By: Tim Richardson | Follow Me On Twitter @TimARichardson
Week 23 of the AHL season is upon us, and the Providence Bruins skate into it 31-22-7-2 (71 points) and 4-4-1-1 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, they could move up higher in the standings relatively soon. The Providence club sits only three points away from the fifth-place Toronto Marlies. With only 14 games left in the regular season, now is the time for our boys in black and gold to make their push towards the playoffs and climb the standings. This weekend will not be easy, the team embarks on a three-game road trip starting on Friday, March 15, 2019, and it ends on Wednesday, March 20, 2019.
The weekend kicks off when the Providence Bruins take their show on the road and invade the PPL Center in Allentown, Pennsylvania to take on the home team Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Friday, March 15, 2019. The trip continues Saturday, March 16, 2019, when the Bruins skate into Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to take on the Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza. The road trip wraps up on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, when the baby B’s head north to Laval, Quebec, Canada to battle the Laval Rocket at Place Bell. With all three teams being below the Providence club in the standings, it has the potential to be a successful trip for our boys in black and gold.
Friday, March 15, 2019, Providence Bruins vs. Lehigh Valley Phantoms (AWAY)
The Friday match-up marks the fifth time the Bruins have faced the Phantoms this season. In the first meeting, Lehigh Valley beat Providence 5-4 with the Bruins getting goals from Karson Kuhlman, Cameron Hughes, Colby Cave, and Wiley Sherman. Meanwhile, goalie Dan Vladar was off his game stopping 21 of 26 shots in net. The second meeting between the two teams saw a much better result for the Bruins. The Baby B’s beat the Philadelphia Flyers’ affiliate 6-3 with the Bruins getting goals from Austin Fyten (2), Cameron Hughes (2), Ryan Fitzgerald, and Jordan Szwarz, while goaltender Dan Vladar was good in net stopping 18 of the 21 shots that came his way.
The third match-up was another tough outcome for our boys wearing the spoked P. Lehigh Valley beat Providence 3-1. With Providence getting their lone goal from Joona Koppanen with goaltender Dan Vladar continuing his solid road play stopping 17 of the 19 shots that were fired his way. The fourth battle between the clubs saw the baby B’s win 4-2 getting goals from Gemel Smith (2), Trent Frederic, and Joona Koppanen. Goalie Zane McIntyre was fantastic in net turning away 20 of the 22 shots that were fired his way.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms skate into the game 30-26-3-3 (66 points) and 3-7-0 in their last 10 games. This is good for sixth in the Atlantic Division and 11th in the Eastern Conference. Despite the fact they are on the outside of the playoff picture, this game will not be easy for Providence. Over the past five seasons, the Bruins are 9-12-2-1 against the Flyers’ affiliate including 4-7-1 on the road. It should be a tough test for our boys in black and gold. There are a few keys to victory if the baby B’s plan on bucking the trend and beating Lehigh Valley. The first is getting a lead and holding onto it. The Providence club is 24-3-2-1 when leading after the second period, and the Phantoms are 21-1 when leading after two.
Special teams will also play a major key in who wins this game. The Flyers’ affiliate boasts the best penalty kill in the Eastern Conference at 86.5%. Meanwhile, the baby B’s power play is ranked 14th in the Eastern Conference at 17.1% On the flip-side the Bruins have the second-best penalty kill in the Eastern Conference at 85.7%, and the Phantoms have the fifth-best power play in the Eastern Conference at 19.1%. If our boys in black and gold can keep out of the penalty box, they have a good chance of coming out of the game with two points.
Saturday, March 16, 2019, Providence Bruins vs. Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins (AWAY)
The Saturday match-up will mark the fifth 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 recently 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 most recent 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 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins come into the game 29-23-6-3 (67 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 3-0-0-1, but over the past five seasons, the Baby B’s are 13-6-2-3. A major key for the boys in black and gold will be how their offense plays. The Penguins have given up a total of 179 goals on the year. Only four other teams in the Eastern Conference have given up less. Meanwhile, the Bruins have scored 188 goals this year which is the ninth 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 173, but they are also second in penalty kill at 85.7%. That coupled with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton having the 12th ranked power play in the Eastern Conference at 17.3% 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 18-13-2-2 but are 6-8-3-1 when being outshot. On the other side, the Baby B’s are 9-6-3-1 when being outshot and 20-14-4-1 when outshooting their foe.
Wednesday, March 20, 2019, Providence Bruins vs. Laval Rocket (AWAY)
The Wednesday match will mark the second time the Bruins take on Laval this season. The Rocket play 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 Mark McNeill and Jeremy Lauzon. Goalie Dan Vladar was excellent in net turning away 31 of the 34 shots that were fired his way. The Laval Rocket come into the match-up 25-27-6-4 (60 points) and 4-4-2 in their last 10 games. This is good for seventh in the North Division and 15th 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 hold a 2-1 record against the Rocket in that time frame.
Special teams will also play a major key in which team comes out on top. The Laval Rocket have the 15th ranked power play in the Eastern Conference at 16.9%. As I have stated earlier the baby B’s boast the second-best penalty kill in the entire Eastern Conference at 85.7%. On the other side of things, the Montreal affiliate has 14th ranked penalty kill at 78.5%. With the Bruins power play being the 14th ranked at 17.1% this would be a great chance to boost those numbers. Something that will be interesting to watch for is who outshoots who. The Providence hockey club is 20-14-4-1 when they outshoot their opponents. However, the Laval club has a better record when being outshot at 13-9-2-3.
Team defense will also play a major key in the matchup. The Bruins boast of the best defenses in the Eastern Conference giving up 2.79 goals a game. Meanwhile, the Montreal affiliate gives up 2.98 goals a game. Laval also has a goal differential of –21. That means they have given up 21 more goals than they’ve scored. The Baby B’s have a goal differential of +15. This game is going to an interesting match-up against two teams that are not familiar with each other. However, all the stats point to the Providence hockey club coming out on top.
Who’s hot and Who’s not for the Bruins
Paul Carey: Paul Carey has been a scoring machine since coming over in a trade with the Ottawa Senators. In 21 games with Providence, the former Boston College Eagle has netted 14 goals and dished out six assists for 20 total points. That is a point per game total of 0.95. That includes netting six goals and dishing out two assists for eight total points in his last five games. The two-time NCAA champion has been playing so well that he was called up to Boston. Let’s hope the veteran forward keeps up his scorching hot play up in Boston.
Urho Vaakanainen: Urho Vaakanainen has been playing very well as of late. The young defenseman missed time earlier in the year due to a concussion, but he’s come back strong and is having a good year. In 28 games this year, the Finland native has found the back of the net four times and dished out 10 assists for 14 total points. This is a point per game total of 0.50. That includes netting four goals and dishing out one assist for five total points in his last five games. So far, it’s been a very successful first professional season for Urho. He made his NHL debut earlier in the year before being injured, he helped lead Finland to the World Junior Gold Medal after he returned from injury, and every part of his game looks NHL ready. Let’s hope the young defender can keep it up going forward.
Ryan Fitzgerald: Ryan Fitzgerald started out the year having a fantastic season and was leading the team in points for a large part of the year. Injuries derailed what was an excellent season. However, in 48 games he has netted seven goals and dished out 24 assists for 31 points. This is a point per game total of 0.64. Despite this, over his past five games, the former Boston College Eagle has not found the back of the net and has dished out two assists for two total points. The veteran forward also has not found the back of the net since December 1, 2019. Part of that is due to injury, but he still has not scored a goal since coming back. With Carey called up to Boston, hopefully, the gritty forward can pick up some of the offense that will be missing.
Zach Senyshyn: Zach Senyshyn has found himself in the not category a few weeks in a row now. That should give you an idea of how cold the streak he’s on is. Even though the young forward may be the most talented of the forward prospects, he cannot seem to buck this cold streak. The OHL product has not scored a goal since January 26, 2019. In his 14 games since then, the speedster has dished out three assists for three total points. Overall on the year, Senyshyn has found the back of the net 13 times and dished out 10 assists for 23 points in 54 games. This is a point per game total of 0.42. The Bruins will need him to bust out of this slump if they plan to go far in the playoffs.
My players to watch this weekend
Karson Kuhlman: Karson Kuhlman has had an excellent first professional season for Providence this year. On the year the former University of Minnesota-Duluth Captain has potted 12 goals and dished out 16 assists for 28 total points in 55 games. That is a point per game total of 0.51. He has also recorded a point in three of his last five games for Providence dishing out three assists for three points in that time frame. The young forward has played so well that he earned a call-up to Boston and played well in the five games he played in. The Bruins need the former NCAA Champion to continue his exceptional play on this road-trip to make it a successful one.
On the Blue Line
Jakub Zboril: Jakub Zboril has had a very good season for the Providence Bruins this season. In 46 games he has found the back of the net four times while dishing out 12 assists for 16 total points. That is a point per game total of 0.34. This is a better scoring pace than last season, while also playing great defense. On top of that, he’s played well against Lehigh Valley and Wilkes-Barre / Scranton this season. In six games against the two teams, he has netted one goal and dished out three assists for four total points. With Connor Clifton getting called up to Boston, the baby B’s will need Zboril to play well on this road-trip.
Dan Vladar: Dan Vladar has had an up and down season for the Providence Bruins this season. On the year the young goaltender is 9-12-4 with a goal against average of 2.75 and a save percentage of .901. Despite the up and down year, six of his nine wins have come on the road, and both of his shutouts were away from the Dunk. With the next three games coming outside of Providence, Rhode Island I would look for Vladar to have a big road trip.
The Providence Bruins climbed a single spot from eighth in the Eastern Conference to seventh last weekend. With 14 games left on the Providence hockey club’s magic number is 27. Anytime our boys wearing black and gold win, the magic number is reduced by two points. The magic number is also reduced when the team with the highest possible point total, who also sits outside of the playoff picture fails to record a point. Once the magic number hits zero, your team makes the playoffs. With 28 total points left for the Baby B’s to grab each game is of the utmost importance. Look for the road-trip to be full of some high-intensity hockey. 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!