HAMILTON, ON – If it was the Hamilton Bulldogs’ mission to make new goaltender Devan Dubnyk feel at home in his debut with the team, they certainly succeeded. Dubnyk turned in a solid performance, but was faced with an overwhelming barrage of scoring chances all night from the Oklahoma City Barons – something he had become accustomed to in backstopping the Edmonton Oilers – unable to help his new squad prevail in a pivotal game for the Western Conference playoff race. Despite the netminder’s 38 saves, the Bulldogs were unable to generate much offensively, finding themselves on the wrong end of a 2-1 decision.
Things started off well for the home team. The Bulldogs were gifted a 5-on-3 powerplay early in the game when Austin Fyten was guilty of a flagrant high stick on captain Martin St. Pierre with Taylor Fedun already sitting in the box. A Gabriel Dumont slash subsequently reduced the advantage to 4-on-3, but just as the first Barons’ penalty expired, Greg Pateryn found Nathan Beaulieu with a cross-ice pass, and the offensive blueliner rifled a shot that beat Richard Bachman up high for a 1-0 lead.
Oklahoma City – a team with a roster far better than you’d expect of a ninth place squad – took over the opening stanza from there, pouncing on numerous Hamilton defensive lapses. First it was Pateryn – exhausted at the end of a near three minute shift – with a turnover to Matthew Ford forcing Dubnyk into a quick save on a break. Dubnyk wouldn’t be agile enough to make up for a second giveaway, however, as Gabriel Dumont deflected a puck in the defensive zone right out to Mark Arcobello at the midway mark of the period. Arcobello, who spent time on the Edmonton Oilers’ powerplay earlier this season as a teammate of Dubnyk’s, made no mistake in shelfing a backhander off the crossbar and in to tie the score.
Dubnyk would finish the first with 12 saves as the visitors held a 13-5 shot advantage. Hamilton would manage to generate more offensive pressure in the second, with the best chance coming as Louis Leblanc picked off a Baron defender to skate in alone on a breakaway in the early minutes. But his backhand to forehand attempt was turned aside by Bachman, as was a quick shot on a Martin St. Pierre break later in the frame.
After the wasted opportunities, a tough shift for Maxime Macenauer would prove costly. The two-way center coughed a puck up in his own end bailing on a play to dodge a hit and then was called for a clear hook in trying to cover his error. Oklahoma City would quickly capitalize on the powerplay, as top prospect Anton Lander found Arcobello again with a cross-rink feed, and his quick one-timer fooled Dubnyk between the legs as he slid across the net. Through forty minutes, the shots stood a highly one-sided 30-17.
The third period was quiet, with the Barons effectively shutting down the ‘Dogs, stifling them from any sustained offensive zone pressure even during two powerplays. Any hope of a last-minute comeback was stymied when an all-out brawl in the crease erupted after a questionable Dumont goalie interference call, resulting in a face-off outside the blueline as both Greg Pateryn and Nathan Beaulieu left the points to defend their tackled forwards.
While two critical points escaped Hamilton on the night, the positive news was the play of the new masked man guarding the team’s cage while Dustin Tokarski is up in Montreal. “Arcobello’s a pretty good hockey player,” joked Dubnyk post-game on the coincidence of facing his former club’s AHL affiliate in his first game within the Canadiens’ organization.
Dubnyk acknowledged there are challenges ahead playing behind a team that doesn’t score a lot of goals. “You can’t give up bad goals. You have to make the saves you should make, and hope to make some spectacular ones in between. It’s that much more important to make sure that goals that shouldn’t go in don’t go in.”
On his playing future, Dubnyk is taking things one game at a time. “As the weeks went by after the Olympic break, you start to see the writing on the wall. I was happy that I was acquired by a team that wants me here. I’m not sure what the situation is, but whether it’s up there or down here, it’s fun to play hockey again. I’m gonna try to enjoy it and work as hard as I can.” But that doesn’t mean he’s satisfied continuing his career at the AHL level. “Everybody wants to be in the NHL. I want to get back there as soon as I can, but you have to make the best out of it.”
Also making his Bulldog debut was Davis Drewiske, rounding out the team’s top four on the blueline on a pairing with Morgan Ellis. He had a couple of nice touches, but was mostly unnoticeable, which suits the stay-at-home d-man’s game nicely. “I was on the IR all year, so just trying to get into shape, get acquainted with the guys. [Tonight] was ok. About what you’d expect for not playing all year. Ok in some parts, and rusty in others. Room for improvement. Trying to get some confidence back, and just play.”
The old and new Bulldogs won’t have much time to think about Friday’s loss, as they are back in action at home Saturday night against the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, before rounding out a three-in-three Sunday as hosts to the Lake Erie Monsters. If they are to not lose further ground in their long-shot playoff hopes, Hamilton must aim to collect all four remaining possible points on the weekend.