Weekend watch list: Jan. 19-21

Photo: Tessa McAndrews

Patrick Williams, TheAHL.com Features Writer

The Providence Bruins are on the road and on the march.

Atlantic Division regular-season champions three of the past four years, the Bruins will bring a nine-game point streak (8-0-1-0) into tonight’s road date with the Syracuse Crunch. It will be Providence’s league-leading 24th road game of the season; they are 14-7-2-0 (.652) away from home.

It’s a good thing for the P-Bruins that they have been so adept on the road. Tonight’s game will wrap up a stretch of 13 of 18 games away from home. On Nov. 24, they went into a game at Lehigh Valley with a 6-8-1-2 mark overall; a 2-1 overtime win that night started an 11-2-2-0 road run and a 16-4-2-0 record overall.

Providence heads to Syracuse after pulling out a 3-2 win at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Wednesday. Their current run has helped to pull them to second overall in the AHL with 49 points (22-12-3-2), one point ahead of Cleveland and Tucson.

Providence had goaltender Brandon Bussi back in the lineup Wednesday following a brief recall to the parent Boston Bruins, and he provided 30 saves in the win over the Penguins. They also had AHL All-Star forward Georgii Merkulov back after he missed three games last weekend, and he chipped in his 15th goal of the season. Forward Anthony Richard’s third-period game-winning tally pushed his scoring streak to seven games (five goals, seven assists).

After facing the Crunch, the Bruins will get some time back home, with Bridgeport visiting Amica Mutual Pavilion on Sunday and again next Friday.

The Bruins have some company for the Eastern Conference’s hottest club.

The Laval Rocket find themselves in the thick of the North Division playoff race thanks to a 6-0-1-0 streak. Laval was last in the division after Hershey dealt them a 7-1 defeat on Dec. 16, but they are 8-1-1-0 since and have passed Utica and Toronto to move into fifth place.

Now Laval starts a home-and-home series with Belleville tonight at Place Bell. The Rocket are 6-0-1-1 in their past eight home games, including a sweep of a pair of contests against Manitoba last weekend. The Senators sits third in the North, four points ahead of Laval.

A key part of the turnaround has been the addition of defenseman Arber Xhekaj. The second-year pro spent all of last season with the Montreal Canadiens, but joined the Rocket on Dec. 4 and has been paired by head coach Jean-François Houle with rookie All-Star Logan Mailloux . The duo has been excellent, with the hard-hitting Xhekaj contributing 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in his 15 games and Laval going 10-3-1-1 after losing 15 of their first 20 games this season.

Xhekaj’s arrival has helped a Laval roster that has been hit hard by injuries and recalls. Forwards Gabriel Bourque, Sean Farrell and Nathan Légaré along with defenseman Brady Keeper are all out while forwards Joshua Roy and Mitchell Stephens are on recall to the Canadiens.

After hosting Providence tonight, Syracuse will see the visiting Utica Comets in the AHLTV Free Game of the Week on Saturday (7 ET).

It will be the teams’ second meeting this week after the Crunch pulled out a 5-4 win on Monday afternoon on Joe Carroll’s goal in the final second of overtime. The clubs have split their first eight games head-to-head this season.

Syracuse starts the weekend second in the North Division at 20-12-2-2 and just four points behind first-place Cleveland. They are without defensemen Max Crozier and Philippe Myers along with forward Waltteri Merelä, who were all recalled by the parent Tampa Bay Lightning this week.

The Comets (14-13-4-3) are undefeated in regulation across their past eight games (4-0-1-3) after a 4-3 win against Belleville on Wednesday night. Utica hosts Rochester tonight before heading to Syracuse.

An AHLTV account is required to watch the AHLTV Free Game of the Week, but no subscription is needed. Visit AHLTV.com for details.