HAMILTON, ON – In what Habs fans need to hope wasn’t a preview of Saturday night’s Canadiens – Maple Leafs matchup in Montreal, the Bulldogs turned in a lackluster effort Friday night, dropping an important divisional contest 3-1 to the Toronto Marlies.
If you were to describe the 2013-14 Hamilton Bulldogs in one word, through the season’s first 21 games, it would be “streaky.” Through the year’s first ten games, the team had lost only twice in regulation, which they promptly followed up by losing five straight contests in 60-minutes. A four-game win streak then got fans optimistic that the dark days were over, particularly thanks to inspired play from Dustin Tokarski. But a mid-week blowout at the hand of the Rochester Americans set-up Friday night’s clash with the enemy Marlies at Copps Coliseum as a battle for first place in the division that would prove anticlimactic for the crowd of 6,159 in attendance.
The Bulldogs welcomed two relatively new faces to the line-up, compensating for the recent departures of Erik Nystrom and Magnus Nygren. First was rookie pro defenseman Darren Dietz, returning after missing 16 games with a wrist injury to play just his fifth contest for the squad. The next was Jordan Owens, a journeyman forward who attended Bulldogs’ training camp on a tryout, and was just signed to a professional tryout agreement earlier this week, making his AHL season debut.
The fresh blood helped buoy the team to a solid first period. Despite holding a 9-7 shot advantage, one defensive lapse left the ‘Dogs trailing their Ontario rivals. Morgan Ellis lost a battle in the corner, allowing Josh Leivo to skate out, and Darren Dietz was left in no man’s land, caught between covering the front of the net and moving towards Leivo, allowing the Marlies’ rookie to spot Jerry D’Amigo alone in front. The former U.S. National Under-18 program star was quick to one-time his fifth past Robert Mayer, making his first start in six games.
Hamilton would make matters difficult for themselves early in the second, as Jarred Tinordi was called for delay of game after flipping a puck over the glass. With the penalty about to expire, David Broll patiently waited before roofing a wrister top shelf on Mayer, a perfect shot that exposed the goaltender for a playing a little too deep in his net.
Moments later, Gabriel Dumont – one of the hotter hands in Hamilton of late – prevented the game from getting out of reach on a great solo rush. Weaving in and out of the Toronto defense, he outwaited a committed Drew MacIntyre before sneaking a backhander through the netminder to get back within one.
However, within two minutes, a delayed penalty call against the ‘Dogs combined with another instance of disorganized defensive coverage allowed Toronto to restore a two goal advantage. Sam Carrick was left all alone at the side of the net, and Spencer Abbott found him with a cross-ice dish to net his second of the season. Following the goal, Sylvain Lefebvre called a timeout, but seemed to have little to say to his side, instead simply trying to settle things down and slow the frenetic pace of the period.
There did seem to be some fight in the ‘Dogs later in the period, as Dumont again led a dangerous-looking rush. In a play almost exactly mirroring a goal scored at the Bell Centre one week prior, a quick move set up a pass to an open Mike Blunden at the hash marks, but this time the veteran’s one-time attempt sailed wide. Another chance saw newcomer Owens – getting a good look on a line with Martin St. Pierre and Christian Thomas – drive the net hard and bowl over MacIntyre. The ‘Dogs put a rebound into the empty cage, but the goal would be called back in favour of a two minute minor to Owens.
A late penalty meant Hamilton would have to start the third with a kill before trying to get back in the game, but the team couldn’t muster much offensively despite tightening up in their own end. The best chances to claw back into the game had come in that second period, and the Marlies coasted their way to the victory.
Hamilton looks to snap this new skid right away on Saturday night, as the Lake Erie Monsters visit Copps Coliseum.