After a strong finish to 2018, all the Belleville Senators needed to be right in the thick of the playoff race was to start the year off with a bang. After losing their first of the year to Laval, the BSens came out flat in a back-to-back series with the Charlotte Checkers on the weekend. The good news was seeing Filip Chlapik return to the lineup and posting a point in each game.
Friday, January 4 - Charlotte 4, Belleville 1
With Marcus Hogberg remaining in Ottawa for the time being, Filip Gustavsson was given another start on Friday night. Just over two minutes into the game, however, it was the Checkers who drew first blood with Charlotte captain Patrick Brown capitalizing on a turnover at Belleville’s blueline. The BSens allowed another goal in the early part of the second period. It wasn’t until over halfway through the second period that Belleville got on the board. Chlapik found Max McCormick streaking down the wing and McCormick rifled it top corner for his third AHL goal of the season.
The theme of the night for Belleville was breakdowns near their own blueline. As was the case with Charlotte’s first goal, their third goal was a product of a turnover just outside of Belleville’s blueline that saw Andrew Poturalski and Aleksi Saarela jump into a two-on-one that ended with a goal. The Checkers added another for insurance to take this one 4-1.
Filip Chlapik - There was a noticeable speed issue for Chlapik as he is getting his feet back underneath him but the vision and creativity didn’t lose a step while he was out with an injury.
The D group - This is not a positive shoutout. The BSens could have been in this game if it weren’t for the breakdowns in the defensive zone.
Here are the highlights.
Saturday, January 8 - Charlotte 6, Belleville 3
On the second night of a back-to-back, Jake Paterson got the nod to make his fourth AHL start of the year. This game started on a much better note. Just 21 seconds into the first frame, Adam Tambellini found his way back on the scoresheet after going pointless in his past four games. Tambellini banged home a rebound after a nifty between the legs attempt by the newly acquired Darren Archibald. The lead lasted for all of 14 seconds before Saarela potted his second in as many games to tie it up. On a dump in attempt by Charlotte, Paterson came out to calm the puck down only to have it bounce back in front of the net right onto Saarela’s tape.
Just over three minutes later, Chlapik found the back of the net for his eighth of the year. The Checkers defender tried (and failed) to flip the puck out of the zone. Jack Rodewald picked it up and found Chlapik. After a few bounces, the puck ended up back on Chlapik’s stick for an easy tap in. Less than a minute later (yes, this is all within the first five minutes of the game), the Checkers responded to tie the game for the second time.
Unfortunately, the second period was all about Charlotte. 2016 first round Julien Gauthier scored the first goal of the period and Potularski added his second goal of this back-to-back to give Charlotte a 4-2 lead. Stefan Elliot scored the only Belleville goal in the third period but it wasn’t enough for the BSens to mount a comeback.
Filip Chlapik - Our favourite Czech scored his eighth of the season to bring him to 17 points in 23 games.
Stefan Elliot - Returning from Ottawa, Elliot found the back of the net and added four shots on goal. He also was a catalyst in breaking the puck out for a Belleville blueline missing their best puck mover (with Christian Wolanin in Ottawa).
Darren Archibald - It’s clear that Archibald has had many cups of coffee in the AHL, his style fits it quite well. You’re unlikely to see his name in the standouts section on a regular basis but I thought he played well on Saturday.
Here are the highlights.
Belleville published a quick interview with head coach Troy Mann on his thoughts regarding the first half of the season. The key takeaway is that Mann has had to deal with a ton of roster changes throughout the season. There’s been a regular rotation of players being recalled by Ottawa - eleven skaters expected to spend the majority of the year in Belleville have spent time in the NHL already. On top of that, players like Chlapik and Logan Brown have missed time with injuries. That being said, that is the nature of the AHL. If you took a deep dive around the league, I’m sure you can find a number of teams in the same position.
Even though they’ve stumbled into 2019, the Belleville Senators are a handful of wins away from being in the playoff mix. Their push for the playoffs has to start tonight as they host the Cleveland Monsters - one of the teams they need to leap frog - at CAA Arena.