The broken record story of the Belleville Senators’ young season reminds me of an old sports cliche. Offense wins games, defense wins championships. Despite having well below average defense, the BSens have continued to find ways to win games over the past few weeks by taking advantage of their skill up front. Over the course of three games, Drake Batherson (1G, 3A), Vitaly Abramov (2G) and Josh Norris (1G, 3A) led the way while Alex Formenton chipped in a goal and an assist in his two games this week as well.
As for the defense? That’s another story, as we know. Through 16 games, Belleville is sitting 30th in goals against and 31st in goals against per game. Needless to say, if Troy Mann’s BSens want to make a playoff appearance, this is the area to focus on. We’ll get more into that later.
Wednesday, November 13 - Belleville 5, Laval 4 (OT)
Here are the highlights.
- Marcus Hogberg stopped 33 of 37 shots (0.892 SV%), allowing two goals on the penalty kill.
- The line of Abramov, Norris and Batherson combined for three goals, two assists and eight shots on net.
- The other top six trio of Jordan Szwarz, Max Veronneau and Alex Formenton also clicked as both Veronneau and Formenton scored goals and Szwarz assisted on both.
- Formenton netted the game winner in OT./
Alex Formenton scored this spectacular overtime winner for the #BSens tonight as they improved their record to 7-6-1 on the season. They’ve now won their last 3 games and have accumulated at least a point in each of their last 5. Balcers is scheduled to play on Friday as well. pic.twitter.com/DouOgW6GIK— Everyday.Sens (@EverydaySens) November 14, 2019
Friday, November 15 - Belleville 4, Bridgeport 3 (OT)
Here are the highlights.
- Hogberg received a second straight start in an attempt to keep Belleville’s point streak alive. He stopped 21 of 24 shots, allowing two of three goals against on the penalty kill.
- Rudolfs Balcers returned to action for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain in preseason - he scored two goals including the overtime game winner.
- Abramov was, as they say, “at it again”./
Saturday, November 16 - Milwaukee 4, Belleville 2
Here are the highlights.
- Filip Gustavsson allowed four goals on 18 shots through two periods before being replaced by Hogberg for the third.
- Klimchuk and Balcers were the goal scorers.
- Milwaukee ended Belleville’s six game point streak (5-0-1)./
Vitaly Abramov, Play Driver?
With the return of Balcers to game action on Friday, Abramov was the player moved off the potent scoring trio of Abramov, Norris and Batherson in favour of Balcers. Instead of being moved up the lineup, Abramov ended up getting bumped to the third line with Klimchuk and JC Beaudin. While the trio of Balcers, Norris and Batherson inevitably flourished, the big surprise was that Abramov and Klimchuk both contributed to the scoresheet as well. Abramov’s goal came with the man advantage but Klimchuk’s goal was at even strength, with Abramov contributing to the play. Abramov’s new line also contributed nine shots on net, six of them coming from Abramov’s stick.
It’s always important with incredibly small sample sizes - and a lack of proper play tracking made available at the AHL level - to take all of this with a grain of salt. But, what I will say is that early on we’ve been seeing Abramov’s name associated with a lot of Belleville’s success. The hype train may be leaving the station soon, make sure you get your boarding pass.
The Blueline Gives Us The Blues
It’s been pretty widely covered - most notably on the recent episode of the Cost Per Pointcast - that if there’s a true hole in Belleville’s lineup it’s on the blueline. It doesn’t help that neither Max Lajoie nor Christian Jaros have played to the level we had hoped from two players who spent the majority of last season in the NHL. It also doesn’t help that the remainder of the blueline is duct taped together with some lacklustre talent in the form of AHL lifers, PTOs and defenders who’s formerly bright futures have since fizzled.
There are a number of ways that Belleville can address this issue. It’s not realistic to expect Ottawa to find a way to fast track Christian Wolanin’s recovery process but his return would do a lot for Belleville. One of two things will directly impact Belleville in Wolanin’s return. First, Wolanin gets assigned to Belleville. Instant boost. Second, Wolanin pushes one of Cody Goulobef or Erik Brannstrom down to Belleville. Instant boost. Unfortunately, there’s no true timetable on that so we can’t expect that type of help any time soon.
The other way is via direct or indirect external help. By this I mean, acquiring a top tier AHL defender to join Belleville or acquiring a player at the NHL level that will push someone like Goulobef or Brannstrom back to Belleville. I, personally, am on the fence when it comes to Brannstrom. He’s in a bit of an awkward tweener stage where there isn’t that much left for him at the AHL level but he also has appeared out of place more often than not in Ottawa. Regardless of how you feel about Brannstrom’s play thus far, Belleville needs help on the blueline. So, if the best thing for his development is to send him to down to regain some confidence, that’s only positive news for Belleville’s defensive capabilities. If you’re dead set on Brannstrom grinding through his rookie NHL season then another domino needs to drop if Belleville wants to get to a place where they aren’t clawing for that final playoff spot come March.
Between the Pipes
There was some discussion in the comments last week surrounding the measurement of save percentage and even strength save percentage. I’m a big advocate for placing far more important on even strength save percentage for a number of reasons. The biggest is that it’s really difficult to fault a goaltender for allowing a goal while the team in front of him is down a player (or two). The problem with understanding this particular metric as it relates to Belleville is that, as far as I know, nobody tracks it at the AHL level. While we can look at the total save percentage for any given outing and we can also look at the total number of goals allowed on the penalty kill, we can’t take the number of shots faced on the penalty kill into account to truly measure that metric without tracking it ourselves.
While we’re on the topic, neither Hogberg nor Gustavsson are having a fantastic season to date but it’s worth noting that Belleville also leads the entire AHL with 18 goals against while down a player (or two). Taking this into account doesn’t immediately toss either goaltender into the top of the league in terms of performance by any means, but it’s important to note the context that while Hogberg and Gustavsson could be better, Belleville’s special teams could be a lot better.
The Road Ahead
Belleville is 6-3-1 in their last ten contests as they slowly make their way out of the North Division basement. The week ahead is packed with three non division games so while they can’t make up direct ground on their division rivals, a neat and tidy six points would go a long way toward their climb up the standings.
The Manitoba Moose are in town tonight before Belleville heads on a road trip to Binghamton and Lehigh Valley this weekend.