at multiple loose pucks that would fail to find the back of the net. The final horn would sound, and chaos would ensue with a multi-player scrum that led to 24 minutes of penalties being assessed at the 20-minute mark.
THREE STARS OF THE GAME
3rd Star- Joona Koppanen (Providence)
2nd Star – Dustin Tokarski (Wilkes-Barre / Scranton)
1st Star – Valtteri Puustinen (Wilkes-Barre / Scranton)
Providence ended their three-game homestand compiling three of the possible six points. They now stand in fourth place in the Atlantic Division, albeit just one point behind division leaders Charlotte and Bridgeport. Looking ahead to next weekend’s three matchups, Providence welcomes the Charlotte Checkers to Providence on Friday night at The AMP. The P-Bruins travel to western Massachusetts on Saturday evening for a tilt versus the Springfield Thunderbirds. Both teams then close the weekend with a Sunday matinee at The AMP.