Belleville 0, Syracuse 6

The BSens had a week between games to practice and prepare and that was not in evidence on Saturday as they looked hopelessly outmatched by the Crunch (they finished the game with just four scoring chances, a season low, including just one via eight powerplays). Before I get into specific observations, here are the basics (the boxscore):
Shots: 18-26
PP: 0-8 (includes a lengthy 5-on-3 and 4 minutes of a double minor)
PK: 2-4
Goaltender: Danny Taylor (!) got the start and his abysmal season continued as he was pulled after two periods (14-18)–by my count he made 4 key saves; backup Chris Driedger wasn’t much better with the game out of reach (6-8, making 2 key saves), but didn’t get much support in the third. Andrew Hammond, the only consistent goaltender this season, watched from the pressbox while Marcus Hogberg remained in Brampton (winning 4-3 on Sunday in a shootout while making 33 saves). I know Taylor has a fat AHL contract which applies pressure to play him, but they should really sit him out for awhile until he gets his game back in order (or move him, even if you have to loan him back to Europe).

The Opposition
Unchanged from a week ago; the Crunch are 12-9-3 and on an eight game winning streak when they arrived (they once again played their backup against the hapless BSens).

The Goals
1. Syracuse – Sieloff is too deep to effectively react to a 2-on-1 down low and the Crunch score on a one-timer
2. Syracuse – bangs in the puck on a scramble (broadcasters said the play was offside–I’m not so sure, but it might explain why the officials were so generous to the BSens with powerplays)
3. Syracuse PP – goal from the point
4. Syracuse SH – Randell turnover at the blueline becomes a breakaway
5. Syracuse PP – Burgdoerfer makes the same mistake Sieloff did in the first and a wide open Crunch player scores from the slot
6. Syracuse – Driedger beat low (seemed surprised by the shot)

Scoring chances (4): Rodewald, Chlapik, White, Jaros (pp)

The Roster
After inexplicably scratching Gabriel Gagne and Maxime Lajoie last week, Kleinendorst upped the ante by scratching Ethan Werek (Macoy Erkamps was also scratched). On the plus side the team finally sent lumbering pylon Justin Vaive back to the ECHL, but also sent useful depth forward Daniel Ciampini to Brampton. I want to say there’s no reasoning behind the coaching decisions, but there is, it’s just faulty reasoning–like the coaches in Ottawa (and the org generally) Kleinendorst favours veterans who are supposedly defensively responsible and, if possible, gritty–as such, skilled players and prospects suffer.

The Lines

There were no radical changes made to the lineup from the week before–Gagne replaced Werek on the fourth line and Lajoie replaced Erkamps on the third defensive pairing. Neither Kelly nor Randell deserve to be in the lineup, but overall the lines could have been worse.

Special Teams
The week of practice changed nothing; Kleinendorst simply won’t reconstitute formations that have worked in the past and can’t resist inserting ineffective veterans into his special teams. The BSens have completely fallen off a cliff when it comes to performance (through the last nine games the PP is 4-43 (9.3%) and the PK 28-40 (70%)).
Paul-O’Brien-Rodewald/White-DiDomenico (used for the 5-on-3 as well)
McCormick-Chlapik-Randell/Murray-Jaros (one shift where Gagne replaced Randell because he was in the box) (scored on)
Perron-Reinhart-Gagne/Murray-Jaros (once)
McCormick-Chlapik-Randell/Lajoie-Jaros (once)
Perron-Paul-Rodewald/Lajoie-Burgdoerfer (once)
Penalty Kill
Kelly-Randell (scored on), Perron-Randell, McCormick-O’Brien, Perron-Rodewald, Perron-Kelly (scored on), McCormick-Paul
Englund-Jaros (scored on), Englund-Burgdoerfer (scored on), Englund-Murray, Murray-Burgdoerfer

While my frustrations with the powerplay continue (it looks like there was experimentation from the list above, but not nearly as much as you’d expect given the struggles). The only effective PP shift the entire game was early in the third when Kleinendorst reunited Lajoie with Jaros on the blueline (an effective pairing from October), but he put Murray back on that unit the next time out–it boggles the mind. Why Tyler Randell is being shoved down our throats is a mystery–you want to hope they’re trying to showcase him for a trade, but I genuinely believe that Kleinendorst thinks Randell is doing something useful (what, I have no idea). The irrationality that began with the PP has now infected the PK, as for about the last month Kleinendorst has refused to stick with groupings that worked earlier in the season. It’s almost like he wants to be fired, but then, in the constricted workings of the Melnykian economy, he’s likely safe for the season.

Notable Plays
Early in the first the BSens managed zero shots with four straight minutes of PP time; Sieloff threw a big hit in the first, but took the worst of it and didn’t play the rest of the game; Gagne made a great rush (first), but missed the net; Randell not only does nothing useful with the puck he also hasn’t won a fight this year (getting beaten late in the first); Kelly passed to the wrong team on the rush (second); Murray got crushed into the boards and hobbled off (second), but remained in the game; Rodewald missed the net on a shorthanded breakaway (second); Jaros was boarded, but seemed okay (third); the first faceoff for a Syracuse powerplay was in the neutral zone (third), which is something I’ve never seen before.

Player Notes
Murray: despite an enormity of PP time this season he has no points with the man-advantage this season–why the hell is he still playing on it?
Lajoie: would love to see him play more, especially on the PP
Jaros: solid game, but playing with Englund stifles his offense
: let’s walk through his game, shall we? Five shifts on the powerplay, where his only contribution is giving up a shorthanded breakaway (and goal); two shifts on the PK, where he was on-ice for one of the goals against; got into a pointless “we need to fight to justify our existence” situation and lost. Why is he playing? Blackmail? Does he know where the bodies are buried? It makes you want to rip your hair out.
Rodewald: has gone ice cold (one point in his last five); I’m not sure how well he fits with Chlapik as his center (going back to my player usage piece he’s functioned best with Nick Paul as his center)
Kelly: no points in six games–why isn’t he on the fourth line (if you’re going to play him at all)? He’s stifling the offensive potential of his talented linemates

I’ve talked a lot about player usage (link above, with what works and what hasn’t) and I thought I’d just point out some prolonged pointless streaks (we’ll again ignore Randell’s empty net goal because why count it?):
Randell: 23 games (all season)
Sieloff: 13 games
Burgdoerfer: 9 games
Murray: 7 games
Kelly: 6 games (all season for him)
Reinhart: 5 games

You might argue that a player like Sieloff isn’t on the ice to produce, but putting aside whether that’s a good argument or not, none of the others have that excuse (Kelly doesn’t at the AHL-level). This isn’t including Nick Paul’s 1 goal in 17 games, incidentally. While I think there’s a pretty steep dropoff in the BSens talent, a lot of these problems (and others) boil down to coaching–I hate to say it because Kleinendorst won a Calder Cup for the franchise and warmed my heart last season by benching Zack Stortini, but at this stage he just has to go. Unfortunately, the org (even if it did replace him) would simply give us someone similar, so I’m not sure where to look for hope. My expectations for the team were never high (I’m in it for the prospects):

This humdrum lineup will struggle to score and despite a modest improvement to the blueline and a better situation in net, I don’t see them being that much better than last season (albeit, possibly more entertaining).

You can see my review of last season here. The only thing I didn’t foresee was Kleinendorst’s coaching struggles, which have exasperated the problems.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)