Belleville Playoff Primer

The Belleville Senators return to the Calder Cup Playoffs starts tomorrow with a bout against their rivals down the 401.

Belleville Playoff Primer

Thanks to a pair of wins over the weekend, not only did the Belleville Senators clinch a playoff spot, they ended up with home ice advantage for their three game series against Toronto. Belleville finished the season fourth in the North with 82 points, passing Toronto (80 pts) with their victory over Laval on Sunday.

The series kicks off tomorrow night as the BSens host the Marlies at CAA Arena. This will be the 11th meeting of the year for these two clubs.

Belleville vs. Toronto Play-In Series Schedule

Belleville vs. Toronto

For a pair of teams separated by just two points, it's no surprise that Belleville and Toronto come into this one with many reasons to predict either team to win.

There are a number of other statistics to breakdown in this matchup but what you'll see above is a fairly even split in some of the more important metrics. It's important to note that while Belleville is "better" in three of the above, the starting goaltender save percentages are so close that I'd genuinely consider it a draw.

Let's look at the three reasons why either of these teams could find their way moving on in the 2024 Calder Cup Playoffs.

Why Toronto Can Win

Professional Experience

Since I can remember, the Toronto Marlies have built their AHL roster to win, rather than to develop. While there are many Maple Leafs who spent time in the AHL, it's always been about creating a winning culture more than anything else. The Marlies have long been an attractive destination for seasoned AHLers who may realize their NHL dreams are all but over but their ability to make good money and win some championships can be realized with a club like Toronto.

This is evidenced by the clubs consistent appearances in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Since the Senators relocated to Belleville, this will be their second playoff appearance. In their first, they were swiftly bounced in the same type of play-in series on which they're about to embark. The Marlies organization, on the other hand, has only missed the playoffs once and has won a Calder Cup in this same time frame.

When it comes to AHL experience, the Belleville Senators do hold the edge with roughly 500 games in hand on the Marlies. But a more important difference is experience at the highest level. According to EliteProspects' database, the Marlies roster has played a combined 1,835 games in the NHL. This is primarily due to players like Kyle Clifford, Dylan Gambrell and Logan Shaw. Comparatively, Belleville boasts only 577 games of NHL experience, where their top ranking player (Jacob Larsson, 172 GP) would rank fifth on the Marlies.

If you put a lot of stock into experienced veterans in the locker room helping you win championships, you'd be wise to put your money on Toronto in this series.

Goal Scoring

As we know, the Marlies hold a substantial lead in goal differential in this series. Belleville sits with a slightly negative number while Toronto rocks a +25. Toronto's 248 goals ranks the club second in the entire league in scoring, behind the Coachella Valley Thunderbirds - who also happen to be one of only two teams to clear 100 points on the season.

What's interesting is how this particular statistic didn't lead to team wins. It appears that the Marlies had an easy time scoring but a tough time keeping their opponents from doing the same. While a 25 goal positive differential is great, it also means that their second place scoring pace was accompanied by a number of lopsided losses to make up for it.

If you believe a team can score their way to a series win, Toronto would be the square I'd suggest laying your chips on.

Special Teams

The Marlies take a slight edge in this conversation, with better powerplay and penalty kill success throughout the season. Their ability to score on 19% of their powerplay opportunities ranks them tied for ninth in the league while Belleville's success rate is good for 15th. That being said, Belleville's 18.2% success rate with the extra attacker isn't far behind Toronto's 19%.

What's more concerning if you're a fan of the Belleville Senators is Toronto's ability to keep their opponent on check when down a skater. A success rate of 84% is impressive, and more than five percentage points above Belleville. When Toronto is on the penalty kill, they play a strong defensive system, keeping their opponent to the outside and forcing them to take safer shots. I'd be willing to bet that the aforementioned advantage of professional playing experience has something to do with this.

If you buy into the idea that special teams are the difference maker in a playoff series, Toronto's your team.

Why Belleville Can Win

Head to Head Record

At the end of the day, this is a series set between two specific rosters for this specific season. So, while it's important to look at things like professional hockey experience, a franchise's ability to build a roster for the playoffs and how each team has faired throughout a 72 game season, it's equally important to take into consideration a very simple question:

What happened when Toronto and Belleville played this year?

The answer is just as simple as the question:

Belleville crushed it.

Through ten meetings, Belleville had a 6-3-1 record against the Marlies. While Toronto may have had a +25 goal differential on the year, the two teams were deadlocked at 30 goals a piece in their 10 meetings this year. So, it may be true that Toronto has the edge in goal scoring across the season but when facing Belleville, it's been an even playing field.

If your idea of a measuring stick of success is how two fighters fair in the ring against one another, I'd go with Belleville in your series prediction.

Recency Effect

In this matchup, we have a tale of two teams. At least, recently. In the month of April, while making a push for a playoff spot, one team played fine, the other played at an elite level.

In one corner, we have Toronto. The Marlies ran a 4-4-1 record in the month of April - and, for what it is worth, two of their four wins required a shootout to get there. With the volatility of the shootout, Toronto's record could have just as easily been 2-4-3 on the month.

In the other corner, we have Belleville. Through eight games in the month of April, while chasing a playoff spot, the BSens racked up a 7-1-0 record. As I made the same caveat above, one of those wins did require a shootout so it could have just as easily been 6-1-1. Which is still, you know, very good.

If you love the idea of a team comin' in hot, Belleville is the easy choice in this series.

Special Teams

Wait, what? But, Spencer, how can this also be a reason Belleville wins? Well, let me tell ya.

The Toronto Marlies powerplay and penalty kill success rates are, indeed, higher than that of the Belleville Senators. But, do you know what else is higher? The number of times Toronto has been shorthanded this season.

According to the AHL's stat tracking, the Marlies have found themselves shorthanded 278 times this season. That is a total of 27 more occasions than Belleville, who come in with 251. So, while Toronto may have more solid numbers when it comes to special teams, they allow their opponents more opportunities at it.

Over the course of a 72 game season, I like Toronto's success metrics better. But over a three game series? I like the team who gets more powerplays.

Series Prediction

In the end, it truly is anyone's game. Each team has it's own reasoning to predict they'll end up moving forward.

For me, I put more stock into head-to-head comparisons and it never hurts to be heading into the playoffs on a hot streak. I think Belleville takes this series but it's going to require all three games.

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