12/07/2012 9:30 AM
Story By: Stuart McComish
HAMILTON, Ont. – The Hamilton Bulldogs are seeing plenty these days of the top teams in each conference of the American Hockey League.
After splitting two road games last weekend against the Abbotsford Heat, which holds down first place in the Western Conference, the Bulldogs begin a two-game East Division road swing at 7:30 p.m. Friday against the Syracuse Crunch, which shares top spot in the Eastern Conference with the Springfield Falcons.
The following night the Bulldogs will meet the Hershey Bears in the first of two games this season between the teams. The game, which begins at 7 p.m., wraps up a stretch of three games in as many days for the Bears.
The game at Syracuse will be the Crunch’s first at home following a five-game road trip in which they won three games. The game will be the third of four season meetings between the Crunch and Bulldogs. The Crunch posted a 3-0 win at Hamilton on November 7th and followed it two nights later with a 4-1 triumph at Bell Centre in Montreal.
The Crunch, who have a record of 13-5-1-1 for 28 points, lead the AHL with 74 goals. Second-year centre Tyler Johnson is third in AHL scoring with 23 points and leads the league with 15 goals. The Crunch, who have a 3-3-1-0 record at home compared to a log of 10-2-0-1 on the road, are third in the AHL in penalty killing with an efficiency rate of 88.6 percent.
“They are a very good team,” Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre said Wednesday. “They pressure you on the puck very hard and you need to be ready to play with people in your face. We need to have good support all over the ice and when we get chances we have to bury them.”
The Bulldogs have 13 games remaining in December with all but four away from Copps Coliseum. The Bulldogs haven’t won consecutive games since starting the season with wins over the Grand Rapids Griffins and Toronto Marlies.
“We need to start putting wins together,” said Lefebvre. “December is going to be an important month for us. We have a lot of games on the road and we need to play well in those games. We need to take it one game at a time, it doesn’t matter who we are up against. We want to play our game and establish ourselves early.”
The Bulldogs’ trip to British Columbia began in ominous fashion on Friday night when they dropped a 5-1 decision to the Heat, who held a 28-16 edge in shots. The Heat scored two of its four power-play goals 32 seconds apart in the first period and had a 4-0 lead before Gabriel Dumont scored shorthanded at 3:42 of the third period.
“We started the game shorthanded on a five-on-three and they scored twice and we were down 2-0 and the game wasn’t even 10 minutes old,” said Lefebvre. “That’s tough to come back from.”
Lefebvre didn’t think the result reflected the preparation the team put in prior to departing for the west coast.
“We had a good week of practice. We had a skate on Friday morning and our guys had some jump and I was a little surprised we came out that way in the game. That first game was a 10 p.m. start for us and I think there was some adjustment for our players. It’s new for a lot of our guys. It’s not an excuse, but it’s reality and something you have to deal with if you have a young team like ours. You really have to manage your sleep and eating habits on a trip like that.”
The Bulldogs rebound the following evening. After giving the Heat nine power plays in the opener, the Bulldogs killed off three Abbotsford power plays and got a power-play goal of their own in a 3-0 win.
“We needed to stay out of the penalty box and on Saturday they took the penalties and that gave us the momentum,” said Lefebvre.
Patrick Holland opened the scoring with his second goal of the season at 4:23 of the first period, ending a stretch of 15 consecutive games in which the opposition had scored first. Steve Quailer and Louis Leblanc also added goals and goaltender Cedrick Desjardins made 24 saves to record his first shutout of the season.
“Scoring the first goal was a little different for us, but the guys responded really well after the loss on Friday,” said Lefebvre. “We never brought it up often but everyone else was talking about it. We wanted to have good starts. You have to deal with adversity and you can’t have moments in the game that are bothering you to the point that it affects your focus and you get off your game plan and what you need to do.
“We thought we beat ourselves in the first game. It’s one thing to lose if you play your best and the other team beats you, but if you don’t play your best and shoot yourself in the foot by taking too many penalties you can show a lack of focus or frustration. The next game we showed ourselves and other people that we can play against any team in this league when we decide we want to play as a team.”
Both games can be heard live on Funny 820 and will be simulcast on TSN Radio 690 in Montreal with the pre-game show beginning 30 minutes before puck drop. The Bulldogs’ next home action is Tuesday night against the Lake Erie Monsters. Game time is 7:30 p.m.