PROVIDENCE, RI The expectations were pretty sky high for Chris Bourque before hed played even a single game in a Providence Bruins sweater.
Bourque had lead the entire AHL with 93 points last season in 73 games for the Hershey Bears, and his 27 goals scored was exactly the kind of scoring punch that was needed for a Providence team thats locked scoring punch in recent years.
While Bourque hasnt been able to maintain his point-per-game pace in Providence this season, the 26-year-old still has 18 (2 goals, 16 assists) points in 22 games for the Bruins. Bourque also put up a pair of assists including a helper on Kyle MacKinnons game-winning overtime goal -- in Sundays 3-2 win over the Adirondack Phantoms thats pushed the P-Bruins just a single point behind the Worcester Sharks for the Atlantic Division lead.
Bourque set the play in motion in overtime by getting the puck to defenseman Matt Bartkowski behind the net, and the Bs blueliner provided the feed for MacKinnon to rifle into the back of the net.
Its taken a little more time than Bourque originally thought, but the P-Bruins are looking like the solid, offensively improved bunch people expected when he arrived on the scene.
We played good and it was a solid weekend. We struggled a little bit at the beginning in five-on-five play and that goes along with getting used to some new players, said Bourque. You get used to playing with each other and building that good chemistry. Now were doing a lot of scoring five-on-five and we just need to make sure our power play is clicking.
Part of the transition period has been Bourques teammates getting used to his ability to create offensively and take risks that are sometimes missing from the Bs defense-heavy system. Theres also the simple fact Providence doesnt have a goal-scoring forward like Ryan Potulny, who snapped off 33 goals skating with Bourque in Hershey last season.
Thats turned Bourque into less of a goal-scoring option, and more of an offensive distributor creating plays for others on the ice.
Case in point: it was Bourque carrying the puck through the high slot area on the power play that opened things up for Providence, and it was passing eye that found Ryan Spooner for the one-timer from the right circle. It eventually led to Jamie Tardifs rebound goal and a secondary assist for Bourque, but it was his playmaking ability and vision that started off the whole play.
Every night he makes a couple of high end plays," P-Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "Sometimes the rest of the guys arent ready for them, but Spooner was for the one-timer on the power play goal. He threw a cross-ice pass on Friday that Tommy Cross wasnt quite ready for, and he kind of half-hit it off the crossbar on a tap-in.
He does some high-end things that our guys are getting used to. Hell take some high-risk plays, but they work out a lot more than they dont when its him making them. Hes competitive, he cares, he battles and he wants to be out there all the time. Id like to see his goal total being a little higher, but thats a part of the issue with our team right now. We dont have a lot of guys that are making those plays to set him up. Hes making them for other people.
Helping to right the ship has been a good challenge for Bourque, and its allowed him to keep his mind off the NHL lockout thats now raged on for more than 80 days. The son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque went into this season hoping for a crack at the NHL roster in Boston, and he still hopes that chance materializes should they start a 2012-13 regular season.
We hear about the lockout obviously. You check Twitter and guys are keeping you informed, said Bourque. But we dont have much contact with anyone, so its really what the average fan knows. We cant solve it, so we just need to keep it in the back of our minds and just keep playing hard.
I was definitely hoping it wouldnt last this long just for the hockey fan inside of me. I definitely like watching NHL games just like everybody else. Getting a chance to play for the Bruins was something I was looking forward to. But you just need to keep focusing on Providence and winning games. Hopefully we can keep it going like we have been for the last little while.
But for now Bourque is serving as a bright scoring light, leader and main attraction for a Providence Bruins thats 5-0-1 in their last six games -- and turning in their best AHL season in at least three years.
For now, thats more than enough him.