Tuesday buzz: Senators survive turbulent weekend

Photo: Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography

📝 by Patrick Williams

Three games in four days, three goaltenders, one trade, and four professional tryouts later, the Belleville Senators headed home after a productive weekend that began with plenty of challenges.

The B-Sens packed four points with them for the bus ride home on Sunday after a swing through the Atlantic Division.

“Pretty happy and pretty satisfied and super excited for the guys,” Belleville interim head coach David Bell said after Sunday’s 4-2 win at Hershey’s Giant Center. “This is a hard, hard building on a quick turnaround game.”

But even in a season in which injuries and recalls have battered the Senators, last week took on a new level of chaos. After Kevin Mandolese went down in the team’s morning skate on Thursday in Bridgeport, the team had to scramble for goaltending. Fresh from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., Luke Richardson found himself pushed into an unexpected start that night, and Brian Wilson arrived from Danbury (FPHL) on short notice to back up.

Top rookie prospect Ridly Greig rejoined the club from the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, and Belleville also brought in two more players on tryouts, forwards Mitchell Heard and Max Newton. And along the way, Belleville addressed its goaltending issue by acquiring Dylan Ferguson from the Toronto Marlies for future considerations.

All Ferguson did in his Sens debut on Saturday night was vacuum up 38 shots in a 2-1 overtime victory at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Mandolese then stepped back in net on Sunday at Hershey, handling 27 shots against one of the Eastern Conference’s top clubs.

“Kevin probably [was] inspired by Ferguson the night before, wanted to match his effort, and he did,” Bell said.

Other players stepped up on the trip as well. Cole Reinhardt, who had six goals in 51 games entering the weekend, potted goals in both wins, including the overtime decider against the Penguins. Jake Lucchini continued his excellent season, netting three points (a shorthanded goal, two assists) in Hershey. Cole Cassels brought a dogged forechecking effort that disrupted the Bears’ neutral-zone play. And with Belleville protecting a one-goal lead over Hershey, Heard drew a key penalty in the final minutes of regulation that helped to burn valuable time off the clock.

“As I’m getting a little bit older,” Heard said, “I’m learning to be consistent and win the small games inside the game.”

The 30-year-old Heard had not appeared in the AHL for more than five years, since a four-game stint with Charlotte back in 2017-18. But he instantly fit in with the Belleville lineup, slotting in as a depth option for Bell.

“It’s a moment I’ve been waiting for,” said Heard, a second-round draft pick by Colorado in 2012. “A lot of smiles, a lot of good, good anxiousness.

“Ultimately the goal is to play in the NHL. I think that’s in the back of my mind constantly, and it’s one thing that I’ve never given up on and never will.”

Heard backed up those words with a winding post-game travel schedule, too.

Recalled last Wednesday on short notice from Toldeo of the ECHL, Heard had raced to Bridgeport to join Belleville for the game the following night. After playing three games with Belleville, the team arranged car service for him to return to Ohio, a seven-hour drive. There, he picked up his belongings, hopped in his car and drove through a snowstorm to rejoin the Sens for practice today.

Now the B-Sens go into another crucial week, featuring three home games. Utica arrives for a game Wednesday night, followed by Rockford on Friday and Rochester for a Saturday night showdown. Belleville opened the week just two points behind fifth-place Laval for the North Division’s nearest available playoff spot.

“Figure out and acknowledge the recipe that got us the success,” Bell said of what will be needed this week. “They inspired each other, they played for each other, and the shifts were short. So we go home, and you don’t change your game plan.

“But if we can keep the same mentality and approach, I think we should have the same results.”

As expected, the upcoming National Hockey League trade deadline has had a significant impact on AHL rosters already.

But a nine-player deal?

The New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks pulled off such a trade Sunday, and it had plenty of AHL connections and implications. New Jersey acquired forwards Timo Meier and Timur Ibragimov, defensemen Scott Harrington and Santeri Hatakka, and goaltender Zach Emond from San Jose. Forwards Andreas Johnsson and Fabian Zetterlund, defensemen Shakir Mukhamadullin and Nikita Okhotiuk, and two draft picks went to the Sharks.

CapFriendly.com reported that it was the NHL’s largest move since the Calgary-Toronto 10-player swap in 1992 that sent Doug Gilmour to the Leafs.

Hatakka, Ibragimov, and Emond all were sent to Utica, which lost Okhotiuk and Johnsson, the team’s second-leading scorer. After Wednesday’s game in Belleville, the Comets host Charlotte on Friday and Syracuse on Sunday. The Comets are locked in a battle for positioning in the North Division, where just eight points separate second place from seventh.

For the Barracuda, their in-season makeover continues as they try to catch a Pacific Division playoff spot. Separate deals in January brought forwards Martin Kaut and Kyle Criscuolo to the San Jose organization. Now the Barracuda already have been able to add Okhotiuk, who was assigned by the Sharks immediately after Sunday’s deal. Okhotiuk, who had two goals and four assists in 20 games with Utica while also appearing in 10 games for New Jersey, will add a hard-nosed, physical element to the San Jose blue line.

Following a 4-3 overtime loss at Coachella Valley on Monday evening, the Barracuda are only five points below the division’s playoff line; they will be back home Friday (Ontario) and Saturday (Coachella Valley).

More roster action could be on the way. The NHL trade deadline is this Friday at 3 p.m. ET.