We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again - this was never going to be the same Belleville Senators team it was last year. With the mass exodus of Belleville’s top players - through graduation or otherwise - this is a team that’s going to struggle to make the playoffs.
This week, Belleville had a one off game against the Stockton Heat before back-to-back matches with the Manitoba Moose, for three games in four days. During that stretch, the BSens were outscored 13-4, allowing six (!) goals on the powerplay.
In game one of the week, the BSens did a few things right. They only allowed one powerplay goal and they actually outshot the Heat 39-30. Unfortunately, Gustavsson’s 0.867 SV% combined with Belleville’s lack of finish wasn’t enough to keep the game overly close. Calgary first rounder Conor Zary opened the scoring less than four minutes in and added another to the scoresheet just ten minutes later. Once it was 2-0, the BSens never recovered. The bright spot was seeing Egor Sokolov score his first AHL goal, halfway through the final frame.
The second game was the same as the first. The Moose scored early in the first and Belleville never recovered. There were stretches of strong play from players like Alex Formenton, Mark Kastelic and Lassi Thomson but, for the most part, Manitoba kept Belleville in check. Limiting the BSens to only 22 shots on net, and being perfect on both penalty kills, the Moose locked this game down early. Cody Goloubef managed to reduce Manitoba’s lead late in the second period but it wasn’t enough to get the team across the finish line.
The final game, a Manitoba matinee, started much better. Sokolov scored his second professional goal, giving him a three game point streak, in the first period and the BSens went into intermission with the lead. Unfortunately, the penalty kill was absolutely abysmal. Through five opportunities, Manitoba capitalized four times. It doesn’t matter how good your team is or how well you’re playing, if you allow four powerplay goals in one game you’re saying goodbye to any hope at bringing home two points. The backbreaking moment occurred early in the second period where the BSens, already down a player, took a too many men penalty. Sending them to the 5-on-3, Ville Heinola tied the game at one and Skyle McKenzie made it 2-1 in a matter of 42 seconds. That was it for Belleville as they dropped this one 6-2.
A quick reminder, I’ll be leaving players we expect to be fantastic out of these notes unless they’ve done something particular spectacular(ly bad?) to deserve a mention.
A player who became a fan favourite almost immediately upon being drafted, the Russian Teddy Bear was the most consistent producer for the BSens during this three game stretch. Lining up with Kastelic and Cole Reinhardt, the kid line was excellent particularly in the 6-2 loss to Manitoba. Sokolov’s two goals came in similar fashion - by being strong in front of the net.
Sokolov’s two goals and two assists through seven games makes him Belleville’s leading scoring early in the season.
Kastelic has come to Belleville as advertised. In the past three games, he was strong in the faceoff dot while being a force to be reckoned with in puck battles. He only had one assist through three games but he also was the reason Sokolov had a chance to score his second goal of the season on this great defensive play.
The line of Egor Sokolov-Mark Kastelic-Cole Reinhardt has been *buzzing* for Belleville over the past few games pic.twitter.com/LpwdeQlvZ8— Sens Prospects (@SensProspects) March 6, 2021
Thomson continued to be a strong player on the right side for Belleville. He’s still a work in progress in his own zone but he’s a noticeable contributor when his team has the puck. Thomson recorded an assist and six shots on net during this three game stretch.
Gustavsson, like the goaltenders at the NHL level from time to time, definitely was not helped by the players in front of him. That being said, he recorded a 0.869 SV% during this three game stretch. He was strong in stretches but lacked the consistency we saw from him during Belleville’s only win of the season.
The Penalty Kill
Where do you even begin? Following the four game series with Laval a few weeks back, Belleville had the 21st ranked penalty kill (76.9% success rate). After this week, Belleville now sits dead last (28th) with an astonishing 60.9% success rate. This basically means if you can go out and get Belleville to take three penalties in a game, you are guaranteed to score at least one goal. For reference, there is a 13% gap between 28th place Belleville and 27th place Rockford.
The Week Ahead
This past week was a bit of an odd “series” to cover, as Belleville played two different teams. Moving forward, we’ll take a look at each series as they come. Belleville is about to revisit their rivalry with the Laval Rocket in a three game set - two in Ottawa, one in Laval. The Rocket, currently with a 5-2-1 record, took three of four games from Belleville in their first meeting, outscoring the BSens by 10-2 on the way.
Logan Brown and Formenton both contributed offensively in the second Manitoba game and Brown, in particular, looked a lot more like the skilled player we saw for much of last season in Belleville.
Everyone has been talking about Logan Brown lately. Here he is settings up Alex Formenton on the PP to get his first point of the season. I always like seeing Brown pass from down low like that.— Pesky Sickos (@PeskySickos) March 6, 2021
G: Alex Formenton
A: Logan Brown#GoSensGo pic.twitter.com/5gu4u5xpXx
With Brown hopefully back to full health, the BSens will be looking to these two top prospects for even more against Laval. Formenton, a player who seems to get at least one breakaway a game, will need to capitalize more and help carry the team if they’re going to come out of this set with the Rocket with multiple wins.