There were plenty of concerns, from myself included, when the Ottawa Senators recalled Belleville’s best and brightest amidst their current hot streak and push for a playoff spot. Turns out, the kids are alright even without their top end talent.
Friday, February 22 - Belleville 5, Binghamton 3
It was a big night for the BSens on Friday. Three of the four offensive weapons fuelling this late season surge found themselves playing for the big club this weekend, leaving Nick Paul and Jack Rodewald with a heavier burden to bear.
The scoring opened up with Belleville on the powerplay as Paul found Rodewald’s skate in front of the net for the deflection. Christian Wolanin earned the secondary assist. The Devils managed to tie the game up towards the end of the first frame.
It wasn’t until halfway through the second that Belleville regained the lead on a deflection by Joseph Labate. Unfortunately, John Quenneville tied things up less than a minute later on an absolute bullet from the slot. The good news is, the third period was all Belleville, all the time.
Just under five minutes in, Jordan Murray scored his eighth of the season on a backdoor feed from Wolanin. The presence of Wolanin on the backend has been fantastic since he came back from injury. He clearly didn’t miss a beat and his ability to move the puck was definitely missed. The BSens held a one goal lead until the halfway point of the final frame when Rodewald extended that lead to two. Chase Balisy was doing what any good penalty killer would do - killing time with the puck in the corner when he made a move to the back of the net. He found Rodewald coming in and he made no mistake on a toe drag to beat MacKenzie Blackwood upstairs. The Devils did cut the lead by one but Paul extended it back to the ultimate two goal win the BSens kicked off the weekend with.
Christian Wolanin - Wolanin’s three assists fuelled the win for Belleville and he could have easily had more points.
Marcus Hogberg - Hogberg was busy and stopped 32 of 35 shots against.
Jack Rodewald - Rodewald scored his 18th and 19th goals of the season on Friday night. He’s yet to put together a 20 goal campaign in the AHL in his career. It looks like this year will be the first.
Here are the highlights.
Saturday, February 23 - Belleville 5, Rochester 3
The Rochester Americans came into this game sitting atop the North Division have 33 wins and 16 regulation losses to their name. If anyone was going to add to the second number, it was the BSens. Especially with Hogberg between the pipes.
After giving up a goal in the first on an unfortunate giveaway by Hogberg, Belleville came out flying in the second. Five minutes in, Stefan Elliot came in from the point, danced around his man and fired a backhand home for his seventh of the year. Rochester did regain the lead later but it didn’t last long. Alternate captain Darren Archibald fired a wrister from a tight angle and beat Adam Wilcox to tie things at two. Paul got his name on the scoresheet late in the second on a fantastic deflection from an Andreas Englund point shot.
The final frame started with a quick Belleville powerplay but Rochester’s penalty kill came out to play and the BSens were unsuccessful in converting. In a way that’s fitting for this kind of hot streak, all the action in this one happened in the final five minutes. To take a two goal lead, Paul slid past a defender at the Rochester blueline where Aaron Luchuk picked up the puck. Luchuk dropped it to Paul and he did what he’s done best since being sent back to Belleville. A few minutes later, known offensive dynamo Archibald scored an empty net goal to put the game out of reach. A late goal by Rochester wasn’t enough to mount a comeback and Belleville extended its point streak to 15 freakin’ games.
Nick Paul - He could’ve been listed as a standout in both games this weekend. With Belleville missing most of its offense it was imperative the Paul show up to play and he delivered.
Andreas Englund - Any time an offenseless player has a multipoint game, he deserves a shoutout.
Marcus Hogberg - 34 saves.
Here are the highlights.
Where do I even begin? Brown, Batherson and Chlapik were sent back to Belleville on Monday to ensure their eligibility for the AHL playoffs. Maxime Lajoie, after a tough couple of months, was also reassigned and did play in Saturday’s game against Rochester, notching an assist in his season debut with the BSens. In the same transaction, Wolanin was called up to Ottawa and it would appear he’ll spend the foreseeable future in Ottawa as Lajoie’s replacement. Frankly, I like the move. It looks like Lajoie needed either a break from the NHL grind or to regain the confidence he had back in October whereas Wolanin has been excellent in Belleville and looked solid at the NHL level in his chances this year.
While we pour one out for Mark Stone, we can look forward to the addition of Erik Brannstrom to the Belleville playoff push. The 19 year old Swedish blueliner has 28 points in 41 games in the AHL this year and will jump right into the lineup playing in all situations - especially the powerplay. You can see what the Golden Knights blog Knights On Ice had to say about Brannstrom in Colin’s piece here. Needless to say, it was a big loss for their prospect pipeline. But as we know from our many years of Stone moments... the price was worth it for Vegas.
The other piece Belleville acquired over the weekend was Vitaly Abramov. The Russian forward played his junior hockey in nearby Gatineau so the Senators organization was likely very familiar with his work when they acquired him in the trade for Matt Duchene. Abramov made his debut with Belleville on Saturday and Coach Troy Mann had great things to say about his effort, despite being held off the scoresheet.
Finally, Belleville sits just one point back of the final playoff spot in the North. The tough part is that they’ve played three more games than the teams ahead of them, so they still have work to do. This weekend is a back-to-back with the Manitoba Moose. With Brown, Batherson, Chlapik and Brannstrom joining the lineup, the BSens look to be icing a seriously strong team for the remainder of the season. Provided Ottawa doesn’t require too many emergency recalls, I think we’ll see playoff action at CAA Arena soon.