HAMILTON, ON – As the Hamilton Bulldogs approach the halfway point of their 2013-14 season, If one were to summarize it in a single word, it would be inconsistency.
A strong start with only two regulation losses in their first ten games was quickly wiped out by a five game losing streak. Then just when it looked like this season may be a repeat of the last, the ‘Dogs rattled off four straight wins, backed by stellar netminding from Dustin Tokarski.
The club then idled for a spell, with a 3-3 record over their next six contests, before going cold once again with a second five-game skid in the first half of the year.
But Santa had some renewed hope tucked away in his sack for Bulldog fans, as the holidays brought with them a five-game surge for the boys from Canada’s Steeltown that now has them right in the thick of a playoff race in the AHL’s Western Conference. It has been a rollercoaster, to say the least, and the real Hamilton Bulldogs will need to rise to the occasion early in 2014 to continue to gain ground on rivals who currently hold games in hand.
In Hamilton’s favour is that they sit in the American Hockey League’s weakest division, only three points back of the leading Toronto Marlies (who have two games in hand, mind you) despite being just three games above .500.
Also arguably in their favour is that they haven’t depended on a single player – or even single line – to carry them offensively this year. When the team is losing, this can be seen as a negative, as there hasn’t been a single forward they can go to for offense in a time of need. In fact, their inability to score often mirrored the problems of their parent club in Montreal. But in the American Hockey League, relying on a single player is a risky strategy, as not only do you live in fear of losing that player himself to injury as you would in any league, but you’re also at risk of losing that player to any injury or trade by your NHL affiliate.
Sure Martin St. Pierre has a sizeable lead on his teammates in terms of points with 25 in 32 games, but the undersized AHL veteran has been rather ineffective at even strength this season, padding his stats with the man advantage. Despite what the stat sheet says, his play thus far can be qualified as underwhelming.
Louis Leblanc’s nine goals lead the Bulldogs, but his game has been hot and cold, disappearing for stretches much like many of his fellow skaters. To his credit, Leblanc has managed to simplify his game this season – perhaps realizing his professional forte won’t be as a finesse/skill player – and cut down on poor undisciplined penalties.
Gabriel Dumont didn’t have a start to the season anywhere near like the past year, but one can’t question his effort level, and he has kicked it up a notch over the most recent win streak. At the moment, I would imagine he heads the call-up list among forwards.
Outside of Dumont, Mike Blunden is the other “safe” call-up at forward, but he’s often a Bulldog equivalent of Travis Moen; frequent recipient of scoring chances only to miss the net.
Patrick Holland got a deserved taste of NHL action earlier this season, and has progressed his game by showing intensity in all three zones. That said, he has failed to improve on his productivity from his rookie AHL season. A player who scored 109 points in his final year in the WHL, Holland was expected to take on more of the offensive load than he has thus far.
If there’s a forward who has delivered well throughout the season up front, it’s pro rookie Sven Andrighetto. The Swiss winger has eight goals and 15 points in his first 23 AHL games, despite missing a full month of the season with injury. Andrighetto is a rather one-dimensional offensive player, so the Montreal brass is likely to want him to mature further before any call-up.
While the forwards have been inconsistent, Hamilton’s MVP to date (perhaps outside of Tokarski) has been their rock on the blueline. Though Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi get all the press in Montreal as former first round picks, it’s Greg Pateryn that anchors the Bulldog defense. Both Beaulieu and Tinordi have struggled as sophomores, with the former frequently looking disinterested on ice, and the latter neither playing physically nor being air-tight defensively. But Pateryn has been getting it done at both ends of the ice (his 15 points in 28 games and plus-11 both lead all Bulldog blueliners) and appears about as ready to make the jump to the NHL as any second year pro could be.
A revelation of late has been the resurgence of Morgan Ellis, practically written off earlier this season as he bided his time as a healthy scratch. Ellis has a strong reputation as a leader on and off the ice, and to his credit, took it in stride, seizing his opportunity when given and establishing himself as a top four blueliner on the squad.
Expanding our coverage of the Hamilton Bulldogs here at AllHabs.net, this column will be a weekly feature on Thursdays for the remainder of the season, updating which Bulldog players are trending upwards or downwards, and highlighting some names you may be less familiar with down on the farm.