Notes from Friar practice

schneidPROVIDENCE — Stopped in at Providence College’s Schneider Arena this afternoon and gathered a few nuggets of news:

*** Erik Foley won’t play this weekend when the Friars visit St. Lawrence and Clarkson, but he’s expected to return “sooner rather than later,’’ according to coach Nate Leaman. Foley sat out Sunday’s loss to Boston College with an upper body injury.

*** The coaching staff made a couple of changes on the top two lines involving Josh Wilkins and Scott Conway. Wilkins, who played center in the first three games of the season, is back at right wing next to Brian Pinho. Wilkins put up 31 points as a freshman last season with Pinho as his center. Kasper Bjorkqvist is the left wing on the line.

Conway, who  was given a maintenance day on Wednesday, is back at center after starting the season on Pinho’s right side. Conway’s wingers on Tuesday were Brandon Duhaime and Ryan Tait.

*** Mental toughness has been a topic this week after PC blew a three-goal lead in Sunday’s loss

“Our brains went haywire – no mental toughness. That’s all we talked about. Mental  toughness to execute. Stay with the game plan. Stay with the forecheck. Stay with the D zone. We were a mess after we went up 3-0,’’ Leaman said.

*** Even though St. Lawrence is 0-4 – losing to Penn State, Michigan and North Dakota twice – Leaman expects PC to be tested at Appleton Arena on Friday night. “We know how tough it is to go up there and play. I don’t think their record indicates the type of team they have,’’ he said.

Clarkson, Saturday night’s opponent, is 3-0-1 with wins over Penn State and Michigan and a win and a tie Western Michigan. The Golden Knights are ranked 10th in the USA Today/US College Hockey Magazine poll and 12th in the USCHO.com rankings.

*** Playing tough opponents will pay off for the Friars, Leaman says. “We do not have an easy schedule. We come back and we’ll have BC, BU and BU again. It gives us a real good opportunity to grow. If we had a real soft schedule and were 6-0, maybe you grow and maybe you don’t. I can tell you this, with the challenges we have, we’re going to grow and get better. That’s the bonus,’’ he said.

“We’re seeing officials from three different leagues, too, in three different weekends. I like the mental challenge with that also. The way the game was called at home was very different from the way it was at Miami, which is probably different from the way it will be at St. Lawrence/Clarkson. That’s another aspect that is healthy for us — to grow the mental aspect of the game, learn to adjust and play the game.’’

*** PC will practice at Schneider on Thursday morning and then hit the road for the six-plus hour trip to upstate New York.

P-Bruins top line is rolling

jfk1

Long after his teammates left the ice, Jacob Forsbacka Karlsson is still at work on Tuesday.

Assistant coach Trent Whitfield on Providence’s top line of Agostino-Forsbacka Karlsson-Cehlarik:

“They read off each other well. They dump pucks when they have to dump it and they go get it. They forecheck hard, they reload. Most of their goals have come off forecheck and reload, quick on the puck and attacking again.

“It’s fun to watch and it good for our young kids to watch how to do it the right way. Yeah, some of their moves are highlight reel moves and that’s all well and good. But it’s how they got the puck back before that that’s impressive to me.

“Kenny obviously drives that ship. For JFK, it’s a great learning tool for him to see how hard (Agostino) works and how hard he is on pucks. Peter Cehlarik, coming off an injury, to come out of the gates the way he has, it’s phenomenal. Good on him. He put in the work. He’s on a mission to get back to the NHL. If he keeps playing like this, I don’t think he’s too far away.”

You can read my Providence Journal column on the line here: http://www.providencejournal.com/sports/20171017/mark-divver-top-line-for-p-bruins-is-off-to-torrid-start

Good, bad & ugly from P-Bruins weekend

clean

It was a solid weekend for the Providence Bruins. They won one and lost one, both at home. They beat the Springfield Thunderbirds for the second straight time, after an opening night victory on Oct. 7. Then they  lost by a goal to a talented Toronto Marlies team. Here’s the good, bad and ugly.

GOOD

***If the line of Kenny Agostino, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Peter Cehlarik isn’t the best line in the AHL right now, I’d like to know who has a better one. Agostino, the reigning AHL MVP and scoring champ, had a total of 2-3-5 for the weekend and was named AHL Player of the Week.  Cehlarik had 1-2-3 and JFK had 1-1-2. They are a possession nightmare for opponents. They’ve had 40- to 50-second stretches in the offensive zone where the opposing team hasn’t touched the puck. Enjoy it while you can. Any one of the three – or all of them – could be gone before long.

*** Special teams have been good to this point. The P-Bruins are seventh on the PK at 90% (18 for 20) and eighth on the PP at 27.3% (3 for 11). Providence has scored a PP goal in all three games.

*** Among defensemen in the AHL, Tommy Cross is tied for second in goals with two.

BAD

***Providence has taken 20 penalties through three games, including five for hooking, four for slashing, three for tripping and two for holding. That’s too many. Their opponents have been penalized only 11 times.

***Don’t know what referee Peter MacDougall thought he saw before whistling Justin Hickman for tripping on Saturday night. Hickman gave a Springfield player a push in the area of the hips. The player fell down. That’s not a trip.

***Providence ran into a red-hot goalie in Toronto’s Calvin Pickard (33 saves) on Saturday. The stop he made on Adam Payerl late in the second period is the early leader for save of the season at The Dunk.

*** JFK was slow in controlling the puck inside the offensive blueline against Springfield on Friday and it led to a shorthanded goal by Chase Balisy of the Thunderbirds.

UGLY

The injured: Jordan Szwarz (lower body).

 

Quick hits from P-Bruins-Marlies

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Providence’s Peter Cehlarik (22) and Kenny Agostino hunt for the puck in the Toronto end.

PROVIDENCE — Calvin Pickard (33 saves) was the difference as the Toronto Marlies sent the Providence Bruins to their first loss of the season, 3-2, on Saturday night.

Despite the loss, P-Bruins coach Jay Leach was satisfied with the way his team took it to an excellent Marlies team.

“As the game went on – maybe from the 15-minute mark of the second period – I thought we really started to come and find our game, started to simplify and get pucks where we wanted to,” he said.

Here are three quick hits:

AGOSTINO-JFK-CEHLARIK

Toronto had better luck defending against the big line than Springfield did, but the trio was involved in both Providence goals and was a going concern all night.

I asked Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe for his impressions.

“There’s a lot of skill there. We haven’t seen a line play at that level. It’s my first time seeing (Kenny) Agostino. Clearly, he shows why he’s at the top of the league, the skill that he has. He’s in control of things out there. So it’s definitely a threat for them all the time when they’re out there. They’re definitely dangerous and they played a lot tonight. (They were) a headache for us,” he said.

CAVE and BLIDH

Neither has a point yet and they are a combined minus-7, but linemates Colby Cave and Anton Blidh played well on Friday and Saturday with a few different players on their right wing.

“They had a good weekend, energy all night, both nights. Really good on the kill.  We’ve been killing a lot of penalties and they’ve been excellent,” Leach said.

“Caver is starting to hold onto pucks a little more, which is nice to see. Bleeder, as well, has shown a little bit more of that good puck play that you saw when he went up (to Boston) last year, starting to be a little more polished there. Really, every shift they were out there, they made something happen. They were good.”

PENALTIES                                                                                                    

Penalties have been a problem for the P-Bruins through three games. They’ve been hit with a total of 20 penalties while their opponents have been assessed 11.

Blame the referees if you want, though only a handful of the calls have been shaky. Many of the penalties have been deserved.

Maybe the tide started to turn in the third period last night, when all three penalties went against the Marlies.

“(Toronto took) penalties when we start to take it to them and give the refs a reason (to call penalties on Toronto). It goes hand in hand. You can give (the refs) a little nudge, but it’s on us to draw penalties, to get them in the offensive zone, put (opponents) in a position to take those penalties that we were obviously taking in the first half of that game. It’s on us to make them make those calls,” said Leach.

P-Bruins Game Day — Marlies in town

marliePROVIDENCE — Tonight it’s the Toronto Marlies’ turn. They’ll try to do what the Springfield Thunderbirds couldn’t do: Stop Providence’s superb line of Kenny Agostino, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Peter Cehlarik.

Cehlarik (2-3-5), Agostino (1-4-5), and JFK (2-1-3) have been simply dominant through two games. I can’t imagine there is a better trio in the AHL right now.

“The thing that’s going on with that line that I find the most impressive — and obviously they are all skilled players who can make plays — is they track the crap out of pucks and hound it,” said coach Jay Leach.

“You’ve seen some lines in the past everywhere that just have more skill than everyone else. I’m not diminishing (the JFK line’s) skill, but the thing that they are doing so well is they just hound pucks. It’s fun to watch.”

For the P-Bruins, Colton Hargrove and Emil Johansson will make their season debuts tonight as Leach goes with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen.

“We’ve got a lot of guys; we’ve got to get them in,” Leach said.

It will be Johansson’s first game since he went down with a concussion on a high hit by Buffalo’s Hudson Fasching in the Prospects Challenge last month.

Here is tonight’s lineup:

Agostino-JFK-Cehlarik

It’s wait-and-see on the other lines. The rest of the forwards will be Fitzgerald, Senyshyn, Blidh, Cave, Gabrielle, Porter, Payerl, Hargrove

Lauzon-Cross

Breen-Grzelcyk

O’Gara-Zboril

Johansson

McIntyre in goal with Binnington as the backup.

Scratches: Szwarz (lower body), Clifton, Hennessy, Acolatse, Hickman

3 takeaways from Friday night

pink

It was ‘Pink in the Rink’ night at The Dunk as the P-Bruins played the Thunderbirds.

PROVIDENCE — The Providence Bruins did enough to get the job done on Friday night, beating Springfield, 3-2. “Overall it was good. Our puck management was OK in the first, didn’t love that. Some of our penalties again ….,” said coach Jay Leach. “We were better in our D zone — and we skated. (The Thunderbirds) might not have a lot of finish, but they competed like bastards. I was happy with the way we matched that.”

Here are three takeaways:

AGOSTINO-JFK-CEHLARIK

Wow, they are good. It was another entertaining and productive night for Providence’s top line of Kenny Agostino (1-2-3), Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (1-0-1) and Peter Cehlarik (1-2-3). Springfield simply has had no answer for them in the first two games. There were shifts again on Friday night where the line barely allowed the Thunderbirds to touch the puck. Enjoy it while it lasts.

PENALTIES

After being penalized seven times in Game 1, the P-Bruins were whistled for seven more on Friday. They weren’t what you’d call aggressive penalties: Three for hooking, one each for holding, tripping (that one, on Justin Hickman, was a weak call), slashing and delay of game. It’s too many. A skilled Toronto club will be in town on Saturday. If the P-Bruins aren’t more careful, the Marlies’ power play could really make them pay.

ADAM PAYERL

I like what the big center/right wing brought to the lineup after being a healthy scratch on opening night. A straight-line player, he had some good moments on the penalty kill and finished his checks. “He was excellent. He skated. Competed. Had a couple of chances on the kill. He was effective,” said Leach.

P-Bruins Game Day — T-Birds, take two

game

The Providence Bruins work on their breakout at this morning’s skate at The Dunk.

PROVIDENCE — The Providence Bruins will be without two top-six forwards when they face the Springfield Thunderbirds tonight in the second game of the season for both teams.

Jordan Szwarz is out with a lower-body injury and Danton Heinen is on recall with Boston, where he recorded his first NHL assist in Wednesday night’s loss at Colorado.

“We’ve talked about how deep we are and now it’s our opportunity to show that and give some other guys opportunities. You are not going to replace Szwarzy or Heinz, but hopefully we can maybe have more of a committee-like attitude,” coach Jay Leach said this morning.

The P-Bruins beat the T-Birds, 5-2, on Saturday.

“I hope we’re tighter defensively in the D zone. I hope our puck management is a little better and our discipline is a little better with our penalties,” said Leach, who expects more from Springfield tonight.

“I think they’ll have urgency. I know their coaching staff and the way they’ve historically played. They’re a hard team, a proud team and I’m sure they’re coming in here with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder,” he said.

Here is tonight’s lineup:

Agostino-JFK-Cehlarik

Fitzgerald-Hennessey-Senyshyn

Blidh-Cave-Hickman

Gabrielle-Payerl-Porter

Lauzon-Cross

Breen-Grzelcyk

O’Gara-Zboril

McIntyre in goal with Binnington as the backup.

Scratches: Szwarz (lower body), Clifton, Johansson, Acolatse, Hargrove

On Digit Murphy

digit

Digit Murphy celebrates with her Boston Blades players after winning the CWHL title in 2014.

PROVIDENCE — I had a chance to talk to Digit Murphy this week. It’s always a treat and inevitably I end up feeling invigorated. I don’t think I know anyone who is as passionate about the game as she is. She is around this week with her Kunlun Red Star team before heading back to China and spreading the gospel of pucks there.  My column on her will be in Friday’s Projo or you can read it here: http://www.providencejournal.com/sports/20171012/mark-divver-from-one-side-of-globe-to-other-digit-murphy-helping-grow-womens-hockey

Miami sweep leaves PC banged up

fri

PC practices on Wednesday. They face Boston College at home on Sunday afternoon at 5.

PROVIDENCE – Providence College paid a price for its sweep at Miami over the weekend.

Junior winger Erik Foley and freshman winger Bailey Conger were injured in Saturday night’s 3-2 win.

Foley did not practice on Wednesday. It’s not known if he will be available for PC’s home opener on Sunday against Boston College.

Conger is expected to miss 6 to 8 weeks with a hand injury.

Foley, who scored a power play goal on Saturday after assisting on Josh Wilkins’ tally on Friday, was second in scoring for the Friars last season with 15-19-34 in 36 games

Good start for freshmen

Coach Nate Leaman was happy with the play of his three freshmen defensemen and three first-year forwards.

“The freshmen were good. I liked the freshmen. They all played well,” he said.

The newcomers got on the scoreboard, too. Greg Printz scored a breakaway goal on Friday night. Jason O’Neil recorded an assist and was plus-3.

“The key is consistency,’’ Leaman said.

PK gets job done

Special teams were strong for the Friars as they went 2-for-8 on the power play and killed 14 of 15 shorthanded situations.

“The penalty kill was great, led by (goalie Hayden Hawkey). It better be on the road. On the road there’s going to be a couple of calls (against the visiting team),” he said.

Hawkey gets off on right foot

Hawkey’s save percentage is .943 after stopping 49 of 52 shots. “Hawk had a real good weekend,’’ Leaman said.

Bruins vs. Avs — Couple of thoughts on a couple of things

gardenBOSTON – Nothing went right for the Boston Bruins in Monday afternoon’s desultory 4-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. It was their own fault, coach included, as Bruce Cassidy was quick to point out afterward.  It was bad enough that breakdowns allowed Colorado to jump out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, but then Tuukka Rask made a colossal misjudgment on the Avs’ third goal in the third period and that was that.

Here are three thoughts from the game:

THE COACH

Attempting to deflect blame away from the players is right out of the coaches’ handbook. “We’ve got to coach better,’’ is one of Bill Belichick’s go-to lines after a loss. It may be a relatively minor point but all the same I like the way Cassidy included himself among those who fell short on Monday. “The core group that we rely on – it just wasn’t a good effort from young, old, in between. And clearly put myself in that category,’’ he said. I like a coach who will take a share of the heat when his team doesn’t measure up. And it’s probably something that won’t go unnoticed in the Bruins’ room.

THE ROOKIES

Yeah, I know plus-minus is just one stat among many and it’s been discredited a bit, but there’s no sugarcoating the fact that both Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk finished with a minus-3 and Charlie McAvoy with minus-2. Not good. What is at least a little encouraging is that the players owned up and said the right things. “It’s a game I want to forget – but use as a learning experience,’’ said DeBrusk, who played 13:00, down from 14:05 in Game 1. “They’re giving us chances. We definitely have to take advantage of them and learn from our mistakes,’’ added Bjork, who played 14:38 after logging 16:14 on opening night. McAvoy went from 22:00 in Game 1 to 19:28. Remember, there are going to be days, and nights, like this for the rookies. Now we see how they respond. “I think they are good bounce-back guys. They are high character, and they’ll keep coming. But tonight it just didn’t work out,’’ said Cassidy.

THE LINES

Cassidy, missing injured centers Patrice Bergeron and Noel Acciari, didn’t hesitate to mix things up when his team struggled. Bjork and DeBrusk started the day on a line with David Krejci. By the end,  Bjork was with Sean Kuraly and Ryan Spooner, while DeBrusk was with Riley Nash and Tim Schaller. Too soon? Nope. It was worth a try on a day when the Bruins spun their wheels. “I never found the right combination. So I think it goes on the players – it’s their job to play, whatever position – and it’s up to the coach to find the chemistry. I couldn’t find it, so shame on me,’’ said Cassidy.