Boston Bruins: Are Jordan Caron's AHL Struggles a Major Cause for Concern?

Al DanielCorrespondent IIDecember 22, 2012

MONTREAL- SEPTEMBER 22:  Jordan Caron #38 of the Boston Bruins skates during an NHL pre-season game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on September 22, 2010 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Bruins defeated the Canadiens 4-2.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

Entering the 2012-13 season, which began with a mass minor league reassignment to brace for the still-going NHL lockout, Jordan Caron was the lone Providence Bruin who had an NHL-caliber appearance on his transcript.

After 14 weeks and 26 regular-season games spent consistently in the AHL, what has he done to build on that? He is tied for 10th on the team with defenseman Matt Bartkowski and plugger Kyle MacKinnon with seven points and is third-to-last with a minus-eight rating.

Granted, he trails only Ryan Spooner and Jamie Tardif in the goal column, but his collection of five firsthand tallies comes with a kicker. While his full stat line has him averaging 0.27 points per night, that median plummets to 0.16 in 25 contests if you delete his Oct. 19 hat trick at Manchester.

Caron has hit the back of the net only once since the end of October and tallied only two points, his lone two assists so far in 2012-13, in mid-November.

As it happened, Friday night’s 5-4 loss to the Worcester Sharks was the first time Caron’s plus/minus rating has increased in a game since the season began. But his plus-one rating was eclipsed by the club’s shortcoming in a seesaw arm-wrestling match and the fact that it was his eighth consecutive scoreless effort.

With that, Caron has set a professional career high, or low. His only other eight-game pointless skid spanned eight nonconsecutive appearances with Boston from Jan. 14 through Feb. 14 of last season.

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For all intents and purposes, that need not count, seeing as that slump was interrupted by a brief reassignment to Providence, in which time he tallied four points in five contests.

Caron’s longest professional slump with the same team lasted seven games, again with the parent club in Boston, from February 19 to March 3, 2012.

On the other side of another offseason, the 22-year-old, third-year Bruin has now surpassed that slump at a lower level. Since he last tuned the mesh in a Dec. 1 visit to Portland, he has fallen short on 14 straight shots on goal.

Throughout October, Caron connected on four of 13 shots to supply four of the 13 Providence goals in the first six games. In the 20 outings since then, excluding shootouts, the Bruins have struck 68 more times with only one of those coming courtesy of Caron’s 51 registered stabs.

Providence has tallied 21 goals in its last eight games, no thanks to Caron.

Does this mean that, if the lockout ended in the coming week, the P-Bruins would have someone else who Boston could confidently summon to fill a vacancy in the nightly lineup? That is, the one that was once presumably reserved Caron, 73 regular-season and playoff games-played in The Show, including 50 last season?

There is the aforementioned Tardif and Chris Bourque, the veterans of six and seven AHL seasons, respectively, and the top two Providence point-getters. However, one has to be skeptical as to how long either of those players could stay in the NHL and make a satisfactory contribution.

Immediately trailing Bourque and Tardif on the points chart is the rookie Spooner, who has performed with gratifying consistency. Spooner has yet to go more than two games-played without a point and has the most balanced stat line on the team with six goals and 10 helpers.

Lo and behold, Spooner is currently out with an upper-body injury (via the Providence Journal) and would be an NHL neophyte at any rate.

Second- and third-year pros Carter Camper and Max Sauve are next in the production department, but have likewise been nagged by various injuries this autumn.

When and if Boston commences its 2012-13 season, any one of those top five scorers could reasonably be asked to step in as a spare 13th forward, especially since it would be easy enough to rotate more than one in and out to ensure nobody gets stale by way of being a repeat healthy scratch.

Caron is the only current Providence player presently possessing the capabilities of an NHL regular and is thus the only candidate the Bruins can bank on to give them a quorum of a dozen strikers.

Everybody knows he has it in him based on his better moments in Boston, such as his four-game production streak that saw him tally three goals and four assists between March 4 and March 10, 2012.

Simply put, though, the confidence Caron’s skill set can give the Bruins is not valid as long as he is failing to make an impact in the AHL. It is not enough to merely be on the ice for two goals, as No. 38 was against Worcester on Friday, when he had only one shot to his credit and Providence collapsed after blowing a pair of leads.

The P-Bruins’ first two-game regulation losing streak since the calendar’s transition from October to November and Saturday’s visit to Connecticut, the last engagement before a Christmas respite, should be Caron’s invitation to perk up.

The NHL will start back up no earlier than mid-January. That would not offer Caron a very wide window to replenish his pivotal outlook, but that is all the more reason why he must regain his groove quickly.

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