The up and down season of the Belleville Senators continued this past week in Manitoba. We had the chance to see fantastic individual performances from the likes of Angus Crookshank, Egor Sokolov and Vitaly Abramov but, overall, this series left much to be desired.
The BSens started their four game series against the Manitoba Moose on the right foot with a 3-2 victory last Wednesday. Parker Kelly got the party started in the first period with a powerplay goal while Joseph LaBate made it a two goal lead in the second frame. The Moose responded a few minutes into the third to close the gap but it didn’t take long for Belleville to re-establish their lead on this beauty from Abramov.
While it only took the Moose 24 seconds to pull closer to tying the game, Filip Gustavsson was a wall throughout, making 35 saves on 37 shots to close out the win.
Following game one, it was all downhill. Friday night, Kevin Mandolese got the start in net in what ended up being an absolute barn burner of a game. Mandolese was tasked with stopping 48 shots, but unfortunately he only managed to steer away 41 of those shots. It didn’t take long for this one to get started as the two teams exchanged a goal each within the first five minutes of the frame. In fact, there were five goals scored in the first. Sokolov scored his eighth of the year, while LaBate and Matthew Peca also had tallies, giving Belleville a 3-2 lead heading into intermission.
Egor Sokolov ripped a couple more goals on Thursday night in a wild 8-5 loss to Manitoba.— Sens Prospects (@SensProspects) April 9, 2021
Sokolov, who has points in three straight, now leads Belleville with 9 goals in 18GP.#Sharkolov #GoSensGo pic.twitter.com/0bazELBwJw
Just 30 seconds into the second, Sokolov scored another, giving Belleville all the swagger and momentum with a 4-2 lead. However, in the next five minutes Manitoba tied the game. With five minutes left, Crookshank extended his point streak to regain Belleville’s lead. This game had all the feelings of Ottawa’s game against Toronto on Saturday, you just never knew who would score the next goal but you knew it was coming soon.
Unfortunately, the wheels fell off in the third and Manitoba scored four unanswered to take home an 8-5 win.
The third game of the series was much like the first, but without the same outcome. A 3-2 overtime loss with a strong goaltending performance from Gustavsson and, of course, more Crookshank points. The big highlight for this game was Curtis Douglas, a new, very tall player on an Amateur Tryout, scoring his first AHL goal in his first AHL game. His strong play earned him an AHL deal so we’ll be seeing more of the 6’8” centre as the season progresses.
In the final game, Belleville appeared to have run out of gas. In a 5-1 loss in the finale, handing Belleville three of a possible eight points on the series, the Moose shelled Gustavsson with 41 shots while Belleville only managed a total of 16 against Manitoba’s Mikhail Berdin. The only goal of the game was scored by Jonathan Aspirot, with assists from, you guessed it, Abramov and Crookshank.
Crookshank has yet to play a game for the Belleville Senators without registering at least one point. In four games against Manitoba, Crookshank tallied a goal and four assists. While the team didn’t pick up the wins they wanted to, Crookshank was a difference maker in every game. He also averaged two shots per game against Manitoba. Crookshank is now sixth in points per game (1.2) for rookies through five games.
Abramov is on fire. The 22 year old Russian has points in five straight, including two multi-point nights in that streak. Against the Moose, Abramov had two goals and four assists through four contests, playing primarily on a line with the aforementioned Crookshank.
How can we talk about strong performances without mentioning Belleville’s leading goal scorer? While he didn’t score a hat trick against Manitoba - for shame - he did put three pucks in the net in this series, giving him nine in 20 games so far this year. While it’s a small sample size so we have to take this with a grain of salt, he’s currently pacing 34 goals in a normal AHL campaign. Sokolov is second behind Manitoba’s Jeff Malott (11), who has played two more games, in rookie goal scoring.
The topic of officiating has been a hot one at both the Belleville and Ottawa level of late, if you spend any time on Twitter. While the penalty kill was alright, seeing success 70% of the time, the Moose were on the powerplay 20 times through four games - an average of five powerplays per game. With the team averaging 4.1 penalties per game this season, seeing them go above that against Manitoba is cause for concern.
Missing Erik Brännström means the BSens are without their best transition option and, against Manitoba, it showed. While there were a few good performances throughout the series from the likes of Lassi Thomson, Jonathan Aspirot and Colby Williams, overall the BSens struggled to keep Manitoba away from their net. The Moose averaged 4.5 goals per game and Belleville forced their goalies to face an average of 40 (!) shots on net. Even with their top players catching fire in the offensive zone, it’s next to impossible to win consistently with those kinds of numbers.