Prospect Team of the Week
After a quiet December during which he scored just two points, Stephen Halliday has returned to form with eight points in four games in January. Halliday added two goals and an assist along with nine shots this past week in a series against Notre Dame. Halliday along with fellow Sens prospect Theo Wallberg remain bright spots for an Ohio State team that has had a pretty rough season to date.
While he hasn't played up to his usual standard in terms of goal-scoring (Spencer will attest to this) Egor Sokolov has still contributed to Belleville's big mid-season turnaround and if recent results indicate anything then maybe the personal success will follow the team success. This past week Sokolov had three goals, two assists, and nine shots through three games. Since Christmas Sokolov has doubled his point-totals for the season right around the same time that Belleville stopped losing games—probably not a coincidence.
I imagine that for every reader glad to see Tyler Boucher's name here, a few will instinctively roll their eyes because, yes, again Boucher has failed to live up to tenth-overall type expectations this season but at the same time, how many forwards had a better week? Owen Beckner and Cole Reinhardt each had one goal. Angus Crookshank had another six shots with no points to show for his efforts. Anyway, Tyler Boucher doubled his modest point-total this week. Good for him.
On defence, Ottawa's OHL representatives had the most outstanding week both in terms of production and movement at the trade deadline. Still with Kitchener, Matthew Andonovski had a goal, an assist, and four shots in two games and Tomas Hamara (whom Kitchener traded to Brantford earlier in the season) had three assists and nine shots in three games to continue his hot streak from the World Juniors. Brantford shipped Hamara's partner, Jorian Donovan to Saginaw (who will host the Memorial Cup). Donovan also had three assists (and seven shots) in three games this week. Djibril Toure headed to Windsor from Sudbury at the deadline.
In the crease I had a tough decision to make between Mads Søgaard who got a 27-save shutout (in his one AHL start last week before Ottawa called him up) and Leevi Meriläinen who won games in both the AHL and ECHL. I also have to give an honourable mention to Kevin Reidler who won both of his starts in the USHL this past week stopping 61 of the 64 shots he faced for Dubuque.
It was a tale of two teams this week for the Belleville Senators. On Friday night, their winning streak was ended at seven games with an 8-0 throttling at the hands of the Toronto Marlies. What was refreshing to see was how the team bounced back when they met back up with the Marlies on Sunday afternoon, defeating their provincial rivals 6-2.
During their win streak, it felt like everything rolled their way. Much of this good fortune can and should be attributed to their solid play as a team. From top to bottom, everyone played the structure and bought into Head Coach David Bell's approach to the game. On Friday night, it felt like all of that good fortune came to a crashing halt. After all, we know that all good things come to an end but for Belleville, that end was swift and abrupt. From defensive zone gaffs to missed chances at the other end, it was like watching a completely different team.
So the immediate reaction from the fanbase was pretty reasonable. Did Belleville just get lucky for seven games in a row? The team answered than on Sunday with a resounding bounceback "no". This is a good hockey team and will continue to be a good hockey team as long as they forget Friday's loss and focus on the fact that they're now 8-2-0 with a +7 goal differential in their last 10.
Skipping over a deep dive into Friday's 8-0 loss - because there frankly isn't a ton to talk about, it was just bad - let's focus on the response on Sunday. It didn't take long at all for Belleville to come out flying, as the team put three pucks into the back of Toronto's net in the first period while Leevi Meriläinen was perfect in the opening frame. The Marlies managed to make a game of it in the second, potting a pair of their own, but Jiri Smejkal and the BSens were having none of that in the third period. The big Czech winger deflected not one but two pucks into the net. This was Smejkal's first (and second) time scoring since November 17th when he also had a pair of goals.
Outside of Smejkal's third period dominance, the other hero of the game was Egor Sokolov. The alternate captain had a goal and two assists in this 6-2 win, which gives him five goals and six assists for 11 points in his last nine games.
In his first start since December 8th, Meriläinen showed a sense of calm that we've come to expect from the Finnish netminder. While the team in front of him played well, Meriläinen was solid positionally, stopping 27 shots in the process.
Belleville hits the road tonight for a date with the Utica Comets before heading to Laval on Friday for a home-and-home with the Rocket over the weekend. Belleville now has a four point lead on Laval for third in the division. A pair of wins against the Rocket would do a lot to cement Belleville as a real contender for a playoff spot here in January.
(Stats current as of Monday)