A LOOK AHEAD
The PBruins hit the road for a pair of Atlantic Division matchups in Pennsylvania this weekend, beginning Saturday night against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The suddenly pedestrian Penguins have lost six of eight, including a 3-2 defeat in Providence in the last head-to-head meeting on February 19.
On Sunday, the Bruins return to Hershey for just the second time this season. Providence won 4-1 at the Giant Center on New Years Eve, and have since taken two of three from the Bears at the Dunk.
WEEK IN REVIEW
Providence dropped a hard fought battle with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Tuesday night in Bridgeport, falling by a final score of 5-3. A game that featured the top two goaltenders in the AHL in terms of GAA – Zane McIntyre and Jaroslav Halak – stuck to the script through two periods, with Bridgeport taking a 2-0 lead into the final 20 minutes.
However, each team would tally three goals in a wild third period. The Sound Tigers scored early to build a 3-0 advantage, but then the Bruins special teams provided a spark. Rob O’Gara got the Bruins on the board, going to the backhand to score a shorthanded goal, and Jordan Szwarz followed with a power play tally to cut the deficit to one at 3-2 with 12:18 left to play. Providence, flying around the ice, had all the momentum when a questionable icing call – it looked like Szwarz had position on a pair of Sound Tigers defensemen – led to a Bridgeport goal off the ensuing faceoff. The Sound Tigers didn’t look back.
Halak, who shut out the Bruins in two straight earlier this year and backstopped a comeback in a relief effort on February 11, improved to 4-1 against Providence this season.
McIntyre, meanwhile, dropped his second straight in regulation after beginning the season 15-0-1. Tuesday marked the first time this season that the second-year netminder allowed more than four goals in a game.
Last weekend, the Bruins split of pair of games on home ice. The team lost 4-3 to the Albany Devils on Friday night. It was the first game all season that the Bruins lost in regulation when leading after two periods.
They responded in a big way, notching a raucous 7-3 victory on Sunday over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Despite expressing disappointment with Tuesday’s loss in Bridgeport, rookie forward Jake DeBrusk shifted the focus to some positives in the effort. “I thought our second period was one of the best periods we’ve had all year. We were all over them and their goaltender really stood on his head.”
Speaking more broadly, DeBrusk turned an eye to the weekend ahead. “It’s kind of intense, it’s playoff hockey a month outside of playoffs. These two games are big.”
As far as his own game is concerned, the winger is looking forward to getting out there against two of the most potent offensive teams in the Eastern Conference. “I like playing against these teams, it’s not necessarily meat and potatoes, they’ve got some skill and they like to fly a little bit, and that’s what I like to do too.”
Speaking following Thursday’s practice at RI Sports Center in North Smithfield, Head Coach Kevin Dean said he was “disappointed, but not discouraged,” with Tuesday’s game in Bridgeport. “[Bridgeport] got some good breaks, three pucks that they scored on were deflected by the time they got to [Zane McIntyre], and that’s tough on him, and it’s no fault of his own.”
And while admitting that the icing call against Szwarz was a “tough” call, the coach said he didn’t even discuss the play with the team. “I think we have to kind of overcome that. It’s an icing, it’s not a penalty; you’ve got to win the draw and get it out, at the end of the day.”
On the weekend ahead, Dean said the focus has been on defensive zone coverage. “We’re playing two good offensive teams, so we have to take away time and space in the [defensive] zone and make it difficult for them to create chances.”
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins remain atop the Atlantic Division standings, despite banking just four of a possible 16 points since February 17. 38-year-old Captain Tom Kostopoulos leads the team in scoring with 44 points (20-24-44), while former PBruin David Warsofsky is second among the team’s active players with 41 points (14-27-41) in just 44 games played. The blueliner is second in the AHL with a +27 rating.
The goaltending tandem of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith remains one of the league’s best, ranking ninth (2.29) and tenth (2.36), respectively in GAA. Jarry was between the pipes for the Penguins last game, a 3-0 loss on home ice to the Phantoms on Wednesday. The team remains home to face the Hartford Wolf Pack on Friday night. No telling who will be in net against the Bruins on Saturday.
The Bruins have taken two in a row from the Penguins, and are 2-1-1-0 on the year against the club, the lone regulation defeat coming on November 12 in Wilkes-Barre.
The Hershey Bears, meanwhile, are on the upswing, having won three in a row and five of six to further crowd the Atlantic Division standings. Despite a .619 points percentage – which would be good enough for first place in the North Division – the Bears are currently outside the playoff picture, sitting in fifth in the Atlantic.
Hershey will begin the weekend with back-to-back road games against the Phantoms and Binghamton Senators before returning home to host the Bruins on Sunday.
Providence (16) is the only team in the Eastern Conference with fewer regulation losses than Hershey (17), but the Bears have dropped 11 games in OT and shootouts, and have five fewer wins than fourth place Bridgeport. The Bears have also struggled against the Bruins – Providence owns a 3-1-0-0 record against Hershey this season.
Coverage of Saturday’s 7:05PM contest in Wilkes-Barre begins at 6:45PM on ahllive.com, while Sunday’s coverage will begin at 4:40PM ahead of a 5:00PM puck drop.