It’s been a rocky road for the BSens to start the season. With a mass exodus of their top players and a few key injuries, Belleville stumbled out of the gate with a 2-8-0 record through their first ten contests. After taking two of three contests against the Toronto Marlies, have the BSens turned a slight corner or were they just shaking the rust off to begin the season?
It certainly didn’t hurt this week to have Erik Brännström and Matthew Peca join the team this week, bolstering two positions of need with Jonathan Aspirot out on the left side and Logan Brown missing down the middle.
In game one, Belleville beat Toronto 3-2 in a game where Belleville was never chasing the lead from start to finish. Matthew Peca got Belleville on the board halfway through the first, with the help of Jack Dougherty and Vitaly Abramov.
Although Toronto was able to tie things up, Alex Formenton was found by Brännström after a smooth end-to-end rush. But what’s most awesome about this goal is the Kevin Mandolese assist.
Speaking of Mandolese, he was a brick wall in this game. While Belleville played well, Toronto through 45 pucks at Mando and he steered 43 of them away. One of the main reasons Toronto outshot Belleville so badly is because Toronto was awarded nine (yes, nine) powerplay opportunities. Of those nine penalties, Formenton was responsible for five (!) of them. I’m not sure what Formenton had for his pre-game meal but he might want to switch it to something a little less... feisty?
The second game of this series was an incredible 5-1 win for the BSens. Once again suffering from some questionable officiating, Belleville killed off all eight of Toronto’s penalties. There was a stark contrast between last year’s BSens and the team we saw on Saturday afternoon because the scoring wasn’t quite as top heavy. Of the 18 skaters Belleville dressed, 13 of them contributed at least one point in this game.
Anton Forsberg was sent to Belleville for a conditioning stint and he stopped 31 of 32 shots for a 0.968SV%.
Brännström was on display again, contributing a pair of assists on Belleville’s first two goals of the game. First, playing quarterback on Egor Sokolov’s fourth of the season. Second, once again playing quarterback on a goal that would later be Formenton’s on a deflection of Peca’s shot from the dot.
Matthew Peca puts this one right in.— Pesky Sickos (@PeskySickos) March 20, 2021
Logan Shaw to Erik Brannstrom to Peca buries this on the power play for the #BSens
G: Matthew Peca
A: Erik Brannstrom, Logan Shaw#FortheB #GoSensGo pic.twitter.com/oRQOZ7HCrb
Mark Kastelic would grab his second of the year on a powerplay deflection which also saw Ollie Alsing register his first AHL point. Lassi Thomson recorded the secondary assist, giving him five assists in 12 games so far with the BSens - three more assists in six fewer games relative to his production with Ilves earlier this year.
In the final game of this contest, the BSens were quite understaffed. Running only nine forwards and seven defensesmen - two of which hadn’t played a professional hockey game since last year - the BSens were going to be hard pressed to complete the sweep of Toronto in this series. All of Brown, Hubert Labrie, Jonathan Aspirot and Jonathan Daviddson were missing with injuries while Vitali Abramov, Alex Formenton, Jack Kopacka and Olle Alsing were all either with Ottawa or assigned to the taxi squad.
After two strong games, Belleville suffered a 3-0 loss in the final match. It wasn’t without opportunity, as Belleville experienced a rare game where they had more powerplays than their opponents. Toronto was a perfect 6-0 on the penalty kill and kept the shorthanded Sens to just 23 shots through three periods. Kevin Mandolese was strong in net, stopping 27 of 29 shots for a 0.931 SV%.
We also got to see this outstanding play from Brännström. If hockey doesn’t work out, he might make it as a baseball player with diving grabs like this. Big thanks to EverydaySens for grabbing this replay for me!
Mandolese showed us The Way by being almost unbeatable against Toronto this week. In two games, Mandolese posted a 0.946 SV%, turning away 70 of the 74 shots he faced. Even when they lost 3-0, Mandolese gave this team a chance to win.
The Swedish defender was returned to Belleville for some playing time, ensuring he would be able to log heavy minutes and regain the confidence that saw him put up 23 points in 27 games with Belleville last season. He had three assists in three games against Toronto.
Peca registered a pair of goals in his first two games in Belleville, after playing limited minutes for five games with the big club. You could see the immediate lift for the BSens with Peca in the top six, playing between Abramov and Jonathan Davidsson.
Abramov’s slow offensive start to the season might have had those who haven’t been watching closely questioning his progression. He’s been all over the puck so far this year and was rewarded in this series with two assists in two games.
The Penalty Kill
After being a big question mark to start the season, the BSens found themselves shorthanded many times - some would argue far too many times - in this series against Toronto. Through the first two games, they were perfect on 17 opportunities. Yes, you read that correctly. Two games. 17 opportunities.
The BSens were down a player on 20 occasions through three meetings with Toronto. While you can look at penalties and question their validity at times, averaging over six penalty kills per game is never going to regularly get you to a comfortable place on the scoresheet.
This was the ugly last week and it continues this week. With an already shallow roster, Belleville added Labrie and Davidsson to the injury list. Both important players who log big minutes, their absence coupled with that of Brown and Aspirot - and missing players who are in Ottawa or on the Taxi Squad - makes things tough for the team on the ice.