The Providence Bruins’ three goals in an 3-0 triumph over the St. John’s IceCaps made for a fitting representation of three outstanding decisions on the part of head coach Bruce Cassidy. The result could be a critical early-season tweak to the team’s outlook, as well as that of Cassidy’s long-term future with the Boston organization.
Had they lost Sunday afternoon’s game, the Bruins would have been languishing with a four-game pointless skid and an AHL-worst 2-6-0 record. In addition, they would have been winless through four home games, amounting to an ongoing, egregious failure to reward a fanbase that currently constitutes the second-best home attendance in the league.
In other words, they would have cemented another brick on a path to more of the same from their last three non-playoff campaigns, all of which Cassidy has overseen as either the head or assistant coach.
Only the next 68 games, one by one, will underscore the real merit of Sunday’s potential turnaround. But for the moment, Cassidy and his pupils have used their freshest log entry to assert that the Bruins’ top farm team may not need a new voice behind the bench so soon after all.
Cassidy, a former Washington Capitals skipper who was canned in early December 2003, had a noticeable influence on the way Providence spawned, safeguarded and swelled its lead Sunday. It started immediately, in nearly the most literal terms, before the opening draw, when he pulled a positive 180 on his apparent perception of the goaltending guild.
Michael Hutchinson was apparently getting the nod, despite coming off his fourth loss in as many outings with at least three goals-against in each. That was before Cassidy abruptly switched to Niklas Svedberg, who proceeded to rekindle his hot hand from two weeks previous and improve to 3-1-0 on the year with his first shutout.
With Hutchinson in the crease this season, Providence has thrice blown an initial 1-0 advantage en route to an empty outing in the AHL points column. With Svedberg starting, they have trailed only against the stingy Springfield Falcons, and never so much as authorized an equalizer once they've nabbed a lead.
The Dunkin Donuts Center masses of 7,098 therefore had to be harboring a comparative sense of conviction when Svedberg finished scraping the blue paint, then saw his skating mates beat IceCaps goalie Eddie Pasquale on their first shift.
None other than two frequent fighters in Lane MacDermid and Bobby Robins, as well as sandwich-checking center Christian Hanson, were on duty for the prompt icebreaker. With Robins flicking home Hanson’s rebound, both men busted a season-long scoring drought for themselves, and tangibly justified Cassidy’s choice to keep putting a bottom-six trinity out for the opening draw.
In each of the P-Bruins first five games, MacDermid and/or Robins had flanked captain Trent Whitfield for the first face-off. But Whitfield was out of commission for the weekend with an injury, leaving Hanson to fill in, though it did not yield much change on paper entering Sunday’s action.
Whitfield, Hanson, Robins and MacDermid all had a combined zero points to speak of before the weekend. They also had a weak quantity of shots on goal, bringing into question their ability to threaten opposing blueliners and backstops for the more prolific forwards after a line change.
But perhaps Cassidy’s implicit rationale can be compared to a standard baseball batting order that has energetic runners occupying the first two slots and setting up RBI opportunities for the heavy-hitting heart of the order.
Once in a while, though, there is a leadoff home run in the opening inning that allows the unsung heroes to amp up their efforts. That was what Hanson and Robins did on Sunday’s opening rush to draw first blood at the 22-second mark.
From there, Svedberg perked up when needed, but his praetorian guards limited his workload to a season-low 18 shots, including merely five apiece in the first two periods and next to nothing on a slew of St. John’s power plays.
When the whistles started blowing more in the other direction, Cassidy elected to utilize his timeout at an unconventional hour, something Boston counterpart Claude Julien has done on multiple occasions with rewarding effects.
A cross-checking call against IceCaps defenseman Dean Arsene gave Providence a 54-second five-on-three segment beginning at 15:58 of the middle frame. Cassidy huddled his power-play brigade first, then watched as Carter Camper stuffed Ryan Spooner’s cross-ice feed into a vacant slab of the cage for a critical 2-0 advantage.
In between and afterward, the Hanson-MacDermid-Robins unit was building on the foundation it had spawned for itself and the team on the opening play. At one point, they bumped the net off its pegs by crashing after a rebound, and later finalized the 3-0 score on a third-period collaboration, ending the day with a combined five points and nine shots on goal.
If Cassidy can foster more of the same from Sunday, riding a hot-handed Svedberg and cultivating a diverse scoring output, Providence will finally be rid of excuses.
Depending on whether or not it is enough to nab a Calder Cup playoff passport, he certainly ought to have an invitation for a third season behind the P-Bruins bench; and possibly long-term candidacy for when and if there is an opening on Julien’s staff.
“If” is still the key word, but that word conveys a certifiable possibility. Cassidy earned that possibility with Sunday’s victory.