Boston Bruins Farm Report: Backup Goaltending May Make or Break Providence

Al DanielCorrespondent IINovember 12, 2012

OTTAWA, ON - JUNE 21:  77th overall pick, Michael Hutchinson of the Boston Bruins poses for a portrait at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft at Scotiabank Place on June 21, 2008 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)
Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

There was a time, as recently as the previous two NHL seasons, when the Boston Bruins seemingly had a contrast in conviction when playing in front of goaltender Tuukka Rask versus Tim Thomas. Starting the latter somehow appeared to yield a smoother general unfolding than the former.

With Providence currently the closest Bruins buffs get to seeing the hometown team in action, the same notion appears to be applying to the farm club. Veteran Michael Hutchinson is still searching for a break for himself and his club after Sunday’s matinee affair at the Dunkin Donuts Center saw a 3-1 lead devolve into a 4-3 shootout loss to the Worcester Sharks.

The third-year professional Hutchinson’s confidence and that of his skating mates when playing in front of him must be in limbo, at best. He is now 0-4-1 on the year with three goals against in each of his five starts.

Conversely, colleague Niklas Svedberg, who, ironically, is drawing stylistic comparisons to Thomas, is 4-2-0 with two goals against or less in each of his last three starts.

After Svedberg stamped a 2-1 shootout win on Friday and then blinked in a hard-fought staring contest against Manchester’s Martin Jones, head coach Bruce Cassidy had little choice but to rest the Swedish import on Sunday. Hutchinson was thus leaned on to give Providence a winning record in its first of 17 cases of three consecutive game nights in the 2012-13 campaign.

His efforts got them halfway there, as his 3-2 loss to Alex Stalock in the six-round shootout forced the Bruins to settle for a single point and kept them two games below .500 at 4-6-1.

The P-Bruins’ two-goal advantage evaporated by way of back-to-back Worcester power-play goals that were visually fraternal. Both times, Sharks point patroller Matt Irwin saw his blast directed in with the help of a screening skater on Hutchinson’s porch.

As far as that unsavory development goes, given the nature of those goals, Hutchinson deserves far less blame than the undisciplined Providence players, specifically Lane MacDermid and Jordan Caron, whose penalties helped to set up the scoring plays.

Even so, no excuses of the sort can be cultivated in a lightning round of penalty shots.

Hutchinson had been given enough support and, on the whole, played well enough in the first 65 minutes to have a decisive edge in confidence. That was especially the case given that the Sharks went on a 6-2 run in the five-minute overtime shooting gallery, but could not bust the tie.

Translation: Providence garnered a hard-earned point Sunday afternoon, but it cannot afford many more outings and weekends like the last one.

As long as he has the hot hand, Svedberg will logically scrape the blue paint for at least two days or nights every weekend. But he cannot be left prone to burnout, either, meaning either Hutchinson or an eventual ECHL call-up, most likely Adam Morrison, will be consuming roughly one-third of the 76-game workload.

By the end of their post-Thanksgiving, two-night excursion to divisional rival St. John’s, the P-Bruins will have 16 games down, 60 to go.

The only way for them to climb above the .500 mark beforehand is to sweep this coming weekend’s slate against Manchester, Portland and Bridgeport. Although claiming two wins out of those three is more realistic, that is likely a must if they want to be out of the Atlantic Division basement at this time next week.

As was underscored in Saturday’s 3-0 falter, which was finalized by an empty-netter, Svedberg is not exactly going to win out all year. Neither is the strike force, whose lackluster evening translated to three periods of single-digit shots, going to reward any netminder’s stinginess on a perfectly unyielding basis.

But for cases like that, it will be on the likes of Hutchinson to help recompense those tough losses just as much as it will, at times, be his job to maintain momentum, which the Bruins had at their disposal after Sunday’s second-period outburst.

In that event, he and his skating mates need to replenish their formula and put away the adversary. One more regulation goal on enemy property or one fewer in Hutchinson’s net and the Bruins would presently be two points behind Worcester in the standings rather than five.

They would also have had their first four-point, supra-.500 weekend since Svedberg swept a two-game road trip in mid-October. Going forward, Providence will need those more often than not to avoid tumbling back into old patterns from their last three non-playoff campaigns.