Belleville Playoff Primer: Round Two

Belleville takes on Cleveland in the opening game of round two tonight at CAA Arena.

Belleville Playoff Primer: Round Two

For the first time in franchise history, the Belleville Senators are moving on!

The AHL affiliate of the Ottawa Senators has had playoff success in the past, including a Calder Cup win in 2011. But since moving to the Bay of Quinte, it's been tough sledding for the BSens, having been to the postseason just once before where they were swept by Rochester.

This season has felt different for a while and it is extra special to be able to see that difference in a win over Toronto in round one. Now Belleville sets their sights on Cleveland, the top dog in the North, as they hope to take the momentum of an emotional overtime win on Sunday into a series with a team who will be coming off a relatively lengthy ten day break in game action.

Here's how this series lines up.

It's important to note that I've highlighted special teams for both clubs here, as Belleville comes in with the better regular season powerplay success rate while Cleveland's penalty kill had the advantage over the full campaign.

So, let's dive in to three reasons each team could take this one.

Making a Case for Cleveland


While Belleville held the head-to-head advantage against Toronto, it's Cleveland taking this category pretty clearly here. In four games against the Monsters, Belleville was only able to take one win, which required overtime to accomplish. What makes matters worse for the BSens, not only did Cleveland take home seven of a possible eight points in the season series, they also doubled up our beloved Senators in scoring in the series - outscoring the team 12-6. Belleville was unable to put more than two pucks into Cleveland's net in any game this year.

If you put weight into head-to-head matchups, the Monsters are the clear winner here.

Regular Season Consistency

While only six points separated Cleveland from Belleville at the end of the regular season, it was consistency that helped the Monsters claim the top spot in the North. Belleville's season was, to say the least, a bit of a roller coaster. There were a number of winning streaks and a number of losing streaks that occurred for the BSens while Cleveland kept things pretty even keeled from start to finish.

A great example comes later in this article, where I look at the winning percentages before and after the last game in which Cleveland and Belleville played. The difference in consistency is glaring.

Cleveland started the year with a positive win percentage through December and then finished the year at a similar clip. On the other side of this matchup, Belleville was below .500 over the first 20-something games only to find a bit more consistency in the win column through the remainder of the season.

If you like the odds of the more consistent team winning in a five game series, I'd go Cleveland in this one.

Home Ice Advantage

Home ice advantage is exactly that, an advantage. You get to sleep in your own bed, roll up to a familiar rink, do your game day routines in your regular spot, with your regular machines and your regular meals. It's understandably easier to get your head in the game when you're playing at home.

Because of the nature of the AHL, this is magnified even further. First, the AHL doesn't have the same luxury budgets as their NHL affiliates. When you travel in the AHL, it's likely on a bus and what you have at your disposal in an AHL rink as the visitor is, for the most part, not going to be the same as when an NHL team is on the road.

Where it's even further magnified is in how this series is scheduled. Because of the travel budgets of the AHL, Cleveland does hold home ice advantage and three of the five scheduled games will be played there. But, instead of starting in Cleveland for two games, then heading to Belleville, then back to Cleveland, this series will feature the opening two games in Belleville and the final three games in Cleveland.

Now, there's an argument to be made here that this gives Belleville the advantage. After all, they get to open the series at home. The comfort of CAA Arena could give the team a 2-0 series lead, depending on how things swing.

But, putting on my realist hat, Belleville is the underdog in this series. The most likely scenario is they leave Belleville after game two with either one or zero wins. Which means they will have to rattle off at least two wins on the road in Cleveland to take the series. That's a tough task.

When the series is on the line, in games three, four and five, I'd give the home team the advantage. In this case, the odds favour Cleveland.

Making a Case for Belleville

Special Teams

In my primer for the series against Toronto, I made the point that, while Toronto had the better special teams success rates through the regular season, the Marlies also allowed their opponents opportunities on the powerplay at a higher rate than Belleville.

In the opening series, Toronto afforded Belleville eight powerplays, compared to five of their own, which makes my thought process here look genius if I do say so myself. Belleville also scored on two of those opportunities (25%) and was perfect on the penalty kill.

And guess which team between Belleville and Cleveland gave their opponents more powerplays through the regular season? Yep, you guessed it. Cleveland had more trips to the sin bin. The Monsters gave up a total of 270 opportunities through 72 games, compared to 251 by Belleville.

So, I'd like to confidently make the same argument for this series. If Belleville remains the more disciplined team, they'll increase the odds that they can get this one done against Cleveland.

To paraphrase, well, myself for last week: "Over the course of a 72 game season, I like [Cleveland's] success metrics [slightly] better. But over a [five] game series? I like the team who gets more powerplays."

Recency of Head-to-Head

Cleveland is the clear choice in the head-to-head battle. Any argument to the contrary is dripping with bias.

But, listen, hear me out.

The last time Belleville and Cleveland faced off was December 15th, 2023. The AHL schedule had all four of the matchups between these two clubs occur in the opening third of the year. Which begs the question, would it have been any different if the Senators - who really took off in the second half - got a crack or two at the Monsters in, say, February?

In fact, I went back and checked out the win percentage of each team with the date of December 15th as the grocery stick.

From the start of the season until December 15th, Cleveland had a win percentage of .688. At that same time, Belleville's win percentage was .458.

After December 15th, Cleveland sported a .573 while Belleville shot up to .597.

What this tells me is that Cleveland may have been playing their best overall hockey in the first few months while Belleville didn't really turn it on until December. Had Cleveland and Belleville met twice in the 2023 and twice in 2024, would the head-to-head have been different? Perhaps! But we'll never know.

All I know is that since that fateful day in December, with roughly two thirds of the season left to play, Belleville had a slightly better win percentage than their upcoming opponents.

If you like the idea of betting on the team who's been better recently, I'd go with the fellas in black, red and white.


While Cleveland outscored Belleville 12-6 in the season series, I'm going to give the Senators a slight advantage here. Over the course of the season, Mads Søgaard put together a tidy .916 mark for his team, standing tall in 32 starts where Belleville had an 18-9-3 record with the Great Dane™ in net.

At the other end of the ice, Jet Greaves is certainly no slouch. His .910 is still a solid marker, even if it's lower than his Belleville counterpart. Through 46 games, the Monsters put up a 30-12-5 record with Greaves between the pipes.

For each club, Cleveland has the higher win percentage with their starting goaltender (.707 vs. .609) but in a five game series, I'm taking the better goaltender's individual stats over the team's success in front of him.

If you're looking at an individual stat in a team sport as a reason to believe a team can win, it's how well your starting goaltender can play and, for this one, Belleville's guy is who I'd wager on.

Series Prediction

If we're being honest, the advantages I've listed above in favour of Cleveland are pretty straight forward. The ones I had to find for Belleville took some digging and creative thought. So, while I'd love to predict Belleville as the winner here, it appears that a Sens victory will have to come on the backs of some season high performances from the team.

If you asked me to put my savings on a team here, it'd be Cleveland. But I do love the idea of Belleville riding the emotional high of taking down the Marlies while Cleveland is ice cold after sitting at home for ten days waiting to play some playoff hockey. Hopefully Belleville can catch the Monsters off guard with a strong start to the series before Cleveland gets their legs under them.

While I predict a Monsters win, we're obviously hoping to see Belleville play spoiler. If you look at how the BSens have played of late, it's not out of the question that this is entirely possible.

As always, Go Sens Go.

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