By: James Swindells | Follow me on Twitter @jimswindells68
The Providence Bruins, the AHL’s top affiliate of the NHL’s Boston Bruins, opened the 2023 portion of the AHL schedule looking to continue the success they found during a year-end road trip to Pennsylvania. A trip-opening 1-0 loss to the AHL’s top team, the Hershey Bears, was followed by consecutive 4-3 wins over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Hershey. Providence closed out 2022 by locking up four of the possible six points in the standings and closing the gap with Atlantic Division-leading Hershey to four points.
The P-Bruins made three roster moves to kick off 2023. Kyle Keyser (4-0-1, 1.87 GAA, .931 SV%) returned from a lower-body injury that had sidelined him since November 5th. Keyser was assigned to the Maine Mariners of the ECHL, and Francois Brassard (7-6-0, 2.58 GAA, .903 SV%) was recalled from Maine. An injury to Jake DeBrusk during the Boston Bruins’ 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Winter Classic necessitated Providence’s final roster move. Boston placed DeBrusk on long-term IR after sustaining a hand and lower body injury, and he is expected to miss up to four weeks. Chris Wagner was recalled by Boston and joined them as they began a three-game road trip in Los Angeles on January 5th.
Providence concluded a season-long eight-game road trip and returned to The AMP for the first time since December 16th. The week kicked off in Connecticut on January 4th vs. Bridgeport. It concluded with a return trip to face Bridgeport on January 7th, followed by a January 8th matinee at The AMP versus the Utica Comets.
WEDNESDAY AT BRIDGEPORT ISLANDERS
Providence went into Wednesday’s matchup holding a 3-2-2 record vs. Bridgeport in seven meetings this season. Brandon Bussi (9-2-3-1, 2.13 GAA, .936 SV%) started in goal for the P-Bruins, and Jakub Skarek (4-7-3, 3.19 GAA, .888 SV%) received the start for the Islanders. Bridgeport (14-11-5-1, 34 points) resides nine points behind second-place Providence and 13 points behind the Atlantic Division-leading Hershey Bears.
Joey Abate got Providence off and running with his third goal of the season at 2:52 off a faceoff win by Curtis Hall. John Beecher won a puck battle in the faceoff circle to Skarek’s left and flipped a pass to Abate, who beat the Isles’ netminder with a quick wrist shot past Skarek’s blocker side. Abate’s goal gave the P-Bruins a rare chance to play with an early lead instead of chasing the game facing a deficit.
Bridgeport outshot Providence 14-5 following the Abate goal, and as he has done so often this season, Brandon Bussi weathered a large volume of shots and kept Bridgeport off the score sheet. Providence managed to kill off penalties to Samuel Asselin and Luke Toporowski as their PK unit continued its recent strong play. Bridgeport’s Chris Terry finally got one past Bussi with 2:39 left in the opening frame.
Andy Andreoff forced a Mike Reilly turnover deep in Providence’s end due to a tenacious forecheck by Ruslan Iskhakov. Andreoff picked up the loose puck and found Terry undefended. Terry gathered the Andreoff offering and buried the puck behind Bussi, and the teams went off for the first intermission locked up at one apiece.
The middle frame saw Providence make some ground with a better possession game, giving them more scoring chances than seen in the opening in 20 minutes. Skarek held his ground and kept the score deadlocked as Bridgeport easily killed off an early penalty to Jimmy Lambert. Bussi duplicated Skarek’s effort as Providence kept the Isles’ at bay during a man advantage with John Beecher in the penalty box. In the minute following Beecher’s release from the penalty box, Georgii Merkulov gave Providence its second lead of the game.
Mike Reilly kept an attempted Bridgeport clear from exiting their zone and flipped the puck toward Mark McLaughlin. McLaughlin redirected the Reilly feed, which ricocheted to Merkulov as he came out from behind Skarek’s cage. Merkulov swiftly rifled the puck past Skarek as he scrambled to get into position to thwart the Merkulov chance. Behind again, the Isles would get a pair of man advantages as they looked to even things up with their power play unit, which ranks 5th in the AHL.
Providence managed to kill off the first penalty to Curtis Hall, but as Hall exited the penalty box, Bridgeport’s Kyle MacLean knotted the game up at two just one second after Hall’s penalty expired. In a netfront scramble for a loose puck, MacLean picked up a rebound from William Dufour’s point shot, sent the puck past a vulnerable Bussi, and evened the score up at two.
Reilly went off for cross-checking 31 seconds after the MacLean goal as Providence gave Bridgeport its first opportunity to seize momentum. The Reilly penalty would be cut short as the Isles’ Andreoff departed at 17:08 for interference and gave the P-Bruins PK unit a perfect 5-for-5 for the game. Providence failed in its brief man advantage on the Andreoff call and the period ended with both teams looking to determine the winner in the final frame.
The closing 20 minutes saw Providence achieve dominance in territorial play that had started in the second period. Armed with a fierce forecheck and regular puck possession, the P-Bruins set out in pursuit of wrestling control of the game from the Islanders. Bridgeport remained shotless past the midway point of the period and found themselves shorthanded when Seth Helgeson was called for a cross-check at 11:43. While held scoreless on their previous three man-advantages, the P-Bruins finally struck with Helgeson in the penalty box.
Luke Toporowski shrugged off two Bridgeport defenders and worked the puck out to Mike Reilly at the point. Reilly quickly fired a shot toward the net, where the puck was deflected behind Skarek by Oskar Steen. Steen’s seventh goal of the season gave Providence a 3-2 lead with 7:03 left in the game. Providence’s one-goal margin would be extended 13 seconds following Steen’s game-winning mark.
Upon exiting the penalty box, Helgeson was assessed a ten-minute misconduct for abuse of the game officials that effectively ended his night. Off the subsequent faceoff, Justin Brazeau fed a pass to Joona Koppanen at center ice. Koppanen took advantage of the easy entrance into the Isles’ zone and found Jakub Lauko racing in behind the Islanders’ defenders. Koppanen placed a perfect tape-to-tape pass under the stick of the Isles’ Ryan MacKinnon to Lauko. Lauko ripped a perfectly placed shot that beat Skarek over his right shoulder just under the crossbar.
Koppanen added an empty net goal to push the Providence lead to 5-2 as Providence improved its record to 5-2-2 versus Bridgeport on the season. With Hershey idle on Wednesday night, Providence cut the Bears’ Atlantic Division lead to two points. The P-Bruins return to Bridgeport on Saturday looking to improve upon its 4-2-1 record as they conclude their season-long eight-game road trip.
Providence outshot the Islanders 30-26, including a 22-12 edge over the final 40 minutes. Brandon Bussi improved his record to 10-2-3-1 while stopping 24 of 26 shots (.923 SV%). Mike Reilly (2A), Jakub Lauko (1G, 1A), and Joona Koppanen (1G, 1A) all had multi-point games. Oskar Steen (2G, 3A) recorded his fifth point in his last three outings. Georgii Merkulov continued his recent hot stretch by collecting his 11th point (3G, 8A) in his previous 12 games. The announced crowd of 1368 at Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport witnessed the Islanders’ sixth consecutive home loss and Providence’s third straight road victory.
3rd Star – Georgii Merkulov (Providence)
2nd Star – Joey Abate (Providence)
1st Star – Oskar Steen (Providence)
SATURDAY AT BRIDGEPORT ISLANDERS
Providence closed out its eight-game road trip as they returned to Bridgeport to face the Islanders for the tenth time this season. Providence, once again, started Brandon Bussi in the crease as Bridgeport countered once more with Jakub Skarek.
Providence worked through an inconsistent opening period trying to find a semblance of the success seen in Wednesday’s defeat of Bridgeport. The P-Bruins improving penalty kill unit managed a successful kill of a Jack Ahcan minor penalty call at 6:10. Bussi warded off four Bridgeport shots during Ahcan’s penalty. As has become commonplace, Bussi kept the opposition at bay while Providence attempted to get its legs under them. Bussi stonewalled an Arnaud Durandeau breakaway attempt as Durandeau exited the penalty box with a beautiful glove save to keep the score sheet clean.
A Joey Abate interference call sent Providence back to the PK, and Bussi faced only one shot on Bridgeport’s man advantage as the P-Bruins successfully killed off Abate’s penalty. Cole Bardreau sent the Isles to the first intermission up a goal as he scored his eighth goal of the season with 4:19 left in the first period. Providence played out the majority of the period searching for momentum and finished the frame with an unimpressive power play that gave little evidence of what lay ahead in the second period.
Providence went to work early and often in a middle period that bore no similarity to the opening 20 minutes. Justin Brazeau got the equalizing goal 1:41 into the period. Off a Joona Koppanen faceoff win, Mike Reilly directed the puck toward the netfront traffic. Koppanen and Brazeau used their size to gain position in front of Skarek as Reilly’s shot rebounded to Brazeau, and he nimbly deposited the puck behind Skarek.
Brazeau struck less than five minutes later to give Providence its first lead of the game. The P-Bruins second goal materialized from the hard work of Joey Abate’s corner puck battle that found Kai Wissmann at the point. Wissmann sent the puck to a racing Brazeau who skated undefended through the slot and buried the puck past Skarek’s glove hand.
Providence gave Bridgeport an opportunity to level the score at two as Wissmann and Koppanen drew minor penalties giving the Isles a 5-on-3 man advantage for 1:17. The P-Bruins PK unit and Bussi rose to the task and killed both penalties upholding Providence’s 2-1 lead.
Bridgeport drew the score back to even as Bardreau matched Brazeau with his second goal of the night at 13:07. Bardreau’s goal began a sequence of three goals in 80 seconds. Bardreau’s game-tying goal would go to waste as Providence struck twice in a span of 30 seconds, as Skarek gave up four goals on nine shots in the middle period.
Koppanen gave Providence a 3-2 lead with a quick wrist shot that beat Skarek again on his glove side, and Vinni Lettieri potted the eventual game-winner a half-minute after Koppanen’s go-ahead goal. Lettieri pounced on a rebound of Josiah Didier’s shot that trickled through Skarek’s crease, finding Lettieri. Lettieri’s 12th goal closed out a period that started with the P-Bruins struggling to find their game and ended with a four-goal outpouring and Bridgeport in the rearview mirror.
Oskar Steen expanded the Providence lead to three with his eighth goal of the season 1:22 into the third period. John Beecher stripped the puck from the Isles’ Paul LaDue and sent a one-timer pass to Lettieri. Skarek denied Lettieri’s one-time shot but produced a considerable rebound that Steen planted into the gaping net, giving the P-Bruins an insurmountable 5-2 lead.
Koppanen was awarded a penalty shot at 5:11, but Skarek handled the Koppanen chance and kept the Providence lead from mushrooming to four goals. Chris Terry cut the P-Bruins lead to 5-3 with his 11th goal of the season with 8:18 left in the contest. Providence kept Brideport in check down the stretch and managed an empty net goal by Mike Reilly with 2:25 remaining to close out the scoring and gave the P-Bruins a hard-fought 6-3 victory.
Bridgeport outshot the P-Bruins 39-31. Brandon Bussi stopped 36 of the Isles’ 39 shots and moved his record to 11-2-3 with a 2.17 GAA and an AHL-leading .934 SV%. Mike Reilly (1G, 1A), Justin Brazeau (2G, 1A), Oskar Steen (1G, 1A), Joona Koppanen (1G, 1A) and Vinni Lettieri (1G, 1A) all had multi-point games. Reilly (3G, 5A) has eight points in his last seven games. Brazeau (6G, 8A) has 14 points in his last 16 games. Steen (3G, 4A) has a four-game point streak. Providence wrapped up its eight-game road trip with a 5-2-1 record and, coupled with a Hershey loss to Charlotte, moved into a first-place tie with Hershey. Providence won their fourth straight road game in front of an announced crowd of 3611 at Total Mortgage Arena.
3rd Star – Joona Koppanen (Providence)
2nd Star – Vinni Lettieri (Providence)
1st Star – Justin Brazeau (Providence)
SUNDAY VS. UTICA COMETS
The P-Bruins welcomed the Utica Comets (16-9-5-1, 38 points), the top AHL affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, to The AMP for Sunday’s matinee. Providence returned to The AMP for its first home game since December 16th. Sunday’s tilt was the third between the P-Bruins and the Comets, with Providence winning the previous two matchups. Utica is in second place in the AHL’s North Division and has won eight of its last ten games.
Providence head coach Ryan Mougenel started Keith Kinkaid (5-4-3, 3.45 GAA, .907 SV%) between the pipes, and Utica head coach Kevin Dineen sent out Nico Daws (9-6-1, 2.77 GAA, .900 SV%) to start in the nets. Top prospect Fabian Lysell returned from his stint at the recently concluded World Junior Championship, where he played for Team Sweden. A trio of defencemen, Michael Callahan, Dan Renouf, and Nick Wolff, drew back into the lineup for Providence.
Providence, looking to get an early start in their first home game since December 16th, put their power play unit to work just 3:43 into the opening period when Utica’s Dylan Blujus went off for tripping. The Utica PK unit bent but did not break on the P-Bruins man advantage as they allowed two shots, and Daws turned away both Providence shots. Utica produced little in the way of any offense over the opening seven minutes, but Tyler Wotherspoon changed the flow of Utica’s period and staked the Comets to a 1-0 lead at 7:39.
Wotherspoon picked up the puck on the side wall as Utica attempted to work a cycle in the Providence zone and threw the puck on the net. Kinkaid failed to get down in time to stop the Wotherspoon shot, and the puck squeezed through his legs and conceded Utica’s first goal on their first shot of the game. Providence once again found themselves in an early hole as they fought to regain control of the game.
Providence yielded a 5-on-3 opportunity to Utica as Josiah Didier and Nick Wolff were assessed minor penalties leading to a 59-second two-man advantage for the Comets. Providence kept the Comets from extending their one-goal lead as Kinkaid turned away three shots on the penalty kill. Heading to the first intermission, Providence looked for a way to create some form of momentum as they sought their first score of the day.
The P-Bruins got another early chance to start the second period as Utica’s Xavier Parent was whistled for slashing at 4:06. The power play produced only one shot on Daws and Providence gave up a shorthanded bid to Robbie Russo that Kinkaid stopped as he bailed out the PK unit.
Kinkaid was tested again after Fabian Lysell was called for hooking at 8:12. Utica mounted good pressure on Kinkaid and the P-Bruins PK unit but failed to grow their lead to two. With Providence back at full strength following Lysell’s penalty, Utica gave the P-Bruins a golden chance to solve Daws.
Nolan Foote and Michael Vukojevic went off at 12:41, giving Providence a two-minute 5-on-3 power play versus Utica’s 25th-ranked PK unit. The P-Bruins, ranked 30th in the AHL on the power play, stalled in their attempt to produce a score with the advantage as they directed a meager two shots on Daws, and the Comets PK unit won the battle with the bottom-dwelling Providence PP unit. Providence nearly doubled Utica’s shot total in the middle frame but had yet to put a puck past Daws even as they controlled most of the play through 40 minutes.
Utica’s Dylan Blujus gave Providence another early power play chance when he was called for hooking at 1:41 of the final period. As with their four previous man-advantages, the P-Bruins failed to mount any real threat toward Daws. The only shot came from a Connor Carrick shot from the blue line, and as Blujus vacated the penalty box two minutes later, Providence’s PP unit finished its day a dismal 0-for-5.
Providence’s PK unit duplicated the Utica PK effort, killed off a holding call to Oskar Steen, and held the deficit at 1-0. As Providence struggled to adjust after Steen was released from the penalty box, Andreas Johnsson gave Utica the insurance goal it desperately needed if they were to leave The AMP with two points in the standings. After a wrap-around attempt on Kinkaid by Jeremy Groleau, Johnsson picked up the rebound and stuffed the puck into Kinkaid’s cage for the eventual game-winner.
Utica held on to their two-goal lead until Justin Brazeau broke through against Daws with 3:17 to go and gave Providence some life as they pursued the game-tying score before the clock ran out. Kinkaid was pulled for an extra attacker with 4:20 remaining as the P-Bruins frantically worked to get on the score sheet. Vinni Lettieri one-timed a shot on Daws that rebounded out to Lysell to Daws’ right. Lysell sent the puck to the waiting Brazeau at the top of Daws’ crease, and Brazeau shoveled it behind Daws, cutting Utica’s lead to 2-1.
Providence failed to get the equalizer with Kinkaid pulled the rest of the way, and Providence would not attain the three-game sweep for the week. By obtaining four of the possible six points in the standings and paired with a Hershey victory over Syracuse on Sunday, the P-Bruins fell two points behind Hershey to second place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division.
Providence outshot the Comets 32-26. Keith Kinkaid took the loss as his record dropped to 5-5-3 with a 3.35 GAA and a .907 SV%. Justin Brazeau continued his recent hot stretch as he accumulated his 15th point (7G, 8A) in his last 17 games. Providence’s PP unit went 1-for-12 (8.3%) on the week and is ranked 30th in the AHL at 14.5%. The PK unit went a perfect 14-for-14 this week and improved to 10th in the AHL at 82.9%. Providence returns to action on Friday, January 13th, as Utica returns to The AMP. The P-Bruins wrap up the weekend with a home-and-home matchup with the Hartford Wolf Pack. Saturday, January 14th at 7 PM at the XL Center in Hartford and back at The AMP on Sunday, January 15th for a 3 PM matinee game.
3rd Star – Justin Brazeau (Providence)
2nd Star – Andreas Johnsson (Utica)
1st Star – Nico Daws (Utica)
Providence Bruins Home Game Ticket Information
If you would like to attend the 2022-23 Providence Bruins regular season home games at the Amica Mutual Pavilion, fans can choose from Black Level (20 games), White Level (10 games), or FlexTix Season Memberships. To become a member and reserve seats, please visit providencebruins.com/memberships or contact CJ Tsoumakas at 401.680.4738 or email@example.com.
Single-game tickets can be purchased at the Providence Bruins’ official website at providencebruins.com.
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