Belleville 1, Utica 3

I’m a little late with my impressions of the game, but better late than never. I prefer seeing games live and cramming this one in late at night definitely took away from the experience–with that said, it was not an entertaining game. Just a note about AHL Live: the quality of the stream was good, so we can hope that’s a trend for this season. Let’s start with the basics.

Utica 3, Belleville 1
Shots: 29/32
PP: 1-1/0-3
Goaltender: Mike McKenna (26-28)
Goal: LaBate (Leier, Percy)

Context
The Comets were playing their second of back-to-back nights after getting thrashed by Toronto 7-3 the night before. The team features former Sen pick Jonathan Dahlen (discarded in the Alex Burrows trade). The only change made to the lineup was swapping 19-year old Lind for 21-year old Palmu–goaltender Richard Bachman played both games.

Lines
I’ve mentioned previously that Mann’s decisions when it comes to TOI are going to dictate what kind of success he’s going to have and I was curious what lines he would utilize–keeping in mind that both Jim O’Brien and Ben Sexton are hurt (with Paul Carey and Max Lajoie in Ottawa), circumstances that threw off my line-predictions:
Balcers-Chlapik-Rodewald
Paul-Brown-Batherson
Tambellini-Balisy-Gagne
Leier-LaBate-Sturtz
Wolanin-Burgdoerfer
Percy-Jaros
Sieloff-Bergman

How off were my predictions? Removing the roster situation, not that far (I had Chlapik centering the first line, Brown and Batherson on the second, Tambellini and Gagne on the third, and LaBate and Sturtz on the fourth). On defence I had all the pairings correctly predicted, but I had the first and second swapped. It’s very clear Mann wanted ‘veteran savvy’ on each defense pairing, although in practice with the exception of Percy it was the prospects who had to make up for their veteran partners.

What about special teams? Who did Mann use? Well the team enjoyed a long powerplay due to Brendan Woods losing his mind and punching Chlapik repeatedly for no reason (the AHL, in its wisdom, thought that was just fine).
Tambellini-Chlapik-Gagne/Percy-Balisy
Paul-Brown-Batherson/Wolanin-Balcers

Because of the length of the one of the PP’s we did see a little variation, but these were the set combinations and they make my head explode. Why the hell is Tambellini on the first unit? Why is Balisy? The second unit looks like it should be the first, but it wasn’t. Neither unit generated many opportunities as they both looked disjointed.

As for the penalty kill, we only saw it for a few seconds as Utica scored off the opening faceoff. The unit was: Paul-Balisy/Percy-Jaros. It’s worth noting that last season Jaros was not very good on the PK–doesn’t mean that won’t change, but it’s something to keep in mind.

There were a few eye-catching coaching decisions which elicit groans of disappointment:
Rodewald on the first line: This is a horrendously inconsistent player who drags down whoever he plays with (as, indeed, he demonstrated on the night). Any of the other RW’s would have been a better choice and Mann made no adjustment to this unit throughout
Burgdoerfer on the first pairing: something I guessed we’d see after his selection as captain, but illustrative of Mann’s inability to recognise his flaws (all related to his instincts); Wolanin helped him out, but he’s a drag on whoever he plays with
-No Jaros or Bergman on the powerplay: the latter has historically been good with the extra man and the former has the biggest shot on the team–they only appeared once (as a duo of all things) during seven minutes of wasted powerplay time

On Twitter a fan is tracking Corsi along with zone starts, entries, and exits (part of my delay in posting this was a desire to see that info). Analysts have been moving away from Corsi, but it does have its uses (as a reminder: that’s measuring shot attempt differential while at even strength). What we can take away from that information:
-the Paul-Brown-Batherson line dominated (in relative terms), although they were never given a defensive zone start (most of which were split between the 1st and 4th line)
-the fourth line did well, the third line was roughly even, and Rodewald dragged down his partners on the first line (this isn’t obvious from the Corsi data by itself, incidentally)
Wolanin and Jaros (unsurprisingly) had the strongest games; Sieloff was awful, although that doesn’t jump out at you as much via Corsi
-You get a sense of just how magical Burgdoerfer is by looking at his zone exit numbers (12 attempted, just 7 completed)

The numbers are very kind to Sieloff, who was guilty of some horrendous giveaways in his own zone–three in particular stood out, including passing to the wrong team in front of his own net late in the first. This is not typical of his play (which isn’t to say he’s a great player, just that these kinds of unforced errors were not typical of him last season), so I’m not sure what the issue was.

Chlapik‘s numbers aren’t overwhelming, but he continues to do things not many other players can do at this level (there was a fantastic pass in the second period that stands out to me); he and Balcers are clearly still figuring each other out, but having a useless player (Rodewald) on the other wing dragged both down.

We’ll hope for better things in game two, which will also give us insight into Mann. Is the coach someone who adjusts or is he, like Kleinendorst, very slow to figure things out? Time will tell.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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