Belleville Senators: November Review

November was a disaster for what had been my usual routine of game-by-game reports. This change is due to my schedule getting busier such that I have to watch most games on replay. Despite that, I have a mountain of notes and I’ll share what’s pertinent below. You can read October’s review here.

Roster Volatility

Drake Batherson was finally summoned to the NHL and it’s very unlikely he’ll ever return (joining Max Lajoie and Christian Jaros in that respect). Inexplicably Erik Burgdoerfer was briefly called up. Due to injuries Mike McKenna spent the entire month in Ottawa, while Nick Paul and Jack Rodewald had cups of coffee in the NHL (virtually a complete repeat of what happened to them last season). On the injury front Jim O’Brien remains out, while Marcus Hogberg missed almost all of November before making his debut as the month ended; Logan Brown, Andrew Sturtz, Stuart Percy, Christian Wolanin, and Burgdoerfer also missed time with injuries. Mike Condon, demoted to the AHL, only played one game before being felled by injury. Despite a weak, wobbly blueline the minimizing of Julius Bergman continues as he was a healthy scratch for four straight games–apparently Roy Sommer (San Jose Barracuda head coach) understands how to utilize the Swede, but Troy Mann does not.

As for various presumed Brampton players, Ryan Scarfo‘s unremarkable run in Belleville has ended and he’s been just as bland in Brampton (8-1-1-2). Equally unremarkable Boston Leier also received a brief demotion (1-1-0-1), as did the inexplicably signed Jonathan Racine (2-0-1-1). Injuries had goaltender Jake Paterson spend a significant amount of time with Belleville, but Aaron Luchuk (12-0-4-4), Macoy Erkamps (12-0-3-3), and Daniel Ciampini (12-3-7-10) remained in the ECHL throughout (it has not been a pretty debut for CHL FA Luchuk). The BSens signed Colorado cast-off “he’s big” Justin Falk (failed Minnesota pick, 4-110/07), just before the month ended–his AHL career PPG of 0.16 is not what the team needs (yet another lefthand shot as well).

Stats

The Team (October shown in red, differential in blue)

5-6-1 (t-4th division, 11th conference) 5-5-0 dropped from 3rd and 7th respectively
GF 39/3.25 (7th conference) 30/3.00 +0.25, remain 7th
GA 47/3.91 (t-10th conference) 27/2.70 +1.21, drop from t-6th
PP 10-57/17.5% (9th conference) 10-43/23.2% -5.7%, drop from 5th
PK 52-68/76.4% (12th conference) 33-41/80.4% -4.0%, drop from 8th
Shots 27.2 27.1 +0.1
Shot Differential +0.4 -6.1 +6.5

The team’s results aren’t that dissimilar to the month before, but there are worrying signs. Clearly Gustavsson was not ready for prime time as much of the huge bump in goals allowed rests squarely on his shoulders (interestingly I’m not seeing the panic from the fanbase that happened last year when Hogberg struggled). The team actually improved their shot differential, but defensively remained a sieve. Special teams, where the hands of the coaching staff are most obvious, dropped substantially. The impact of Batherson on scoring both at even strength and on the powerplay can’t be overestimated. With Chlapik playing at about 60% for much of these season, there’s less elite talent to cover up Mann’s coaching eccentricities.

Players

(Arranged by points-per-game; rookies in green, ELCs in blue, AHL-contracts in italics)

Batherson 4-3-4-7 1.75 3 PPP
Wolanin 11-3-6-9 0.81 3 PPP
Sturtz 5-1-3-4 0.80 1 PPP
Rodewald 10-4-4-8 0.80 3 PPP
Carey 12-2-7-9 0.75 4 PPP
Brown 7-3-2-5 0.71 1 PPP
Burgdoerfer 6-1-3-4 0.66
Tambellini 12-5-2-7 0.58 4 PPP
Sexton 12-0-7-7 0.58 3 PPP
Chlapik 12-5-1-6 0.50 2 PPP
Balcers 12-3-3-6 0.50 2 PPP
Murray 12-3-3-6 0.50 2 PPP
Percy 8-0-4-4 0.50 1 PPP
Paul 8-0-4-4 0.50
Balisy 12-0-5-5 0.41
Englund 12-2-2-4 0.33
Racine 3-1-0-1 0.33/ECHL 2-0-1-1
Leier 5-0-1-1 0.20/ECHL 1-1-0-1
Beauchemin 11-2-0-2 0.18
LaBate 12-0-2-2 0.16
Sieloff 12-0-2-2 0.16
Gagne 9-0-0-0
Bergman 8-0-0-0
Scarfo 1-0-0-0/ECHL 8-1-1-2
Ciampini ECHL 12-3-7-10
Luchuk ECHL 12-0-4-4
Erkamps ECHL 12-0-3-3
O’Brien Injured
Falk (signed on the 30th and did not play)

Gustavsson 9-3-5-1 .854 4.19
Hogberg 1-1-0-1 .926 2.00/ECHL 1-0-1-0 .935 1.89
Paterson 3-0-1-0 .895 2.05

Player Usage

We’ll separate forwards from defensemen, but just like the previous month Mann doesn’t do much line juggling (if any) during games. We did see more volatility with the lineup between games.

Forwards

(Notations in brackets are when the player was on a different line than assigned when they registered the point)

First Line (8 goals, including empty-netter)
Balcers (12-12) 2 Goals, 2 Assists
Chlapik (12-12) 4 Goals
Sexton (7-12) 3 Assists
Batherson (4-4) Goal, 3 Assists (Assist)
Rodewald (1-10)

To start the month the first line was set; once Batherson was recalled Sexton took his place for all but the final game (with Rodewald plugged in). Neither alternative proved a good fit on the line and Balcers production without Batherson plummeted (two points in eight games). The Latvian is too good a player for that to be normal so there’s a chemistry issue on the right side that hasn’t been fixed. A final point: after the call-up this line generally played less than the so-called second line (reduced TOI impacting production). With Batherson the first line scored 11 goals in 13 games, without him just 4 goals in 9 games.

Second Line (8 goals)
Carey (12-12) Goal, 3 Assists (2 Assists)
Paul (8-8) 4 Assists
Rodewald (7-10) 3 Goals, 2 Assists
Balisy (4-12) Assist
Sexton (3-12)
Sturtz (1-5) Assist
Tambellini (1-12) (Goal)

A much more productive line with Carey in the lineup. When Paul and Rodewald returned from Ottawa they were put on this line and the streaky Rodewald enjoyed an explosion of productivity before settling into a more typical cold streak (Paul simply hasn’t been that effective, with all his points confined to just two games).

Third line (5 goals)
Tambellini (10-12) Goal, Assist
Balisy (8-12) Assist (2 Assists)
Brown (7-7) 2 Goals, 2 Assists
Beauchemin (3-11) (Goal)
Sexton (2-12) Assist
Rodewald (2-10)
LaBate (2-12)
Sturtz (1-5) (Assist)
Gagne (1-9)

Nearly all the productivity on this line is attributable to Logan Brown, which begs the question: what’s he doing on this line? While he can barely skate, he should have been swapped with Paul on the second unit, but org favourites get a lot of rope before changes are made. I have no idea why either LaBate or Beauchemin were given time on this line–both are fine on the fourth, but have no business on the third.

Fourth line (2 goals)
LaBate (10-12) Assist (Assist)
Beauchemin (8-11) Goal
Gagne (8-9)
Leier (5-5) Assist
Sturtz (3-5) Goal
Scarfo (1-1)

This line was much less productive than in October and Sturtz is too talented to be buried here. As for Gabriel Gagne–could his stock fall further? After getting almost half a season on the first line last year it looked like he’d turned a corner, but outside a three-point game on October 20th he’s produced exactly one point in eighteen games and is on a ten game pointless streak–yikes!

(There’s a floating goal that’s from a Frankenstein combination of players (forwards from three different lines and defensemen from two different combinations; this is the Racine goal from November 14th that occurs just after a penalty kill); there’s also an overtime goal from November 16th that’s a complete mix and a 4-on-4 goal from November 30th with a set D-combination but miss-matched forward pair)

Defense

(Notes in brackets are points when not on the ice with the usual partner for that game; this doesn’t include OT goals)

Top-pairing (16 goals)
Wolanin (11-11) 2 Goals, 3 Assists (Goal, Assist)
Burgdoerfer (6-6) Goal, 3 Assists
Sieloff (4-12)
Murray (2-12) Goal
Racine (1-3)

Christian Wolanin can make virtually anyone look good–Sieloff being the exception this month. I’m not a fan of Murray on the first-pairing, but we’re beyond the point of the org being rational about him.

Second-pairing (8 goals)
Percy (8-8) 3 Assists (Assist)
Sieloff (8-12) Assist (2 Assists)
Murray (6-12) Goal, 2 Assists
Racine (2-3) (Goal)

The entire month Mann went with two lefties on this unit. Murray was more useful here this month than last (offensively at least), but Percy is the one who makes the unit tick.

Third-pairing (3 goals)
Englund (12-12) 2 Assists (2 Goals)
Bergman (8-8)
Murray (4-12) (Goal)

Mann does not care for Bergman at all (despite being on the ice for all three third-pairing goals), scratching him four straight games (the team went 1-2-1 without him). Englund and Murray are both awful defensively, so while Bergman isn’t Norris Trophy material he at least helps (I have a pet theory that Mann believes in plus/minus and that this why he won’t utilize him as you’d imagine). The signing of Falk should mean changes here–I’d love for Englund to sit again, but I’m not expecting it.

Goaltending

With the injuries to Condon and Hogberg we got to see where goaltender-of-the-future Gustavsson was in his development–it wasn’t pretty. Badly shelled in five straight starts before leveling out, it was simply too much too soon for the rookie. There’s no need for panic and Hogberg‘s return means there can be a genuine rotation. It will be interesting to see how the latter plays given his inconsistencies last season, but certainly Gustavsson‘s performance provides useful context for those who panicked over Hogberg‘s struggles last year.

Special Teams – The Powerplay

The recall of Batherson has massively impacted powerplay production (just 5-37, or 13.5% without him, which is 13th in the conference). Mann’s bizarre tinkering makes things worse (what genius slides Wolanin down to the second unit?). Let’s start with the raw scoring numbers:
Tambellini/Carey 4
Batherson/Rodewald/Wolanin/Sexton 3
Chlapik/Balcers/Murray 2
Percy/Sturtz/Brown 1

Scoring by specific lines (shift count included; arranged by goals/effectiveness; brackets separate out 1st/2nd line usage):

1st: Balcers-Chlapik-Batherson/Wolanin-Tambellini 3-7
1st/2nd: Carey-Sexton-Rodewald/Percy-Tambellini 2-8 (3/5)
2nd: Tambellini-Carey-Gagne/Percy-Murray 1-3
2nd: Tambellini-Sexton-Gagne/Carey-Percy 1-3
2nd: Tambellini-Sexton-Brown/Chlapik-Wolanin 1-4
1st: Brown-Paul-Balisy/Carey-Percy 1-4
1st/2nd: Balcers-Chlapik-Sexton/Paul-Wolanin 1-6 (1/5)
1st: Balcers-Chlapik-Batherson/Wolanin-Murray 0-1
1st: Balcers-Chlapik-Batherson/Wolanin-Bergman 0-1
1st: Balcers-Chlapik-Rodewald/Wolanin-Tambellini 0-1
2nd: Carey-Paul-Balisy/Sexton-Murray 0-1
2nd: Tambellini-Sexton-Brown/Percy-Carey 0-1
1st: Tambellini-Chlapik-Rodewald/Carey-Percy 0-1
1st: Carey-Paul-Sexton/Brown-Wolanin 0-1
1st: Carey-Paul-Sexton/Rodewald-Wolanin 0-1
1st/2nd: Carey-Paul-Rodewald/Tambellini-Percy 0-2 (1/1)
1st/2nd: Balcers-Chlapik-Brown/Sexton-Wolanin 0-2 (1/1)
1st: Balcers-Sexton-Chlapik/Wolanin-Batherson 0-3
2nd: Gagne-Balisy-Tambellini/Carey-Murray 0-3
2nd: Balcers-Chlapik-Tambellini/Sexton-Wolanin 0-3
2nd: Tambellini-Sexton-Brown/Chlapik-Murray 0-4
1st/2nd: Carey-Rodewald-Tambellini/Brown-Percy 0-6 (5/1)
1st: Balcers-Chlapik-Batherson/Wolanin-Balisy 0-6
2nd: Carey-Balisy-Sturtz/Murray-Sexton 0-6
1st: Balcers-Paul-Rodewald/Percy-Carey 0-8
1st/2nd: Balcers-Paul-Brown/Chlapik-Wolanin 0-9 (6/3)

4-on-3: Chlapik-Balisy-Batherson/Wolanin 0-1
4-on-3: Carey-Chlapik-Batherson/Wolanin 0-1
4-on-3: Balcers-Paul-Chlapik/Murray  0-1
4-on-3: Carey-Rodewald/Wolanin-Paul 0-1
4-on-d: Balcers-Chlapik/Percy-Sexton 0-1

This is a bewildering number of combinations, far and above beyond what’s necessary due to roster changes. Unlike October, where the powerplay was fairly stable (and successful), here we have the coaching equivalent of throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks (without consistently keeping with what sticks). This is something Kleinendorst did most of last season.

Individual player percentages via per-shift (increases/decreases noted in either red or blue, ignoring those who had negligible time in October, namely Sexton and Brown):
Gagne 2-9 22.2% +9.7%
Tambellini 8-45 17.7% +5.2%
Batherson 3-20 15.0% +0.4%
Percy 5-36 13.8% -1.8%
Sexton 5-44 11.3%
Wolanin 5-48 10.4% -4.3%
Carey 5-49 10.2% -6.4%
Chlapik 5-52 9.6% -2.9%
Balcers 4-49 8.1% -6.5%
Rodewald 2-27 7.4% -14.8%
Brown 2-31 6.4%
Paul 2-33 6.0% -11.6%
Murray 1-19 5.2% -5.9%
Balisy 1-21 4.7% -7.8%
Sturtz 0-6

We can safely ignore Gagne’s numbers (which are a mix of luck and sample size). You’d think given his production that Tambellini would be stapled to the top unit, but no, for whatever inscrutable Mannish reason he bounced back and forth between units (as, indeed, did every player). I mentioned in my October review that both Rodewald and Paul‘s numbers would regress to the mean and as predicted the bottom fell out for both (Rodewald is not, at this level, a consistent powerplay producer). Paul was the kiss of death with the man advantage–his lines barely scored and he had zero points when they did. On the positive side Mann (eventually) identified Balisy‘s lack of productivity and removed him; he also, somewhat, cut Murray‘s time. While there’s no replacing Batherson, there are more sensible approaches to his absence. The mix of Balcers, Chlapik, Wolanin, and Tambellini works–I’d put either Sexton there (only tried briefly) or Brown or Percy. The other change is to play that line as the first unit consistently. A final note: for those wondering Sturtz‘s powerplay point came on a line change, which is why he sits at 0-6 on his line despite an assist.

Special Teams – The Penalty Kill

Any hope that Mann was the magic elixir to solve the PK woes the franchise has had forever were stamped out this month. I mentioned some worrying signs in October, so let’s dig into the numbers. Here are the various forward line combinations we’ve seen (arranged by volume):

Carey-Balisy 55-58
LaBate-Paul 19-20
LaBate-Rodewald 14-16
Balisy-Rodewald 9-11
Balisy-Sexton 5-8
Carey-LaBate 4-6
LaBate-Balisy 5-5
Balcers-Chlapik 4-5
LaBate-Sexton 4-4
Beauchemin-Sexton 4-4
LaBate-Sturtz 3-4
Paul-Sturtz 3-3
Balcers-Sturtz 2-2
Paul-Rodewald 2-2
Carey-Paul 2-2
Carey-Sexton 2-2
Beauchemin-Sturtz 1-1
Carey-Sturtz 1-1
Carey-Beauchemin 1-1
Balisy-Sturtz 1-1
Balcers-Balisy 1-1
Chlapik-Sexton 1-1
Paul-Sexton 1-1
Paul-Balisy 1-1
Chlapik-Balisy 0-1

In my experience there’s always more variety on the PK than the PP, but this is far beyond what we saw in October (some of which was dictated by injuries etc). It’s easy for a player’s actual ability to be masked by a partner, which is why I look at individual shift count numbers (yearly totals in brackets with differences from October in red or blue if changed and in italics if the sample size was small):

Beauchemin: 6-6 100% (20-20)
Paul: 28-29 96.5% (32-35) +29.9%
Carey: 65-70 92.8% (79-85) -0.5%
Sturtz: 11-12 91.6%
Balisy: 77-86 89.5% (117-127) -8.0%
LaBate: 49-55 89.1% (82-90) -6.1%
Balcers: 7-8 87.5% (7-9) +87.5
Rodewald: 25-29 86.2% (62-70) -4.0%
Sexton: 17-20 85.0% (36-39) -15.0%
Chlapik: 5-7 71.4% (7-11) +21.4%

Via last year’s numbers Paul is an average penalty killer, Rodewald below average, and Sexton quite good; through the early part of this season Carey, Balisy, and LaBate have all been solid. As the volume increases and you look at combinations, the lead weight for most of the better penalty killers when it comes to goals against is Rodewald. His percentages aren’t terrible, but it’s clear going through his impact on his partners he is the key element that drags them down (this was true last season as well). This impact was something Kleinendorst actually figured out eventually, but thus far Mann has not. One thing that’s continued from October is Mann’s preference to put skilled players who don’t normally kill penalties out late in powerplays (ie Balcers/Chlapik). Moving on to the blueline:

Murray-Sieloff 26-29
Sieloff-Burgdoerfer 24-26
Englund-Murray 21-22
Englund-Sieloff 13-16
Englund-Bergman 14-14
Percy-Sieloff 4-6
Murray-Bergman 5-5
Wolanin-Bergman 3-3
Englund-Racine 3-3
Sieloff-Bergman 2-3
Sieloff 2-3
Englund 2-3
Racine-Bergman 2-2
Englund-Burgdoerfer 2-2
Racine-Murray 1-2
Englund-Percy 1-2
Racine-Sieloff 1-1
Percy-Murray 1-1

The large number of combinations are due more to roster issues than Mannish variation. Let’s look at individual shift count numbers (yearly totals in brackets with differences from October in red or blue if changed and italics if the sample size was small):

Wolanin: 3-3 100%
Bergman: 21-22 95.4% (38-42) +10.4%
Burgdoerfer: 26-28 92.8% (63-68) +0.3%
Murray: 54-59 91.5% (62-69) +11.5%
Englund: 56-62 90.3% (72-80) +1.5%
Racine: 7-8 87.5%
Sieloff: 72-84 85.7% (117-131) -10.0%
Percy: 6-9 66.6% (32-38) -23.0%

The obvious question here is: if the team’s PK is going down, why are so many of these percentages going up? When going by shift count pure volume can sometimes disguise a drop in overall success. Sieloff had a slump like this last season (parts of February-March) when Kleinendorst had he and Englund kill off entire penalties (his numbers with Englund here are his worst). Keeping in mind that Bergman tends to play the second shift on a PK, what does he have left to prove here? Mann’s approach to him remains immensely puzzling. I have a feeling that one of the reasons Falk was signed was to fix the PK (whether he helps or not remains to be seen).

A few game-by-game things to note:
-One note from the second Syracuse game that I missed was Sturtz coming to Chlapik‘s aid when being worked on by the Crunch
-The entire fourth line was benched most of the 7-6 win over Toronto
Murray, defensively, was particularly awful in the 8-2 loss to Toronto
Racine targeted the head of a Utica player in the team’s 5-4 win (no call)
-In the same game Rodewald hilariously botched a 2-on-0 (deciding to pass but putting the puck into the corner somehow)
-During the shootout of that game both Balcers and Tambellini scored while Gagne hit the post
-The BSens blew a regulation win vs Toronto by giving up a goal with 14-seconds left (Wolanin would win it for them in OT)
Sexton was run from behind in the 5-1 win over Charlotte
-The BSens not only blew a regulation win over Charlotte in the following game (the Checkers scoring 6-on-5 with over two minutes to go), but then lost the game in OT on a Burgdoerfer turnover
-I’ve noted repeatedly that the tough guys the BSens sign do not step up to protect skilled players; in the 4-2 loss to Utica, Chlapik (of all people, who is still nursing an injury) stepped into to protect Sexton
-There was a ton of 4-on-4 in the 2-1 loss to Laval
-While the BurgdoerferMurray combo was on the ice for three of the BSens goals in the 4-2 win over Utica, they were awful defensively and simply fortunate that more goals weren’t scored against

Concluding Thoughts

I’ve got concerns about the coach. There’s still time for things to improve, but the indicators (special teams, player usage) are trending into Kleinendorst/Luke Richardson territory. Mann has more talent than KK so the team isn’t likely to completely sink through the floor like they did last season, but there are definitely things to watch for. I want the powerplay units sorted out, more consistency on the PK, and recognition of what does and doesn’t work on the blueline. Whether any of that happens remains to be seen.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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