The Belleville Senators kicked off 2020 with a pair of games against the Rochester Americans and Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The North Division race is tighter than ever, with only four points separating first from fifth. Now, more than ever, each point against a division opponent is imperative. As the current leaders of the North - House Stark of the AHL, if you will - Belleville’s Friday night matchup against Rochester couldn’t have been more crucial.
Friday, January 3 - Rochester 4, Belleville 3 (OT)
Here are the highlights.
- Joey Daccord got the start, stopping 34 shots (0.895 SV%).
- Josh Norris, Drake Batherson and Alex Formenton were the goal scorers.
- Erik Brannstrom added two assists, bringing his total to a goal and five assists in five AHL games this season./
Saturday, January 5 - Belleville 5, Lehigh Valley 3
Here are the highlights.
- Filip Gustavsson was between the pipes and posted a 0.903 SV% in the win.
- Nine different Senators produced, with Norris (2G), Formenton (1G, 1A), Brannstrom (2A), Filip Chlapik (2A) and Logan Brown (2A) leading the way.
- Brannstrom’s two assists brought him to eight points in six games for Belleville this season.
- The BSens scored three unanswered in the second to erase a 2-0 deficit./
More Like Josh Score-is, Amiright?
Every week I expect Norris to cool down - at least a little bit. The 20 year old native of Oxford, Michigan has gone from late first round pick to a fine NCAA rookie season, to a breakout sophomore season derailed by an injury, to a red-hot, consistent rookie season in the AHL.
Norris has compiled 19 goals and 13 assists for a tidy 32 points in 34 games for his pro rookie campaign. A few weeks ago, we talked about how both Norris and Formenton were in the top ten of rookie scoring. Since then, Norris has added eight goals and three assists to his totals as he rides an eight game (and counting?) point streak. Now we’ve reached the point that the conversation about Norris’ production doesn’t need to include the caveat of being a rookie. Norris is just one point shy of breaking into the top ten in league scoring - and he’s one of just two rookies who appears in the top 20.
The best part about Norris is that while he’s producing offensively, he’s also quite responsible in his own end. Mann not only deploys his unit when Belleville is in need of a goal but he also has him out at the end of the game when protecting a lead. Yesterday on TSN 1200, Mann sung Norris’ praises, claiming Belleville wouldn’t be where they are without his level of play.
While the Erik Karlsson trade will never not sting, Sens fans’ wounds should be soothed by Norris’ ascension to legitimate, blue chip prospect.
The Big Test
The BSens have put together a solid performance thus far in the season. Much of their success can be rightfully attributed to the offensive firepower they’re able to roll out every night. When your top six includes the league leader in points, two of the top ten rookie scorers, a proven AHL goal scorer and multiple players who could arguable be playing in the NHL right now, you’re in a good spot.
The big question surrounding this roster for the foreseeable future is how many of these offensive weapons will regularly be part of the lineup from now until the end of the season. Provided Belleville makes the playoffs, they won’t have any issues icing a fantastic roster. The problem is how they get there with the roster moves that have already begun.
While Brannstrom and Brown were returned to Belleville at the end of 2019, Batherson and Rudolfs Balcers have made their way up. The former is likely to be sent back down sometime but I’d wager the latter is in Ottawa to stay. The obvious “problem” for Belleville will become a reality by the end of February, if not sooner. As the trade deadline looms, a rebuilding squad like the Senators are likely to be big sellers. The most passionate fans of the rebuild are expecting pretty much any Ottawa Senator with NHL experience to be on the move. Realistically, we’re probably looking at 2-4 new roster spots opening in Ottawa. For Belleville that means short-to-medium term auditions for their best players. Coach Mann will be faced with drawing up his roster without the likes of Balcers, Batherson, Brown, Norris, Brannstrom and Formenton. While GM Pierre Dorion isn’t going to recall aforementioned prospects simultaneously, the likelihood that some combination of them are in Ottawa at any given moment, for an unknown period of time, seems highly likely.
All of this is to say that while the Belleville Senators are doing well, the big test will come when they’re no longer able to throw one of the more skilled top 9’s in the AHL out on the ice every night.
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