ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The Belleville Senators will travel to Blue Cross Arena for the start of their best-of-three series against the Rochester Americans tonight, a matchup that was not solidified until the Senators defeated the Toronto Marlies on Sunday, giving the Amerks the final spot in the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs. The Senators are poised to make a run during the franchise’s first appearance in the Calder Cup Playoffs since relocating to Belleville from Binghamton in 2017. The Amerks, on the other hand, last qualified for the Calder Cup Playoffs in 2018-2019, when they were swept by the Toronto Marlies in their first round series.
On paper, the matchup favors the Senators, who have a 5-2-1-0 record against the Amerks this season. However, the addition of players such as Peyton Krebs, along with the nature of a three-game series, means that anything is possible. Belleville ended the regular season by going 7-3-0-0 in their last ten games, whereas the Americans went 5-3-2-0 in their last ten, which included two losses to the Cleveland Monsters in regulation, which nearly cost the Amerks a trip to the playoffs.
Final Regular Season Records:
Belleville Senators: 40-28-4-0, .583 points percentage (4th in the North Division)
Rochester Americans: 37-29-7-3, .553 points percentage (5th in the North Division)
Series Schedule (Home team in CAPS and all times local):
Game 1 – Wednesday, May 4 – Belleville at ROCHESTER – 7:05 pm ET
Game 2 – Friday, May 6 – Rochester at BELLEVILLE – 7:00 pm ET
Game 3 – Sunday, May 8 – Rochester at BELLEVILLE – 3:00pm ET*
Season Series Recap:
Belleville racked up five wins against Rochester this season in their eight matchups, with six of the matchups being decided by a single goal. In their six one-goal matchups, the game-tying or game-winning goal was scored in the last two minutes of regulation, including a Jack Quinn goal at 19:56 in the third period to tie the January 15 contest, securing a point that in hindsight saved the Amerks season. Quinn managed to avoid missing any time during the regular season series between the two squads, playing in all eight tilts, registering 12 points (8G, 4A), including the aforementioned January 15 matchup where he put the puck in the back of the net a career-best four times. The Senators’ star players showed up against the Amerks as well – Jake Luchinni registered ten points (3G, 7A) in eight games played, while Egor Sokolov posted eight points (5G, 3A) in just as many contests.
Goaltending was inconsistent across the board in the regular season when these two squads met up – a whopping eight goalies saw ice time in the eight contests, including Aaron Dell for Rochester, and Mads Sogaard and Filip Gustavsson for Belleville, all of which seemed poised to make their presence known in this series. The Amerks will be without Ukka-Pekka Luukkonnen, as head coach Seth Appert indicated UPL could be out for at least 1-2 weeks – Michael Houser has been called up prior to a crucial game seven between the Cincinnati Cyclones and the Toledo Walleye in the ECHL playoffs to back-up Dell. Dell was clearly the better of the two goaltenders for the Amerks in their season series against the Senators, going 3-0-0 while posting a .926 save percentage and a 2.33 goals-against average. Sogaard split his starts against the Amerks, winning one matchup and posting a .854 save percentage and a 3.50 goals-against average. Gustavsson went 2-1-1 in his starts against the Amerks, but struggled statistically with a .849 save percentage and a 4.75 goals-against average.
How Belleville Wins:
Belleville tied for 17th in the league in goals scored this year with 219. While that may not be an overly exciting statistic for Senators fans, Rochester allowed the second-most goals this season in the AHL (270). In their matchups this season, Belleville has scored 32 goals or four goals-per-game. In order to defeat the Amerks, the Senators need to continue to find the back of the net at a rapid pace. Rochester can score at will – more on that later – and Belleville needs to set the tone early. Luchinni and Sokolov have to be the difference-makers they were during the regular season in this series to move Belleville into the second round. Andrew Agozzino is another player to watch for the Senators. Agozzino scores in waves, and if he can get hot at the right time during these playoffs, it could mean good things for Belleville. If the Amerks find a way to shut down the Senators leading scorers, this one could get ugly. Gustavsson seems poised to get the start on Wednesday – simply put, he needs to be better than he was in the regular season against the Americans. Luckily for the Senators, key pieces on the blue-line such as Michael Del Zotto only suited up for half of their games against the Americans.
Oftentimes, series like this can come down to special teams, and the Belleville penalty kill will need to keep up their regular season pace against the league’s third-best powerplay unit. The Senators penalty kill was stout this season, finishing sixth in the league (83.2%), however the addition of Krebs to the Amerks lineup will make their powerplay unit even more lethal. It may just be best to keep things at even strength, something that Belleville has struggled to do this season, being shorthanded 303 times this season, good for third in the league. On the other hand, the Senators need to be better on the man-advantage and it may not be an impossible task considering Rochester finished in the bottom half of the league, keeping their opposition from capitalizing on the man-advantage only 79.5% of the time.
How Rochester Wins:
Aaron Dell has to be Rochester’s best player. Perhaps one of the players that Rochester has missed most this season during his trip up to the big club was Mattias Samuelsson. Unfortunately, it looks like he will be out for the first game of the series, however, if he can come back, the Amerks will need him to add some stability to their rocky blue-line. Someone is going to have to step up defensively for this team. Ethan Prow finished the season with 49 points (10G, 39A) in 70 games played, but posted a plus/minus of -5. The Amerks will need him to contribute just as much defensively as he did offensively during the regular season.
As cliche as it may sound, Rochester wins this series if it is not played like “playoff hockey”. The Amerks have struggled all season to find wins in 2-1 or 3-2 games. If the Americans can find a way to turn these contests into track meets, they have a real chance. No one scored more goals in the North Division this season than the Rochester Americans – that is the team, and those are the kind of games, that are needed for a deep playoff run for Rochester this season. Quinn, Peterka, Krebs, and Michael Mersch will have to find the back of the net early and often in this series. The Amerks need to frustrate Belleville and force them to play undisciplined hockey, something that Belleville has struggled with all season.
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