By Dan Kramer, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine
POST-GAME AUDIO: Morgan Ellis | Sylvain Lefebvre
HAMILTON, ON – After having a six-game win streak snapped two weeks ago, the Hamilton Bulldogs all spoke of how important it was to avoid the peril of their early season: following each step forward with an equivalent or worse step back. Despite a valiant effort to prevent a new skid, firing 32 shots on Toronto Marlies’ goaltender Drew MacIntyre, the boys from the Hammer were unable to find the back of the net Saturday night, dropping a 2-0 decision for their third loss in the past four outings.
The Bulldogs – looking to rebound from last week’s loss to the bottom feeding Utica Comets – started strong, as an early Christian Thomas scoring chance off a Sven Andrighetto set-up forced Drew MacIntyre into a tough save and Wade MacLeod into a hooking penalty. Thomas would also have the best chance with the man advantage on a Morgan Ellis rebound, but MacIntyre was sharp right from opening puck drop.
Frustrations began to mount as the ‘Dogs saw two powerplays and a Sven Andrighetto breakaway go unrewarded, prompting Jarred Tinordi to drop the gloves with tough guy David Broll in a clash of heavyweights. Lots of swinging, but few punches landed either way, so Sam Carrick and Gabriel Dumont decided to keep the intensity high later in on the period in a lightweight bout.
As often happens in hockey, when a team has the better scoring chances but fails to cash in, it only takes one opportunity for the other team to open a lead. Martin St. Pierre was called for a poor penalty late in the first, interfering with a forechecking Brad Staubitz, something the captain has been guilty of far too frequently this season. Greg Pateryn was caught hobbled in front of Dustin Tokarski after blocking a hard point shot, allowing Greg McKegg to beat him to a rebound and tuck the puck just inside the post on the Hamilton netminder, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead.
The ‘Dogs were again the better team at five-on-five in the second period, but a continued failure to make anything of their rushes or powerplay opportunities bit them once again. After Joonas Nattinen deftly set up linemate Stefan Fournier with a quick drop pass, only to be turned aside by MacIntyre, Hamilton was handed a powerplay opportunity when a scrum near the benches resulted in a too many men call against Toronto. Rather than seizing the opportunity, however, the home side allowed Jerry D’Amigo to break in alone. While being hooked to the ice, D’Amigo managed to direct the puck towards the net, fooling Tokarski who followed the sliding man rather than the abandoned disk, which trickled past him and into the cage.
Hamilton was given a great chance to get back into the game in the third period, as Brandon Kozun – making his debut for the Marlies after being acquired for Andrew Crescenzi a couple of days ago – took back-to-back penalties, giving the trailers four minutes of near uninterrupted powerplay time. The Bulldogs failed to generate much in the way of sustained possession or pressure, squandering their chances once again, and running into a wall of MacIntyre on the best opportunity as Gabriel Dumont and Mike Blunden batted away at a Greg Pateryn rebound.
Toronto was able to coast the rest of the way, preserving ex-Bulldog MacIntyre’s first shutout of the season. The struggling powerplay – 0 for 7 on the night – was an easy target on which to pinpoint the night’s defeat. “For me on the powerplay, I have to shoot pucks, get the pucks through,” suggested Morgan Ellis, whose team-high five shots came with a good dose of powerplay ice time thanks to Nathan Beaulieu‘s call-up to Montreal. “[Beaulieu] is a good puck-moving defenseman. He finds seams. For me, being out there, I just have to keep it simple and get pucks through, and hopefully one of them goes in.”
Coach Sylvain Lefebvre wasn’t as concerned about how Beaulieu’s loss impacted his man advantage, but reiterated the need fo it to be better. “Our powerplay was not good tonight. Our powerplay wasn’t doing very well even when Nathan was here. It’s been a current theme right now. Even when we were playing well and getting some wins, the powerplay wasn’t much of a factor. We have to find a way to grind it out. Maybe we’re doing too much. When we did well on the powerplay, it was getting shots from the point and traffic in front.”
The coach also scoffs at the notion of his team being streaky. “I’m tired of hearing that we’re streaky. We try to win every game. We try to put some wins together, and obviously we’re not trying to put some losses together. We want to get back on track. We think we’re a good team. We gotta get better and stronger mentally.”
Lefebvre’s troops will have a chance to prove they are strong mentally by getting right back on the ice Saturday night in Lake Erie to take on the Monsters. They’ll then return home to complete an always difficult three games in three nights stretch Sunday against Chicago.