This was a big weekend for the Hamilton Bulldogs. Desperate to make up ground in the race for a playoff spot in the Western Conference the Bulldogs had three home games. Unfortunately a 2-1 loss to the Oklahoma City Barons, followed by a 4-2 loss to the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and a 4-1 loss to the Lake Erie Monsters meant that the team did not gain a single point on the weekend and lost yet more ground.
The team sits 11 points out of the Playoffs with only 18 games left in the season. To compound the problem, 13 of the remaining 18 games are on the road. Goal scoring continues to be a problem for the club, as it seems that no matter how much pressure they put on the opposition, they just cant seem to get the puck to find the back of the net. Playing a full sixty minutes has also been a challenge of late, as the team seems to start games strong (scoring the first goal in all three), have a lull in the second period where they lose the lead, and make a furious third period push that comes up short.
That said, not all is lost. Watching the game on Sunday there were some good individual performances. Nathan Beaulieu continues to be at another level in terms of his ability to generate offence from the back-end. His skating and puck handling appear effortless at the AHL level, and I fully expect to see him to make the NHL out of training camp next year. Greg Pateryn continues to be the Bulldogs most steady and reliable defenceman in his own zone. Sven Andrighetto has immense natural talents and continues a strong rookie campaign, setting up the only goal on Sunday. Last but not least is Christian Thomas, who broke a long scoring slump by one-timing Andrighetto’s pass into the top corner of the net. The line of Andrighetto, Thomas, and Maxime Macenauer was easily the Dogs best on the afternoon, but the team needs other lines to generate more chances if they want to get back into the playoff chase.
One last issue of concern is team-wide and that is discipline. The Bulldogs continue to take too many bad penalties. That could be seen in not only the number of powerplays given up, but also the fact that down two goals with about nine minutes left, Andrighetto said something he shouldn’t have to the referee and was given a ten minute misconduct. With the Bulldogs best forward on the night (and on the season) out of the game, and down two goals, it was the final nail in the coffin of this game.
After the game, Christian Thomas spoke to LWOS about the game and the team’s recent struggles.
Speaking about the lost weekend for the Bulldogs, Thomas did not down-play the situation. “It was huge for us, coming into this game and obviously three losses in a row is not good as we are racing for a playoff spot, especially against these guys,” Thomas said. “Its been a tough weekend, but we still have 18 games left.”
However he was unable to come up with reasons for the Team’s struggles, “It’s hard to say why (we are struggling so much). We seem to be able to get the lead early, but in the last two games we have lost the lead within a few minutes (with a lapse). We are getting into penalty trouble, and other teams are capitalizing. Thats our biggest thing (to fix) right now.”
Thomas doesn’t believe that a lack of confidence in the dressing room is the issue. When asked about the team’s mental state, he said, “The team wants to bounce back after a goal scored against, but when we keep taking penalties its tough to get a good rhythm out there.”
Asked about his long slump finally coming to an end, Thomas admitted that it was a relief to finally get back on the score sheet. “It was definitely big, I haven’t scored in a while. Its been a slow season so far, but I hope this can give me more confidence to continue scoring going through the last stretch of the season.”
Thomas also spoke about the fact that the team played Sunday’s game without captain, and team leading scorer, Martin St. Pierre, who was a healthy scratch. He said, “It was tough. He is a presence in the room. He is a good leader, and as an older guy, he brings a veteran presence out there on the ice. We come to the rink and whatever the lines are, we can’t change them, we have to do our thing. That said he definetely helps. I’m not going to blame the loss on him not being out there, as we should have shown up more.”
Thomas also spoke about the playoff chase. “With 18 games left there are some huge points left. Other teams could go on a losing streak and we could go on a big winning streak here. We just have to stay positive and see some light at the end of the tunnel.”
Thomas also talked about the effect of the recent trade for Devan Dubnyk and the addition of an NHL level defender in Davis Drewiskie from the injury list. “Getting him in net, and having Davis Drewiskie join the team on the back end gives us a lot of confidence in our defence. Tonight though, we didn’t give him much help. I felt bad, and its been happening to us lately and we have to stop standing around.”
I also had the opportunity to speak with Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre to get his thoughts on the team’s performance in Sunday’s game. Needless to say, he wasn’t pleased with the weekend.
Lefebvre acknowledged that a lack of offence continues to be the Bulldogs biggest issues. “Its something that we have worked on all year and I think its better than last year,” he said. “But tonight our powerplay didn’t come up big. And if Andrighetto scored on his penalty shot (in the second period) it could have been 2-0. They came back and tied it up on the powerplay and then they scored another goal.”
“Our second periods have been nowhere to be found this year. We gave it our all in the first period, and then we came out in the second and we were totally flat. I don’t know what it is. We work on scoring every day, and I wish we could score more goals. We have to play well defensively (to stay in games). I think last night the empty-net goal was the 13th we’ve given up this season, so it just goes to show we’re in games but we just can’t find a way to win games when we have to come from behind and scoring is a part of it.”
Lefebvre also acknowledged that effort has been an issue this weekend. When asked if he felt satisfied in the team’s effort this weekend, he replied, “not for the whole time. We obviously need to play for 60 minutes every game. We had three games in three nights and that’s tough, but Lake Erie was in the same situation, as they had two hard fought battles against Toronto. Maybe we thought they were out of gas, out of juice when we took the lead 1-0. We have to find a way to win hockey games.”
Lefebvre was also asked about the team’s confidence, and how things seem to spiral out of control after the first goal against lately. He replied, “I don’t know if its confidence. At this point in the year if you don’t battle, you don’t compete, and if you don’t do it with desperate energy, then you don’t deserve to make the playoffs. We’ve dug ourselves a big hole. If we stop believing and we quit then no one is going to benefit from that.”
“Its our job as coaches and our job as players not to quit and to battle ’til the end. The players are playing for their livelihoods and playing for their jobs, and its the plain and simple truth. Its not a threat, but that’s the way it is; that’s the reality.”
Lefebvre spoke about the tough road schedule ahead and took it as a positive due to the fact that the team seems to play better away from home this season. “Its not just a matter of effort, but it seems that we play better on the road this season. Maybe its a good thing that we are going on the road right now. We are not going to quit. I’m not going to allow that to happen and we’re going to battle til the end. If you put your arms down, and put your head down you are in trouble. Times like this builds character for everyone involved and builds character for the team.”
Lefebvre was also asked about the fact that captain and leading scorer Martin St. Pierre was scratched for Sunday’s game. He indicated that St. Pierre was a healthy scratch, and that the issue was performance related despite St. Pierre’s two assists in Saturday night’s game.
“He was a healthy scratch tonight. I’m not happy with his game. I’ve been talking with him a few times, sending him messages here and there. Sometimes as a coach you have ways to get guys going. Hopefully he will rebound to play the way he can play. He’s our captain, he’s the guy that sets the tone, and that is what we are looking for.”
He also indicated that the rest of the team should look at the scratch. When asked if this was a statement to the rest of the team that no one was safe, Lefebvre answered, “Its a statement that you have to come here and compete every night, and not just when you feel like it.”
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