HAMILTON, ON – There was a surprise result in the AHL on Wednesday night as the Hamilton Bulldogs took down a very tough Toronto Marlies team by a 6-4 score on the road, but in typical ‘Dogs fashion, the team was unable to build off the victory to gain momentum for their stretch run. Friday, the anemic Hamilton offense was back from its one-game outlier six-goal outburst, as the team failed to score in getting shutout 3-0 by the Chicago Wolves.
The Bulldogs have customarily started slowly this season and this night was no exception. The team fell into a 2-0 hole early on as first a Michael Davies breakaway and then a fluke Kevin Connauton centering play from along the sideboards just 38 seconds later put Chicago ahead. Hamilton netminder Cedric Desjardins - having a largely disappointing season despite also not getting much help from his teammates – seemed to be fighting the puck for most of the night and was notably slow coming across on Connauton’s goal. Any Habs fans frustrated by the play of Peter Budaj and thinking Desjardins might be a suitable replacement shouldn’t count on it; the goaltending pipeline after Carey Price is exceptionally thin.
The ‘Dogs didn’t manage much in the way of quality scoring chances throughout the rest of the game, with the best coming from a Joey Tenute break, a near-miss of a Mike Blunden rebound, and a Louis Leblanc centering feed that just missed both Gabriel Dumont and Michael Bournival. The latter was perhaps the only real chance Hamilton mustered on numerous man-advantage opportunities as the team’s powerplay remains near-opposite of that in Montreal – it entered the game last in the AHL at an abysmal 9.7%.
Blunden was the best of the Bulldogs on a night where it isn’t saying particularly much, one of the few with more than one opportunity in the offensive zone. Blunden has spent time in the Montreal press box already this season, and given the close eye Martin Lapointe has been keeping on the team – frequently behind the bench since the firing of Ron Wilson - he has impressed enough to remain the top call-up along with Gabriel Dumont, who had a quiet night by his standards this year.
“We just didn’t play as a team. We played as individuals tonight,” was Blunden’s explanation for the loss after the game. “Tomorrow’s a new day and we change things around with a win.”
On his press box stint in Montreal, he added, “They said just keep playing, you’re playing real well. Keep going and when there’s an injury you’ll be back. Obviously they’re going to take whoever’s playing the best down here, you know Dumi [Gabriel Dumont] is playing real well, but my main focus here is to win games. That’s what we’re here for. To win games in Hamilton.”
The loss dropped Hamilton to 9 games below .500, so any hopes of a post-season qualification seems out of reach at this point. But it continues to be a critical development year for a number of legitimate Canadiens’ NHL hopefuls who will be back at it Saturday against the Texas Stars.