Thursday, March 25, 2010

Winter of Discontent

Proud Providence Team Barely Holding On
by T. Chace Jr.
March 25, 2010

Mathematically the Providence Bruins still have an opportunity to gain entrance to the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs, which they have accomplished every season of their existence, with the exceptions of the 1993-94 and 1997-98 seasons. They returned to Rhode Island’s capital city in 1992 and they have had successful seasons every year, including a Calder Cup Championship in 1999. Last season they were defeated in the Eastern Conference finals by the eventual Calder Cup Champion Hershey Bears. However, this year is unlike years past when the nucleus of the team remained intact for most of the regular season. This season has been marred by a series of injuries and promotions to the big club in Boston and then a subsequent return of those players to Providence. The shuffling of those players along with those brought up from the ECHL and veteran PTO’s changed the team’s chemistry on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. As a result, it seems from these eyes that here has been a lack of cohesion all season long.

With just eight games remaining in the season for Providence, the Bruins trail the eighth place team in the conference by eight points. The daunting task ahead of them is quite difficult especially when you consider that all their remaining games are against Atlantic Division opponents and they have the least number of games to be played. If the season ended today, five of the eight teams now qualified for the Eastern Conference playoffs are from the Atlantic Division. In the last ten games for Providence they have only managed two victories, despite playing a lot of close games.

The reality is that Providence mirrors Boston when it comes to scoring goals this season. Providence has only one 20 goal scorer, Mikko Lehtonen, who has 23 goals to go along with 26 assists for 49 points. These totals don’t even get him in the top 40 of all scorers in the AHL. Captain Trent Whitfield has 17 goals which are second on the club, but the team does not possess the scoring punch of other teams in the league. The goaltending at the beginning of the season through the halfway point of the season was very good but in the last quarter of the season it has declined somewhat. Dany Sabourin has played the fourth most minutes in the league and is third in the league in saves. Of late, Kevin Regan has seen his minutes increase. Sabourin’s goals against average of 2.67 is also not in the top twenty in the league. On defense, Andy Wozniewski is tied for ninth in the league among defensemen in points with 41 and is fourth among defensemen in power-play points with 24. The loss of Providence veteran Adam McQuaid to both call ups and injury has affected the overall defense and the team’s toughness. In regards to toughness, rookie Lane MacDermid, leads all rookies in penalty minutes with 155 and is first in major penalties with 21. In recent weeks, several young players have picked up their game including Levi Nelson, John Lammers, Jordan Knackstedt, and Andrew Bodnarchuk. By all accounts their season is on the brink, yet the pride in the organization and the upcoming emotional rivalries could propel them to the playoffs. That’s why they play the games, you never know what’s possible, and this Providence team, based on their past history will most assuredly make it interesting.

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