The dream lives. Heading into 2019, the Belleville Senators didn’t have much to be happy about at a team level. Yes, they had two All Stars in Drake Batherson and Christian Wolanin. Sure, Logan Brown’s offensive game was beginning to round out and his battle with injuries, for the time being, was over. Yeah, Marcus Hogberg and Filip Gustavsson both have potential to be future NHL goalies. But as a team, they were hanging out at the bottom of their division with only the hope of a crazy hot streak to save them.
Two months later, it’s a different story. The Belleville Senators have claimed points in their past 17 straight games. Brown, Batherson and Paul have formed one of the league’s best top lines. Wolanin may be with the big club but the introduction of Brannstrom only means good things for this team’s ability to move the puck. Vitaly Abramov, coming to the team in the Matt Duchene trade, has added another speedy player who can make plays to an already potent offense. Something happened around the beginning of February. I’m still not sure what, but geez it’s been really fun watching this unfold.
Friday, March 1 - Manitoba 3, Belleville 2
The AHL playoffs are in sight for the Belleville Senators as another big weekend extended their point streak to seventeen games. For yet another important game, Coach Troy Mann looked to Marcus Hogberg to defend the goal for the red hot BSens.
Off to a slow start, the Senators allowed the first two goals against in this one. It wasn’t until the end of the first period that Nick Paul was able to get the team on the board.
The second frame was packed with action - including a grade A chance for Paul in close that he sailed over the net and a massive, open ice hit by Darren Archibald. Speaking of, Archibald netted his 16th of the season and 13th point in 14 games since joining the BSens. He crashed the net as Abramov put his speed on full display coming down the right side. Abramov slide the puck to a tight spot but Archibald was able to bang home the rebound.
There was no scoring in the third so this one needed some extra time to resolve. Shortly into the overtime period, Paul was awarded a penalty shot but his attempt was unsuccessful. Seth Griffith on the other hand was successful in burying the game winner on a weak squeaker through Hogberg’s legs.
Nick Paul - Paul was all over the ice, scoring the team’s first goal, adding another quality chance in the second and drawing a penalty shot in overtime.
Darren Archibald - When he came over in the Mike McKenna trade, I didn’t think much of it. He’s been fantastic for Belleville and Friday night was no exception. He doesn’t make special plays but he’s been there when it counts and his physicality is an important piece of the puzzle for an otherwise highly skilled team.
Vitaly Abramov - In Abramov’s first interview as a Belleville Senator, he spoke about his ability to make plays at a high speed. This was on display Friday as his assist was all due to his drive for the net and his awareness of his teammates while he was moving at top speed.
Here are the highlights.
Saturday, March 2 - Belleville 4, Manitoba 0
After tallying only one point on Friday night, the BSens came out hungry on Saturday. It was a bit of a slow start to the game, scoring-wise, but things started to pick up in the second period.
Off a Moose mixup at their blueline, Archibald found himself on a shorthanded breakaway and made no mistake scoring his second goal of the weekend. For a big guy, his feet were moving as he outskated two Moose defenders to have a shot short side. Abramov was the next man on the scoresheet.
About seven minutes into the third, Abramov received a quick pass from Chase Balisy - his second assist of the game - and flew down the right side. He managed to sneak the puck from his backhand over to his forehand in tight and beat Mikhail Berdin for Abramov’s first goal as a Senator. With three minutes to go, the Moose went up a man by emptying their net but Adam Tambellini quickly made them pay with a goal from his own zone. Batherson added a fourth goal with a few seconds left to cap this one at 4-0. Check out this beauty, courtesy of @SensProspects.
Brannstrom > Paul > Batherson— Sens Prospects (@SensProspects) March 3, 2019
Nice work by Brannstrom to keep the play alive, earning his first point as a Senator. Absolutely love the BSens dunking on the Moose here - this PPG came with 3 seconds left. Manitoba had taken a number of cheap shots during the 2-game series. pic.twitter.com/HyQOjbLdjh
Marcus Hogberg - Hogberg has been a busy man during this streak and he finished the weekend with a tidy shutout to add to his stats for the season.
Vitaly Abramov - He had two chances, one of which was the goal, using his speed down the wing.
Erik Brannstrom - Brannstrom had an assist in this game but, more importantly, he showed a level of confidence and patience with the puck on his stick that most defenders in the Senators system would or could not.
Here are the highlights.
The two major additions to Belleville in Abramov and Brannstrom have already made an impact in their few games with the club. Abramov has a goal and an assist in three games and his speed has been a breathe of fresh air - particularly for Filip Chlapik who has spent much of the season carrying players slower and less skilled than him. Brannstrom has an assist in two games, while playing an important role on the powerplay and patrolling the blueline with finesse and skill. Here’s a look at the kind of puck skills Belleville has acquired in Brannstrom.
Erik Brannstrom goes for a skate and creates a good chance for himself pic.twitter.com/k6W0rIKgAZ— Sens Prospects (@SensProspects) March 3, 2019
Right now, we’re seeing a top line of Batherson, Brown and Paul followed by Chlapik centring Abramov and Jack Rodewald. In the many years I’ve been watching the Senators’ AHL organization, I can’t recall a top six with more skill and potential. Does this definitively mean that Ottawa will be better more quickly than we think? Probably not. But the potential to add solid scoring to the NHL lineup over the next few seasons is definitely there.
Belleville reassigned Aaron Luchuk to the Brampton Beast of the ECHL yesterday. Battling through some injuries and trying to find a consistency to his game, it appears Luchuk needs some time to play bigger minutes where he can continue to work on his game. This is likely another scenario of a guy destroying his overage season getting overhyped and requiring much more time to flourish than fans had expected.
Finally, the AHL Trade Deadline was yesterday and Belleville made one move sending Stuart Percy to the Providence Bruins in exchange for forward Austin Fyten. With the addition of Brannstrom and the copious amount of left shot defenders in Belleville, Percy’s playing time was dwindling. Fyten doesn’t bring a ton of offense but adds some forward depth as Belleville looks to play past the end of the regular season for the first time in franchise history. Plus, Fyten he brings ample opportunity for puns in future posts so watch out...
The Belleville Senators continue their magical run to the playoffs with two games against Cleveland this week. We’re all keeping a close eye on how things go from here on out.