It was a tale of two teams in this series with Stockton - and the two teams in question are both the Belleville Senators.
In game one, the BSens played incredibly well. While the Heat managed 31 shots, most were from innocent areas and the tough ones were easily cast aside by Marcus Högberg - who was loaned to Belleville for a conditioning stint as he returns from injury. In game two, however, the BSens couldn’t bury their chances. Yes, they lost 7-1 and allowed 40 shots against but they also managed 35 of their own. A high level look at the boxscore might suggest they got absolutely pummelled but Head Coach Troy Mann doesn’t quite agree with that.
In their win against the Heat, things were pretty neutral for the first two periods. Belleville and Stockton played the first two frames completely even strength, exchanging shots at an almost even rate with the BSens edging the Heat by a handful. If you missed the first two periods of this one, you probably weren’t too upset. In the third, Stockton opened the scoring less than two minutes into the frame, setting the Belleville faithful into a state of nerves.
It wasn’t until the halfway point that Belleville got themselves on the board with a Logan Shaw powerplay marker. With just a few minutes left, Erik Brännström found Vitaly Abramov for this game winning beauty.
Both Belleville goals were scored on the man advantage, continuing Belleville’s strong special teams play of late.
In the second game, there isn’t a lot of positives to talk about. While the team had its fair share of chances, scoring goals just wasn’t in the cards. Kevin Mandolese was a busy player, facing 23 shots before getting pulled halfway through the second after allowing five goals. Cedrick Andree relieved Mandolese of his duties but, honestly, didn’t fair much better as he allowed a pair of goals on 17 shots.
At the end of the day, the goaltending was weak but the team in front of them didn’t play much better in their own zone. They dud manage to throw 35 pucks on net but only cashed in once on this Shaw goal in the first period.
It was interesting because most of what was clicking for the BSens Friday night simply didn’t happen Saturday. You can give them a break for being on the second night of a back-to-back but Stockton was their opponent the night before and they looked dialled in from the moment the anthem finished.
Offensively, Abramov had a strong game, putting eight shots on net while Cole Cassels, Alex Formenton and Christian Wolanin registered four shots a piece. Defensively, however, all of Abramov, Formenton and Wolanin were on for three goals against each at even strength. So, while they were doing what they could to get back in the game, the team was sinking further away from a plausible comeback.
Similar to many of Ottawa’s first games of the season, this one could have been very different if it weren’t for goaltending. Saturday was a game to forget if only because the circumstances could easily have been different. Per Coach Mann, they were down 7-1 despite outchancing the Heat 20-15 through two periods.
With a full week between this one and their next match, the BSens will be looking to reset and recharge.
Abramov scored the game winner and had an assiston Friday night. Between both games, he led the BSens in shots with 13. While he could’ve been stronger defensively on Saturday, that’s something that can be said for the entire team.
Brännström was sent to Belleville to work on his game and all he’s done through four games is prove he’s too good for the league. His five assists has him leading the entire team in assists on the season so far - which likely says just as much about this year’s team as it does about Brännström’s play. In this series, he had a pair of assists and was a difference maker more often than not when he was on the ice.
Högberg was assigned to the BSens for conditioning as he’s returning from injury. In his one game with the team, he stopped 30 of 31 shots and was a rock throughout the game. His one goal against, however, did display his usual tendency to struggle with his rebound control.
Wolanin’s time in Ottawa this season has been rocky. He’s been in and out of the lineup, with playing minutes ranging from average to might-as-well-not-have-dressed. In his first game back with Belleville, Wolanin seemed to be shaking off some nerves. While he made a few strong plays, he also made some big errors that a defender of his calibre shouldn’t be making at the AHL level.
Wolanin gives the puck away behind the net, and it leads directly into a goal for Stockton.— Pesky Sickos (@PeskySickos) March 27, 2021
Bad look. He's had nice flashes tonight, but also some not-so-nice ones.
6-1 Stockon. #BSens #FortheB #GoSensGo pic.twitter.com/qaisfR3Pss
Mandolese was a completely different goaltender than the brick wall we saw against Toronto. Allowing five goals in less than half a game is rarely going to see you finish the game but Mandolese deserved to get the hook in this one.
Mandolese can just as easily bounce back so I wouldn’t worry just yet. It was only one game. His previous two starts saw him post 0.931 SV% and 0.956 SV%. He’s capable of better, I’m sure we’ll see that as soon as his next start.
Ending on a positive, intriguing notes, the University of North Dakota had a surprise, wild finish to their season Saturday night as they dropped their Frozen Four qualifying game 3-2 in the fifth overtime. Yes. The fifth. Overtime.
While I’m sure Jacob Bernard-Docker, Shane Pinto, Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven are taking some time to get over the emotional rollercoaster they rode on Saturday, it does mean the Belleville Senators could be seeing some much needed help added to their roster in the near future. At this point, we can rule our Kleven, as he’ll almost certainly head back to UND, but there’s good reason to bet on at least two of the remaining three turning pro as early as today.
It’s likely that whomever turns pro will see time in Ottawa with the season being all but a lost cause but I’m willing to bet we’ll see a handful of games from at least one of these players in Belleville - and any one of them would be more than welcome.