B- Sens chasing playoff spot: interview with the coach
As the Belleville Senators hit the midway point of their 2018- 19 season, they sit just outside the playoffs with a 17- 20- 2- 0 record.
With 38 games left in the season, the Sens are priming themselves for a run to make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Senators head coach Troy Mann chats about the current state of the team and what needs to be done to push his squad into the top four in the North Division.
At the halfway mark of the season, how do you assess the year so far?
There’s been a lot of frustration and there’s been a lot of adversity which some people say is not a bad thing but I certainly felt that we would be closer to a playoff spot when October rolled around in terms of our roster. But that’s the beauty of the American Hockey League as you never know what’s going to happen on a week- to- week basis. This is my ninth year in the AHL and quite frankly I’ve never seen anything quite like it in terms of the number of transactions over the first 14 weeks so there’s been a lot of roster fluctuation. Of course, Ottawa have had their share of injuries as well and when you put that all together, it makes it tough to win hockey games and get some consistency going.
What are the positives you’ve seen with the team and what are some of the things that you need to see improvement in for the second half?
I think our young players are coming along. We’ve seen a number of guys, Christian Wolanin, Drake Batherson, Nick Paul, Jack Rodewald and others, receive a number of call- ups and that’s a positive and I think a number of our young players have gotten better and that’s the key. We want to get them better on a week- to- week basis. From a team perspective we need to do a little bit of a better job of protecting our goalies. We have to play the right way with a little more consistency and I think the wins will come regardless of our roster fluctuation and who’s in and who’s out.
What’s going to be the key to making a run to a playoff spot in the second half of the year?
Some steadiness in the roster. Hopefully the goaltending situation will rectify itself over the next couple of weeks with Craig Anderson getting back from his injury which will allow the pecking order to come back to fruition. I think it’s a lot of pressure on a young goaltender in his first year of pro and being from Europe to hold the fort down on a night- tonight basis and I don’t think he’s the only one to have some inconsistencies from game- to- game and we knew that was going to happen. But there’s nothing we can do about it and he’s going to grow game- togame and on a week- to- week basis and when Marcus Hogberg comes back he can help that process and we can get on a little bit of a run. As we know there’s so much divisional play in this league that one four or five game winning streak can get you right back to where you need to be and we have seen that already with our three- game winning streak. We just have to hold the fort here until we get some key guys back like Erik Burgdoerfer, Patrick Sieloff and Hogberg and if that can stabilize a bit I do believe we can get back into that fourth spot area.
How much have injuries and call- ups impacted the year?
It takes away from your team chemistry to some degree because your lines never stay the same and your defensive pairings never stay the same either. I think that you can survive without three, four or five guys out of your line- up but when you start to get to that eight, nine, 10, 11 area that we’ve seen quite a bit this year, and that’s not to make excuses, but I’ve just been around the league long enough to know you can survive with some injuries. But when it starts to get up to that number you never have the same roster on a nightly basis so that certainly hurts the flow. We have to deal with that and hopefully these young guys like Batherson and Logan Brown continue to grow and have a great second half while our veterans step up as well and that leads to more wins.
Eleven players have played in Ottawa and Belleville this season. What does that say about the level of talent in the organization?
I think it’s really good news for the organization moving forward. There was a plan put in place in July in terms of trying to let the young guys grow in a bit. I think we’ve got away from them playing a bit, not because anybody wanted to, whether it was management or coaching staff, it’s just the injuries have dictated what’s happened in Ottawa and Belleville. At the same time, guys have gotten plenty of opportunity, Stefan Elliott got traded here and the next thing you know he’s in the NHL, Darren Archibald has already gone up and those things happen for the veteran players as well. Guys are looking at those transactions as they all ultimately want to be in the NHL whether it’s just for a few games or full time.
Belleville Senators head coach Troy Mann is positive about the team’s direction this season.