The Providence Bruins have found a formidable adversary in the St. John’s IceCaps, who, by shutting down their strengths, exploit their weaknesses.
Forwards Jamie Tardif and Craig Cunningham, who led the P-Bruins with five shots on goal apiece in Sunday’s 4-0 loss, are a case in point on each end of that spectrum.
Tardif, on the one hand, entered Sunday’s action with points in each of his previous five outings, all Providence victories. In the last 15 outings, the leading goal-scorer (13 so far) has been kept pointless on six occasions, including three encounters with the IceCaps and two shutout losses for the team, the other being a 6-0 whitewash on Nov. 25.
Cunningham, on the other hand, has but one point to his credit dating back to that game in Newfoundland. Two of his three goals on the year, including one on Friday, have been against the Springfield Falcons, and he has failed to tune the mesh on 46 of his last 47 shots on goal since Oct. 26.
Cunningham has plenty of cold company in Jordan Caron, pointless in his last seven outings; Christian Hanson, unproductive for the last six games; and Bobby Robins, barren in each of 12 contests since Nov. 17.
Despite disrupting his drought just two nights prior, Cunningham could not thaw out from his frostbite well enough to help the Bruins compensate for Tardif’s off-night. Neither could the other cold portions of the strike force bail out the hot hands that also cooled off in the face of the IceCaps, whose netminders have repelled 40 Providence shots in each of two straight shutout victories.
On the whole, through 25 games this season, the P-Bruins are the most kinetic in terms of offensive bids with an AHL-leading average of 33.72 shots per night. However, they are tied with Adirondack for No. 25 in terms of offensive success with only 2.44 goals per game.
Excluding shootouts, the Bruins have tallied 839 shots on net and 57 shots in the net for a slim 6.8 percent accuracy. In the AHL as a whole, 2,162 out of 23,122 regulation or overtime shots have lit the lamp for 9.4 percent connectivity.
The P-Bruins have been nudging closer to that league average of late, but they still have a considerable distance to cover. Over the past weekend, they converted seven out of 97 registered stabs for 7.2 percent success.
Amidst the eight-game unbeaten streak that the IceCaps halted Sunday, they scored on 26 (9.1 percent) of 285 total tries, although two of those in a Dec. 1 visit to Portland and one this past Friday were on an empty net. Therefore, when challenging a real, live goaltender, Providence only connected 8.2 percent of the time, with 23 strikes on 282 bids.
Apart from the recent sour lemon-based doughnuts against St. John’s, this shortcoming has simply not been able to bite the Bruins, at least not noticeably.
Three of Providence’s last four victories have required bonus action to cement: an eye-for-eye 3-2 shootout triumph in Worcester on December 8, a 3-2 overtime win over Adirondack on the ninth and a 2-1 shootout squeaker in Albany this past Saturday.
Although Kyle MacKinnon put away the Adirondack Phantoms in sudden death, a cumulative 46 shots in the first three periods were not sufficient for the Bruins to ever raise a two-goal upper hand. In term, the Phantoms accepted an invitation to delete 1-0 and 2-1 deficits and ultimately reap a single point.
In Albany, a generally stingier Jeff Frazee kept his club afloat, but a game-high 13 shots in the second period could have helped Providence build on the 1-0 lead it had carried into the preceding intermission. Instead, the Devils drew a 1-1 knot in the middle frame, ultimately forcing the extra period and one-on-ones.
Through a transformative last three weeks, the P-Bruins have indubitably verified that they have plenty of winning assets, both tangible and intangible, in play. The seven wins and 15 points in eight tries could not have happened by accident, especially when one goaltender, Niklas Svedberg, claims credit for four of those wins and Michael Hutchinson has three.
Even so, with the latest St. John’s drawback still subsiding and the Sharks on deck for Friday, some Providence players still have more effective habits left to hone. They must flaunt more depth and bury a greater percentage of their chances to sustain their momentum and their spot in the AHL playoff picture.