With the Cleveland Monsters in town for a back-to-back, the Belleville Senators had an opportunity to take four points from a division rival. Unfortunately, the BSens put on their best performance of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this weekend as we saw two completely opposite efforts against Cleveland.
Friday, December 6 - Cleveland 6, Belleville 2
- Filip Gustavsson got lit up for 6 goals on 26 shots (0.769 SV%), allowing two powerplay goals in the process.
- Erik Brannstrom made his Belleville debut and was all over the place in a bad way.
- Cole Cassels, centring Joseph LaBate and Parker Kelly, scored his third goal of the season.
- Rudolfs Balcers continued his hot streak, redirecting a shot from Drake Batherson on the powerplay.
Saturday, December 7 - Belleville 7, Cleveland 1
- Marcus Hogberg returned from Ottawa and turned aside 29 of the 30 shots he faced (0.967 SV%).
- Norris (1G, 1A), Batherson (1G, 2A), Balcers (1G, 1A), Alex Formenton (2G), Max Veronneau (2G), Michael Carcone (1A), Filip Chlapik (1A) and Jordan Murray (2A) filled the scoresheet.
- Brannstrom appeared far more comfortable, likely after a conversation or two with Head Coach Troy Mann following Friday night’s contest.
Brannstrom has been a hot button topic for media and fans alike - and how could he not be? He’s essentially the entire return for one of the most beloved players in franchise history that literally nobody wanted to trade. He’s the player who inspired GM Pierre Dorion’s infamous and highly scrutinized “proudest day of my career” soundbite. So, after 23 games in the NHL where he rarely played above 15 minutes a game, what happened?
The real answer is nothing, really.
Brannstrom is still only 20 years old. He has an incredibly long career ahead of him and the demotion to the AHL should only be seen as Ottawa having his best interest in mind. Should he have played more at the NHL level? Probably. Should he have spent more time playing into his strengths - like on the powerplay - while under DJ Smith? Probably. Should he have played better in the minutes he was given? Definitely.
On Friday night, Brannstrom returned to the BSens lineup after making Ottawa out of camp and it was very clear that he was trying to prove too much, too fast. Coach Mann had this to say about Brannstrom’s play on Friday night:
“He was erratic. Obviously we’ve got to give the kid a break, he hasn’t practiced with us or watched any video but he’s just trying to do too much out there. Not moving the puck when he needs to.” - Head Coach Troy Mann
Mann touched on the idea of playing in a structured environment and how, unlike other sports, the game of hockey can’t be won by an individual player. It doesn’t matter how good Brannstrom is, if he is going to be successful he needs to play into the structure. That message was heard loud and clear as the very next day was a much better performance from the Swedish blueliner. In an interview on TSN 1200 yesterday, Mann covers a range of topics but specifically mentions he has no doubt that Brannstrom will be back to his dominant play after a few practices with the club.
Leaders of the Pack
It’s always fantastic to see your prospects performing well - especially in the midst of a rebuild. In Belleville, we have the opportunity to watch a number of players put together successful seasons thus far.
Batherson, for example, currently leads the entire AHL in points with 31 in 23 games. Norris, with 20 points in 23 games, is tied for third in rookie scoring in the league. While being a pest and a speedster on the ice, Formenton has also shown up offensively and leads all AHL rookies in goals with 11 on the season - Norris is tied for second with 10. Vitaly Abramov, who’s missed a few games with an injury, isn’t at the top of any particular list but he has put up a modest 17 points in 18 games when he’s been healthy.
The Week Ahead
As we get closer to Christmas, we’ll start focusing more on the playoff picture and what it will take for the BSens to secure a spot. As it stands today, they are three points back of third place in the North. The quiet two game week ahead includes a winnable matchup with a similar team in Rockford but also has Belleville facing off against Toronto, the current leaders of the division. Four points is incredibly important but if they can only manage two, it has to be against Toronto. We’re getting to the time of year where every game against a division opponent is must win.