Progress report on Providence Bruins rookies


As expected, the Providence Bruins are in the thick of the playoff hunt in the American Hockey League’s Atlantic Division as they reach the quarter pole of the season on Friday night.

Coach Jay Leach has had to deal with the usual challenges – NHL callups and injuries. And on most nights he’s had at least a half-dozen rookies, and at times as many as eight, in the lineup.

Watching the youngsters develop – or not — is one of most intriguing aspects of watching the P-Bruins.  A year ago, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk and Peter Cehlarik were finding their way in Providence. Now they’ve all graduated to Boston.

As the next crop of rookies climbs the ladder, I asked Leach for a progress report, keeping in mind that it’s still very early.

C JAKOB FORSBACKA KARLSSON, 5-7-12 in 18 games

Leach: “JFK shows flashes of his offense, how cerebral he is. Nice hands. We use him in all situations. Overall for a 21-year-old kid, as a centerman, he’s done a nice job. He does have moments where he’s watching – not as engaged as he should be. He’s probably been able to get away with that (in college) because it’s a lower level and he thinks the game better than everyone else. Now he’s facing men and he’s realizing that sometimes he’s got to dictate a little more. The game Saturday night, he’d probably say it wasn’t his best. On Sunday he made up his mind that he was going to be engaged, starting with faceoffs, and he competed all night on pucks. He’s learning that consistency.’’

W ZACH SENYSHYN, 2-7-9 in 17 games

Leach: “Seny’s really been open to everything we’ve talked about. He’s willing to take any sort of role. We started him on the third or fourth line and he’s worked his way up and down the lineup. He’s worked his way onto the power play. There have been nights when he’s been penalty killing. He’s done everything that we’ve asked and he’s done a nice job. In years past I think he’s been more on the outside with wide speed. We’ve tried to get him to get on the inside and he’s completely willing to do so. He’s done a lot and we’re encouraged to see where it goes. Nothing but positives.’’

W RYAN FITZGERALD, 5-3-8 in 17 games

Leach: “When Fitz is good he’s inside people, uses his feet and  is hard on the puck. Obviously, he’s got some instincts on the power play. He probably has had more games where he’s effective than not. There’s been a couple where he maybe hasn’t moved his feet as much and been a little careless with the puck. Overall he’s been pretty good, pretty consistent. As we like to say, he’s a hockey player. He likes to get the puck and try to make plays with it. It’s encouraging.’’

W JESSE GABRIELLE, 0-0-0 in 14 games

Leach: “Jesse’s had a tough start. We’re trying to find him a role. He can skate like the wind. He’s got a nice shot, nice hands. He’s a physical specimen. We’re still looking for him to bring the consistency – up and down heavy winger that can score. We teach the game a certain way. We want to make sure we take care of the puck. As we know, if you go up to the NHL and you don’t take care of the puck, it’s done, it’s over. I think Jesse is learning that and he’s also playing against men. It’s a different game. He’s going through that process right now.’’

D  JEREMY LAUZON, 0-2-2 in 15 games

Leach: “He always will compete. It’s never an issue. He’s physical down low. He’s had moments when he lets the game come to him – I guess that’s the best way to describe it. He’s in position and he’s clean and it’s a simple game for him. There’s other moments when he shows his youthfulness, when he’s a little more aggressive and tends to get out of position, and the game becomes a lot harder. He’s learning to find the balance.’’

D JAKUB ZBORIL, 0-0-0 in 15 games

Leach: “Z is kind of in the other direction (from Lauzon) in that there’s times when he seems to be really engaged and skating and really good. And then there have been games where he’s just not engaged enough and he’s a little lax. He tends to lose a couple of battles and he’s not playing as hard a defensive game. He’s got to find that balance the other way – igniting a little bit more.’’

D EMIL JOHANSSON, 1-2-3 in 10 games

Leach: “We’ve asked Emil (a left shot) to play the right side, which is a hard thing for young D-men. That’s a challenge and he’s gotten right into it, for sure. He’s had moments where he’s complicated the game and it comes back to bite him. He’s had other moments where he’s starting to learn how to simplify. When he does that, he’s really effective. He’s a good shot-blocker, he’s willing to engage. He uses his skating ability nicely. Emil had a tough time early and lately he’s showed some progress.”

D CONNOR CLIFTON, 0-1-1 in 9 games

Leach: “Like Lauzon, he can be really aggressive. He’s learning his positioning. I think he comes from a completely different system that he’s been used to playing for a long time, so it’s been a process for him to break those habits and get inside and do the things that we talk about. But he has shown the ability to change, to keep it simple. He competes like a you-know-what.’’

Quick hits on Bruins-Lightning

tuukkaBOSTON – The Boston Bruins aren’t going anywhere this season unless Tuukka Rask finds his game. Rask took a big step in the right direction by backstopping the Bruins to a 3-2 win over the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night.

The rested Bruins jumped out to a 3-0 lead over the Lightning, who played Tuesday night in Buffalo, then withstood a third period push by the visitors.

Here are three quick hits on the game:


Rask was called on to make just 19 saves, but he came through with some beauties.

His stop on Nikita Kucherov, one of the NHL’s top snipers, in the final minute of the second period was probably his best.

“Those are the saves that people expect you to make,” Rask said.

“(If we lose) you talk about after the game, ‘He should’ve saved that to keep that lead’ and now you talk that it’s a timely save, so it’s always something you want to do, and you try to do, and hopefully more often than not you save those.”

“He helped himself big time tonight. That’s what we need,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “It’s an imperfect game. We’re not going to be mistake-free every night. We’d like to correct some of those things, especially with a lead, but he was really good there. I’m sure it affected his confidence, too, between periods. It has to when you make big saves. It’s what you’re paid to do, right?”



Even though the Bruins dressed seven defensemen, Charlie McAvoy, still three weeks from his 20th birthday, logged a game-high 28:11 on the ice while scoring a goal and an assist.

Is that too much ice time?

“I think that’s something you have to be mindful of,” Cassidy said. “Now, we don’t play until Saturday so if you’re going to do it, today’s the day. But, you’re playing against one of the best offensive teams in the league, so you’ve got to be a little more mindful of your matchups – especially when they split Kucherov and (Steven) Stamkos after the first (period), so now you want to make sure you don’t get exposed there with mismatches, and obviously everybody can play against everybody in this league, that’s why they’re here, but there’s certain ones you want to tilt towards in your favor.

“So, Charlie got a lot of work. And he’s an efficient player, he can handle it, but 28 (minutes) is a lot. So, we’ll have to take a look at that and try to get it to a more reasonable number, for sure.”


When you’re a fourth-liner looking to stay in the lineup every night, you do the kinds of things that Frank Vatrano did on Wednesday night.

First, he went after Cedric Paquette when the Lightning pest hit Torey Krug square on the numbers and ran him into the end boards early in the second period.

Vatrano cost the Bruins a power play, but standing up for a teammate is never a bad play and is something that teammates notice and appreciate.

“Frankie responds pretty well. Might take a power play away from us, but shows we’re not going to stand for it,’’ David Backes said.

Then, with the Bruins clinging to a one-goal lead late, Vatrano took a hard check from Paquette in front of the Boston bench, but not before making a smart play with the puck. Backes noticed that, too.

“He took a hit to make a play, advances the puck. (The Lightning are) worried about hitting bodies rather than scoring goals, and we end up with two points,’’ he said.

Vatrano came up from Providence a couple of seasons ago as a one-dimensional player — a shooter. His willingness lately to do more than just rip pucks at the net is going to help him stay in the NHL.

Good, bad & ugly from Providence Bruins week


There was more good than bad for the Providence Bruins last week, as they sandwiched two wins around a punishing defeat that is the low point of the season so far. They won in overtime, 2-1, in Binghamton on Wednesday, were blitzed, 8-2, in Charlotte on Saturday, then bounced back to beat the Checkers, 2-1, in a shootout on Sunday, earning four out of six points.

“The boys had a great response (on Sunday). Great to see,’’ said coach Jay Leach.

Here’s the good, bad and ugly.


*** The P-Bruins showed a lot of character by quickly parking Saturday night’s disaster and gutting out a win on Sunday afternoon.

*** Colby Cave had a terrific game on Sunday. He scored in the shootout to keep Providence alive.

*** With goals in three of the last four games, Colton Hargrove leads Providence in goals with six. He scored the OT winner in Binghamton.

*** Ryan Fitzgerald scored Providence’s first goal on Saturday, then buried the winner in Sunday’s shootout.

*** Jordan Binnington wasn’t all that busy on Sunday, facing 19 shots. But he came up big on Charlotte’s Grade A chances and was stellar in the shootout. Binnington is 4-1-1 with a .931 save percentage, fifth in the AHL.

*** Despite numerous callups, Providence got through November with a 4-4-2 record. Five of their next six games are at home.


*** The penalty kill gave up three goals on eight chances in Saturday’s loss.

*** After allowing eight goals on Saturday, Zane McIntyre’s save percentage is .892, 36th in the AHL.

*** The P-Bruins gave up shorthanded goals on Wednesday and Sunday.

*** Tough night for the D pair of Emil Johansson and Chris Breen on Saturday, both on the ice for three even-strength goals against. They weren’t alone: Kenny Agostino (-3), Austin Czarnik, Chris Porter and Zach Senyshyn (-2).


*** After a scoreless first period on Saturday, the wheels came off for the P-Bruins, as they were outscored, 8-2, over the final 40 minutes.

*** The P-Bruins managed only 17 shots on Saturday.

*** Providence’s defensive coverage around the net on Saturday was as poor as I’ve seen it in recent memory.

*** Injured: Jeremy Lauzon (upper body).

P-Bruins Gameday — Weekend in Charlotte


Zane McIntyre starts in goal for the Providence Bruins on the road against the Charlotte Checkers this evening at 6.

The teams will play again tomorrow at 1 p.m.

Rob O’Gara, just back from Boston, is in the lineup for the P-Bruins.

Jeremy Lauzon didn’t make the trip after suffering an upper-body injury in the win at Binghamton on Wednesday.

It is the first Providence-Charlotte game since March 2011, when the P-Bruins won, 4-2, at The Dunk.

Providence got goals from Alain Goulet, Trent Whitfield (2) and Stefan Chaput. Anton Khudobin kicked out 25 shots.

Providence starts the night in third place in the Atlantic Division with a .625 winning percentage. Charlotte (.579) is fifth.

Here are the lines for Providence:





The D pairs:




Binnington backs up McIntyre.

P-Bruins Gameday — Senyshyn looks to continue solid stretch

Zane McIntyre will start in goal for the Providence Bruins tonight as they play their second and final game of the season in Binghamton against the Devils.

In maybe their strongest game to this point, Providence beat the Devils, 4-1, in Binghamton on Oct. 27.

The P-Bruins start the night in fourth place in the Atlantic Division with a .600 win percentage. Binghamton is fifth in the North Division with a .433 win percentage.

Providence will get back Ryan Fitzgerald (lower body, missed one game) and Jakub Zboril (upper body, missed three games) tonight.

Jordan Szwarz, sent down by Boston this afternoon, will not play tonight.

Zach Senyshyn, with a goal and seven points in his last six games, is trending up after a slow start and looks to continue his solid play tonight.

“There was an adjustment going from junior to my first full season pro, definitely some growing pains at the start. I’m starting to hit my stride and feel more comfortable, getting a lot more confidence,” he said after recording two assists on Sunday.

Senyshyn has become more noticeable as he figures out how to take advantage of open ice.

“My speed is my strong point, I want to use it as much as possible. (Finding room to skate has) had a lot to do with my coaches, watching a lot of video and showing me what I need to work on to open up space and work more efficiently. That’s been a big thing for me. I’ve also been playing with some good players. They’ve been opening up room for me to skate, as well,” he said.

I thought Senyshyn struck the right tone with his answer after I asked how closely he is following fellow 2015 first-rounder Jake DeBrusk, who benefited from a full year in Providence before graduating to Boston.

“Jake’s a great player and it’s always nice to see him with success, but I think we’re two different players, have two different paths. He’s doing great things up there. I have my own path. When I’m ready, I think I’ll be able to go up there and succeed. Right now I’m working on my game here. It’s nice to watch him and take a few things away from what he does really well, but I’m focused on getting wins down here,” Senyshyn said.

Coach Jay Leach is pleased with the progress show by the 20-year-old, who is fourth on the team in scoring with 2-6-8 in 14 games.

“He’s a kid that’s trying to find his way. He’s done a terrific job of listening and doing what’s asked, using his speed when he can. The points are more or less secondary to the way we want him to play. He been doing that and because he’s been doing that, he finds himself in the right spots.

“He really has come here with an open canvas, wanting to just get better. He acknowledged early with us that he wasn’t where he needed to be. He wants to get better and that’s what you’re seeing,” Leach said.

“I still don’t know if we know exactly what he is, which is not a bad thing at all. We don’t want to put a cap on anybody. He can do a lot of different things. I wanted to get him on the (penalty) kill (on Sunday), but it was a tight game and I didn’t, but that’s something that I want to do. DeBrusk killed, Heinen killed and that got them more minutes and now they can kill up (with Boston). That’s going to be something we do with Seny.”

Tonight’s lines*





*Right wings could be shuffled a bit, per Leach

Defense pairs




Binnington will be McIntyre’s backup



Good, bad & ugly from Providence Bruins weekend


Riddled with callups and injuries, the Providence Bruins split two games at home over the weekend. They did not play well in a 4-1 loss to the Hershey Bears on Friday night, their fourth defeat in a row. But they bounced back with a strong 4-1 win over the Bears on Sunday afternoon.

“I don’t want to say we had our backs against the wall, but we had to have some urgency (on Sunday),” said coach Jay Leach. “Right from the start we were on our toes and skating and guys were engaged and helping each other out. We talked about it (on Saturday). We have a young group and our older guys are going to be asked to help that young group out in a lot of different ways. I thought they did that really well and the young guys followed.”

Here’s the good, bad and ugly.


*** Colby Cave showed good hands in faking out Pheonix Copley for a goal on Sunday and later assisted on Colton Hargrove’s tally. He also spent a lot of time matched against Hershey’s top line of Chris Bourque, Travis Boyd and Wayne Simpson and helped keep them off the scoreboard.

*** With two assists on Sunday, Zach Senyshyn has 1-6-7 in his last 6 games.

*** In his first game since Oct. 28, Justin Hickman played well on Friday, scoring a nice breakaway goal for his first of the season.

*** The P-Bruins held Hershey to 18 shots on Sunday. And they were opportunistic at the other end, scoring four goals on 20 shots

*** Jacob Forsbacka Karlsson made an alert play on Sunday, pouncing on a Copley pass behind the goal line and stuffing it into the empty net to give Providence the lead just 1:43 into the game.

*** Kenny Agostino was returned to Providence late on Sunday afternoon. Some of the other callups are likely to follow as Boston’s injured players get back to good health.


*** Providence gave up two goals in the first 5:57 on Friday night.

*** The next three games are on the road, as the P-Bruins visit Binghamton on Wednesday and Charlotte on Saturday and Sunday.

*** Tough break for Jesse Gabrielle on Sunday. He was originally credited with an assist on Austin Czarnik’s goal, which would have been Gabrielle’s first point, but the helper was later changed — correctly — to Adam Payerl.

*** The P-Bruins aren’t getting many goals from their defensemen. Only Tommy Cross (2) and Emil Johansson have scored so far.


*** Hickman’s goal on Friday was Providence’s first at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center since Oct. 22, a span of 163:02. During that time, Bridgeport and Hershey outscored the P-Bruins, 10-0.

*** Injured: Jakub Zboril (upper body), Ryan Fitzgerald (lower body)

Chris Bourque in mix for U.S. Olympic team

PROVIDENCE — Chris Bourque of the Hershey Bears has even greater incentive to light up American Hockey League goalies this season.

The 31-year-old left winger, who has won two scoring titles and three Calder Cups in the AHL, is in the running for a slot on the U.S. team that will compete in the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, in February.

As usual, Bourque is putting up points this season. He was the league’s leading scorer with 7-16-23 in 16 games heading into Friday night’s contest in Providence.

“I had a couple of conversations with (USA Hockey) over the summer,’’ Bourque said on Friday morning. “They called me and let me know I was in the mix, that I was on their radar for making the team. I’ve had a couple of more conversations with them since then.

“I talked to (Olympic team assistant coach) Scott Young right before the season. He told me, ‘Do your thing and we’ll be in contact.’ Get off to a good start and all that kind of stuff. I’ve obviously been thinking about it a little bit, but I’m not worried about it right now.’’

Bourque is on an AHL contract with Hershey so he is eligible to be loaned to the U.S. team. Players with NHL contracts are not eligible to go to the Olympics.

He has a history with USA Hockey. He participated in Select festivals when he was a teenager, played on two World Junior Championship teams, and suited up for the U.S. in the Deutschland Cup in Germany a few years ago when he was playing in the KHL.

The Olympics would be the icing on the cake.

“Any time you get the opportunity to represent your country, you jump right on it. When it’s the Olympics, that’s a no-brainer. It’s a special chance for guys in my situation, where if the guys in the NHL were doing it, we wouldn’t have the opportunity,” he said.

“I’m excited about that, but obviously (USA Hockey has) some decisions to make. I’ve just got to keep playing well and hopefully things will take care of themselves. It should be exciting. We’ll see.’’

P-Bruins Gameday — Kicking off a chocolate-covered weekend

PROVIDENCE — Zane McIntyre vs. Pheonix Copley is expected to be the goalie matchup tonight at 7 when the Providence Bruins host the Hershey Bears at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

After a day off on Saturday, the teams will play again on Sunday at 1 p.m., also at The Dunk.

The P-Bruins — in fourth place in the Atlantic Division with a 7-4-2-0 record and .615 win percentage — will be looking to get back on track after dropping three games in a row, the last two in overtime.

As of late Friday morning, the injury-ravaged parent club, playing next in San Jose on Saturday night, had made no additional callups from the P-Bruins. Obviously, that could change before the puck is dropped in Providence tonight.

Hershey — sixth in the Atlantic with a 7-7-0-2 record and .500 win percentage — is getting its game in gear after a slow start that was directly related to injuries to goalies Copley and Vitek Vanecek, both of whom are back in the lineup now.

The Bears are coming off a 3-2 win at home against Syracuse on Wednesday. They are led by one of the top lines in the AHL — Chris Bourque, Travis Boyd and Wayne Simpson.

Bourque, who leads the AHL in scoring with 7-16-23 in 16 games, had two goals against Syracuse, both on setups from Simpson, who had a career AHL year with the P-Bruins last season before landing an NHL deal with Washington during the summer.

While Bourque and Simpson are familiar faces here, Boyd maybe flies under the radar a bit, though not in the eyes of P-Bruins coach Jay Leach.

“That Boyd is a nice player. He’s got some serious skill,” Leach said this morning.

Handling Boyd’s line will be a test for Providence’s defense, which as usual will feature three rookies tonight.

For Leach and all his coaching counterparts around the league, mistakes by young defensemen as they adjust to the pro game are par for the course.

“I’m a huge believer that it takes defensemen a long time to really mature. You’re just going to have to live with it. We had four icings in the third period (on Sunday) and they were all rookie D-men not being able to execute a pass. The only way to get over that, in my opinion, is just playing, getting more comfortable,” he said.

“When you have the puck on your stick and you’re the last guy back and it’s 3-2, you don’t want to give it up because you know it’s coming right back down your throat. So there’s more pressure and therefore you don’t execute.

“Consistently being in those situations eventually will lead to better execution. It takes a while, unless you’re something special, like Charlie McAvoy. And you still see mistakes with Charlie McAvoy, just not as many.”

Here are Providence’s lines:





Providence’s defense pairs:




Binnington will be the backup goalie.

Scratches: Zboril (upper body), Hargrove


Good, bad & ugly from Providence Bruins weekend


There’s nothing wrong with two points out of four on the road with tough travel in between, but you can make a case that the Providence Bruins should have had more over the weekend. They went toe-to-toe with the Eastern Conference-leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday before losing 20 seconds into overtime. Then they were beaten by the lowly Springfield Thunderbirds on Sunday after taking a too-many-men penalty in OT.

Here’s  the good, bad and ugly.


*** After going 10 games without a goal, Ryan Fitzgerald broke out with two on Saturday and another on Sunday.

*** Zach Senyshyn was effective on Saturday night, with no points to show for it, then he was better on Sunday as he assisted on all three Providence goals. The youngster is showing off his speed as he figures out how to find open ice.

*** Kudos to Chris Breen and Kenny Agostino for sticking up for their teammates on Saturday night. Breen decisioned Tom Sestito after the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton winger took a run at Emil Johansson, and Agostino, in only his third career fight, took on big Andrey Pedan, who knocked Jakub Zboril out of the game with a charge. (UPDATE: On Monday, the AHL suspended Pedan for three games.)

*** Nice resilience by the P-Bruins on Saturday as they tied the game with 29 seconds left in regulation after giving up the go-ahead goal to the Pens a couple of minutes earlier.

*** Zane McIntyre was brilliant during a third-period 5-on-3 for the Penguins on Saturday.

*** Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson scored a goal and an assist on Sunday.

*** Jumping into the rush, Johansson scored his first goal in North America on Sunday off a jet-fueled zone entry by Senyshnyn and a nifty pass from JFK.

***Colby Cave scored his first goal of the season against the Penguins.

*** Sena Acolatse had an assist in both games.

*** Providence’s first goal on Saturday — Fitzgerald from Matt Grzelcyk — was straight out of Charlestown.


*** The P-Bruins were caught with too many men on the ice in overtime on Sunday, then gave up the decisive goal while a man down.

*** Not a good weekend for special teams. The power play went 1 for 12 and is now 15th in the AHL at 17.2 percent. The P-Bruins’ PK is 21st in the league at 81.4 percent after Springfield went three for three with the man advantage.


*** The P-Bruins squandered a 2-0 lead on Saturday and a 3-1 lead on Sunday.

*** After the bus ride from Pennsylvania, Providence didn’t get to its hotel in Springfield until the wee hours, then had a 3 p.m. start time against the Thunderbirds.

*** Injured:  Zboril (upper body).

P-Bruins Game Day — McIntyre returns to scene of the crime


Would it have been a complete surprise if the police had wanted to have a word with Zane McIntyre once he arrived in Wilkes-Barre on Friday?

I’m going to say no. Not after the robbery-in-broad-daylight that the Providence Bruins goalie pulled off in that city six month ago.

In case you’ve forgotten, McIntyre stopped 50 shots against the favored Penguins in Game Five of the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs on April 30. The P-Bruins squeezed out a 2-1 win and moved on to the second round.

McIntyre — no surprise — gets the start tonight against Clark Donatelli’s Penguins, who are first in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.

Providence will again be without Peter Cehlarik, who has missed seven games with a lower-body injury. There’s a chance he could return tomorrow.

Tonight’s lines:





The D pairs:




Binnington is the backup goalie.

After the game, the P-Bruins will bus to Springfield for a 3 p.m. game against the Thunderbirds on Sunday.