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Belleville Senators still have room for improvement after first quarter of season

Belleville 5-2 Charlotte — Nov. 22 — Highlights [1] from QNet News [2] on Vimeo [3].

By Daniel Taylor [4]

BELLEVILLE – Despite starting their inaugural season with nine straight road games, the Belleville Senators hold a .500 record of (9-9-0-1) after the first quarter of the season.

Expectations were modest heading into this season. Last year the B-Sens finished in the basement of the North Division with a record of 28-44-2-2 while playing in Binghamton, NY.

Due to ongoing construction at Yardmen Arena, the B-Sens were forced to play on the road this season until Nov. 1 when their arena was ready for game action.

Manager of digital media for the B-Sens, Matt Tidcombe, says starting their first nine games on the road made it difficult for the team to get off to a good start.

“We obviously spent the first nine on the road, came back 4-4-0-1 which is pretty awesome all things considered being on the road for such a long time, being away from home and families and your usual routine,” he said.

The B-Sens came home from that road trip and played seven games at the Yardmen, winning four and losing three. The home stand was highlighted by the shootout win in the home opener against the Syracuse Crunch.

Since then the B-Sens have gone 1-2 on their latest road trip, losing 7-1 to the Utica Comets and 4-2 to the Charlotte Checkers, while winning 5-2 against Charlotte last night.

The Good:

After 19 games, the Belleville Senators are sitting third in the North Division, good enough to qualify for a playoff birth.

Right winger Gabriel Gagne leads the team in goals with eight in 19 games. Gagne spent last year split between playing for Binghamton of the American Hockey League and the Wichita Thunder of the East Coast Hockey League. He had two goals in 41 games in Binghamton during his time in the AHL during the 2016-17 season.

“He’s come on leaps and bounds this year,” said Tidcombe. “I know a lot of people around here are really pleased with how he’s playing and how he’s performing. He’s obviously still a young guy, but he’s skating better, he’s playing better, he’s obviously scoring goals now that is confidence is high. You can kind of see it (his confidence) when he’s on the ice, which is great for him.”

Centre Ethan Werek leads the team with 13 total points in 16 games, six of which are goals. Crazily enough, the 26-year-old was actually cut by the B-Sens at the end of training camp in September, but was called up early in the season and took full advantage of his opportunity.

“He came in against Hershey [Bears] in our first ever win (Belleville Senators history) and had a couple of goals and assist for three points and so since then he’s been on fire,” said Tidcombe. Werek’s great play has awarded with him with a contract for the rest of the season.

The rookies have been great as well. Filip Chlapik, the Ottawa Senators second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, has been rewarded for his great play with a game in the NHL where he recorded an assist. He has 10 points in 18 games with Belleville. Ottawa’s first-round pick in 2016, Colin White has returned from injury and made an impact. He has five points in his last five games. Arguably Ottawa’s top prospect, defenseman Thomas Chabot has been steady on the back end having recorded seven points in 12 games before being called up to the big club. He is expected to remain in Ottawa until further notice.

The Bad:

The B-Sens have battled the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the American Hockey League where rosters can change almost every game. The injuries in the Ottawa Senators lineup have directly affected Belleville’s roster over the course of the first 19 games. Currently, forwards Chris DiDomineco and Nick Paul, as well as defensemen Thomas Chabot and Ben Harpur, have been called up to the Ottawa Senators. Each of these players started the season in Belleville and would truly benefit the team if they were in the lineup. However, with that said, this is the nature of the AHL.

Further, the B-Sens lost their starting goaltender Andrew Hammond as part of a three-way trade involving the Ottawa Senators, Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche of the NHL earlier this month. The B-Sens will now rely on goaltenders Daniel Taylor and Chris Dreidger to get the job done. While Taylor has had some recent success, neither goaltender has much experience carrying a heavy workload in the AHL in recent years.

The B-Sens special teams have been very poor to say the least. The team’s power play ranks last in the AHL, converting on 12.5 per cent of their opportunities. Their penalty kill hasn’t been much better ranking 5th last at 79.3 per cent. Special teams need to get better if they plan on being a playoff team come April.

The team has given up 68 goals this year, second worst in the AHL.

Overall Grade: B-

It isn’t easy for any team in any hockey league to start the season with nine road games. The B-Sens have also experienced a depleted lineup most games, so give them a bit of a break here. However, while the team’s even-strength offence has been solid, ranking 10th best in the league, the team is giving up goals at an alarming rate. Wins will be unsustainable if they keep giving up so many and they can’t keep relying on their top offensive players to carry the day. Ultimately, the B-Sens need to be better defensively or they will surely see their playoff chances slip.