It was quite an exciting week for the Belleville Senators as Yardmen Arena finally had fans in it. Their home opener started with a red carpet entrance for the players and included a few fantastic events and prizes for fans throughout the evening. It’s clear management in Belleville wanted to make this night special for the fans. The players made sure of it as well, giving their fans a taste of nail biting hockey in a shootout win.
First, and foremost, how beautiful are these home uniforms?
Wednesday, November 1 - Belleville 4, Syracuse 3 (SO)
On Wednesday night, the Senators defeated the Syracuse Crunch in their inaugural home opener. This game had its share of pretty plays but the part that was on display was the physicality and apparent rivalry that’s brewing between the two North division basement dwellers. This game saw six fighting majors, two misconducts and nine roughing minors. The boys on both teams were #punching a lot, is what I’m trying to say.
On to the hockey.
Narratives are a fun thing to overanalyze in sports. You often see play-by-play veterans talk about historical records between two teams or players seeking revenge on a former team. If you’re into this kind of thing, it might delight you to find out the first AHL goal scored in Belleville, Ontario was scored by, of course, Cory Conacher. The secondary assist? You guessed it! Jason Akeson. It was a very nice tic-tac-toe play for the Syracuse top power play unit.
In the final minute of the first period, Francis Perron one-timed a laser pass from Gabriel Gagne to tie the game at one. Unfortunately, Syracuse would regain the lead with about 3 seconds left in a scramble play in front of Andrew Hammond. In the second period, Maxim Lajoie would show off his seeing-eye point shot which beat Michael Leighton. The puck was inevitably going to cross the line but Filip Chlapik banged it in for good measure, stealing Lajoie’s first professional goal. Conacher (yes, Conacher) and Werek would exchange third period goals, overtime would solve nothing, and Yardmen Arena would see its first AHL shootout.
Gabriel Gagne sealed the win for Belleville with a slapshot (yes, you read that right) in his shootout attempt.
It’s important to note that Christian Jaros, Lajoie and Justin Vaive all left this game with various injuries. None of the three would suit up for either game against Charlotte over the weekend.
The “Kid Line”: Coach K seems to have taken a liking to the trio of Perron-Chlapik-Gagne as they’ve been seeing the ice a lot together. A Chlapik steal turned into Perron’s goal and they were generally creating chances every time they were on the ice. A la Guy Boucher, this line of youngsters are not getting the minutes they deserve. Coach K would be wise to change his tune if he wants to see more scoring for his team.
Colin White: Seeing his first professional game since breaking his hand by blocking a shot in preseason, White was clearly excited to go. He had multiple scoring chances and created a lot while he was on the ice. There’s still some rust to shake off but overall it was clear he was ahead of the competition on Wednesday.
Andrew Hammond: After using three players in one standout above, I have to go with Hammond. He stopped 23 of 26 shots and the first Syracuse goal had nothing to do with him and everything to do with a beautiful tic-tac-toe play.
Here are the highlights.
Friday, November 3 - Charlotte 6, Belleville 1
Unfortunately, Belleville followed up a shootout win with a 6-1 shlacking by Charlotte Checkers. If you’re a close follower of the NHL draft, you’ll know that the Carolina Hurricanes have been applauded in recent years for having a strong performance on draft day. The 8-3-0 Checkers seem to be proof that it’s working.
For the sake of your time, I’m not going to get into much here. Charlotte outshot Belleville 40-29 - which is impressive considering the Senators only gave them four attempts on the man advantage. Belleville’s lone goal came on an errant pass from behind Charlotte’s net which went right to Jim O’Brien and squeaked past Alex Nedeljkovic. With J.O.B. bringing the Senators to a 3-1 deficit, there could have been a jump in their step if it weren’t for Charlotte scoring literally seconds later to make it 4-1. Talk about responding.
Losing 6-1 and getting severely outshot makes it tough to pick standouts so one of my three selections will be a standout for negative reasons.
Colin White: I’ll admit, White didn’t look as good in this game as he did in his first. He’s a standout for me for two reasons and the first is because I was actively watching #36. The second is he did create a few scoring chances and led the team with four shots on goal. For a guy who played most of this game with noted offensive-anchor Max McCormick, he did well.
Patrick Sieloff: Sieloff does a relatively good job at going unnoticed on the ice. In a 6-1 loss, the fact that I don’t recall many bad plays, turnovers or mistakes by Sieloff is a good thing for the veteran blueliner.
Danny Taylor: This is not a good type of standout. Taylor got lit up for five goals on 27 shots and some of the goals were particularly weak with him not being able to recover the puck and being out of position. With Marcus Hogberg needing a place to play, Chris Driedger allegedly returning from injury soon and Hammond being loaned back to Belleville after this weekend’s trade, I have no idea what’s going to happen but I can’t see the end result favouring Taylor. He started the season strong but it’s been a battle since.
Here are the highlights, if you really want to see them.
Saturday, November 4 - Charlotte 2, Belleville 1
The Senators followed up their Friday night loss with a Saturday night loss, but this one was a bit better. A little over halfway through the first period, Ethan Werek finished a nice pass from White to take the 1-0 lead. While Charlotte outshot Belleville in every period, the first period seemed like a slightly different team from the night before. White, Werek, Jordan Murray and even Sieloff seemed to have a jump in their step.
The second period saw very little action despite each team having a power play. Holding a 1-0 lead going into the third is never a fun feeling as a fan and early in the third, Charlotte reminded me why. Five minutes into the frame, Phil Di Giuseppe scored on a bad angle to tie the game at one. Ten minutes later, Valentin Zykov would take the lead on a breakaway by patiently slipping the puck between Hammond’s legs. That was all she wrote for the Senators in their almost-redeeming almost-win on Saturday night.
Andrew Hammond: Here we go again. Hammond stopped 33 of 35 shots, effectively making him the reason this game was only 2-1. I understand why Ottawa accepted Hammond’s loan back to Belleville, despite the added complication to the crease, because he really does give the team a chance to win.
Andreas Englund: Englund has quietly been a steady player for Belleville this season. He doesn’t do anything offensively, and I mean ANYTHING, but he’s reliable more often than not. Jaros and Lajoie have been important pieces on Belleville’s blueline (Jaros, specifically) and it was evident over the weekend that somebody needed to step up. I felt Englund did a good job, although he’ll never replace their offensive production.
Filip Chlapik: Chlapik is a guy who needs more ice time. Not only does he need it, Belleville needs him to have more ice time. With his combination of speed and skill, he can be a threat every shift. There were multiple plays, including a great end-to-end rush in the third, where Chlapik did most of the heavy lifting and either got a shot himself or set up a teammate for a chance. Not only that, he’s generally defensively sound. The fact he’s not playing more is baffling to me.
Here are the highlights.
After a less than ideal weekend, Belleville continues their home stand tomorrow by welcoming the familiar Binghamton Devils to Yardmen Arena. The Devils, like the Senators, have 11 points so far despite Binghamton playing three less games.
As noted by Colin, Belleville will be without centre Nick Paul for the next few games as he’s making the trip to Sweden as an emergency roster player.
Missing Paul, DiDomenico and Rodewald, and not knowing the current injury status of Jaros and Lajoie, I’ll be watching closely to see how Coach K manages his lineup. This seems like the perfect opportunity to increase Chlapik’s ice time and see what Belleville looks like with White-Chlapik as their 1-2 punch but I won’t get my hopes up. Just like the big club, Belleville’s player deployment favours experience over skill and, if you’re asking me, their 5-6-1 record is a direct result of it.