HAMILTON, ON – On paper, the 1-8-2 Utica Comets seemed like the perfect visitors to cure what had been ailing the Hamilton Bulldogs of late. But just two days after what should have been the most complete roster the ‘Dogs had iced on the year was embarrassed 6-1 at the hands of the Grand Rapids Griffins, the team again showed up to Copps Coliseum without a high enough compete level to get back into the win column. Rather than rise to the occasion, Hamilton played down to the level of its opposition, trading chances evenly with Utica for most of the evening, only to end up on the wrong side of a 3-1 decision.
Trying to rebound from Friday’s tough loss, the Bulldogs found themselves shorthanded Sunday – missing Greg Pateryn and Gabriel Dumont due to call-ups to Montreal, and Patrick Holland with a fresh minor injury.
Despite this, the ‘Dogs seemed to respond well out of the gates, outshooting the Comets 17-7 in the first period, even if there were few quality scoring opportunities for either side. The home team’s best chance come on a near-perfect powerplay set-up in the slot for Magnus Nygren, but the Swede failed to get sufficient wood on the puck to one-time it past Joacim Eriksson. While the less busy of the two netminders, Dustin Tokarski also came up big with a pair of glove saves on odd-man rushes.
Whatever momentum the ‘Dogs had built through twenty minutes failed to carry over into the second. Utica had Hamilton pinned in its own end for the first five minutes, but a lucky break would be needed to help them open the game’s scoring. The Bulldogs defended well backchecking to try to break up a 2-on-1 rush, when a seemingly broken pass from Pascal Pelletier towards Zach Hamil bounced off his skate and slid slowly past a sliding Tokarski.
Throughout the period, the Comets had numerous chances to add to their lead, as due to a combination of questionable defense and bad ice, pucks were regularly pinballed around the Hamilton end. Solid play from Tokarski and a little luck kept a second puck from penetrating the Bulldog goal, setting the stage for a Sven Andrighetto equalizer in the frame’s final minute. A play at the Utica blueline was ruled onside by the linesman despite the overhead view strongly suggesting the puck had left the zone, and ensuing offensive zone pressure culminated with Andrighetto’s potting of the rebound of a Mike Blunden shot from the lip of the crease to tie the game at one. The goal was Andrighetto’s sixth and his tenth point, both categories in which he leads the team despite his rookie status.
Late period goals are said to be key momentum-changers, yet just like between the first and second periods, the ‘Dogs seemed to lose any advantages they’d earned in the dressing room once again. Also in similar fashion to the second, the early third period would see the Comets fail to capitalize on multiple manufactured opportunities only to regain the lead thanks to a lucky bounce. Defenseman Peter Andersson attempted to dump a puck to the corner in the Hamilton end, but it hopped off the skate of Morgan Ellis and straight onto the blade of Alexandre Grenier, alone in front with only an empty cage to shoot at.
The Bulldogs would come close to drawing even at the eleven minute mark as both Ben Duffy and Akim Aliu had great whacks at a loose puck in the blue paint, but neither could beat Eriksson. Aliu went from near hero to goat moments later, however, taking a boarding penalty with fewer than eight minutes to play, and forcing his teammates to come up with a big kill.
Aliu’s day wouldn’t end there, though, as with Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker in the game’s final minute, Pascal Pelletier was called for a slash that broke Aliu’s stick. The Bulldogs had two rushes during their 6-on-4 manpower advantage, but both Nathan Beaulieu and Martin St. Pierre in turn coughed pucks up, with the latter intercepted by Colin Stuart, who bounced a rolling puck off the boards, all the way down the ice, and into the deserted Hamilton net.
This loss was Hamilton’s fourth in a row (three in regulation) and drops their record on the young season to 5-5-3. While the production of a young player like Andrighetto is encouraging, the team needs to get more out of the likes of Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi, and Martin St. Pierre if it is to contend for a playoff position. The team’s next chance to snap out of its current funk comes in a special weekday game 10 AM Wednesday against the Rochester Americans.