HAMILTON, ON – It was a weekend of ups and downs for the Hamilton Bulldogs. Despite solid efforts that had their head coach proud in all three outings, a 6-2 Saturday night offensive outburst on the road was sandwiched between two snakebitten losses at Copps Coliseum. The 1-2-0 weekend means the ‘Dogs have now lost four of their last six games on the heels of a season-high six-game win streak, dropping them out of a playoff spot for the time being, though they of course remain in the thick of the race.
Hamilton was dealing with the absence of some top players during this stretch, as both Nathan Beaulieu and Louis Leblanc were up in Montreal. Moreover, Sunday’s game required a gutsy effort by the d-men who were in the line-up, as not only was it a third game in less than 72 hours, but the club lost Morgan Ellis – he who I mentioned last week had taken on a far bigger role with the squad – to an apparent shoulder or arm injury midway through the game, forcing them to play out the final period and a half with just five blueliners. It is unknown how long Ellis will be out for, but as a security measure, the ‘Dogs signed ECHL’er Myles Harvey – a 25-year old 6’5”, 225 lbs pro rookie – to a professional tryout agreement.
– Christian Thomas: Thomas and Sven Andrighetto (who I mentioned last time as trending upwards, and I’m trying to avoid using the same players in consecutive installments) have been Hamilton’s best two forward of late, and coach Sylvain Lefebvre has stuck them together on a line in Louis Leblanc’s absence. In his second year as a pro, the 5’9” 21-year old winger missed the first part of the season with a sports hernia, produced when he returned to the line-up, then seemed to hit a bit of a wall which could have been a conditioning issue due to the time off. Of late however, he frequently leads the team in scoring chances, which helped him collect two goals and an assist over the course of the weekend. While not as feisty as fellow little man Brendan Gallagher, Thomas doesn’t shy away from going to the net. He’s just as comfortable hanging around the high slot, though, as that is where he can unleash his greatest weapon: a rocket launcher arsenal of powerful shots. As a reward for his recent good play and to see how he can handle tougher competition, the Canadiens called Thomas up Thursday evening. The timing is especially nice for the prospect given Montreal plays Tampa Bay on Saturday, and Thomas’s father – former NHL’er Steve Thomas – is a player development consultant with the Lightning.
– Maxime Macenauer: With skilled wingers like Andrighetto and Thomas on the first line, one might expect an equally skilled center like Martin St. Pierre to be the trio’s pivot. But one would be wrong, as that honour has been bestowed upon Macenauer, who has been a coach’s favourite in Hamilton right from the start of the season. You’ll never be “wow’ed” watching him play, but the 25-year old Laval native seems to do all the little things right on the ice. He plays a jack-of-all-trade, master-at-none type of role, capable of killing penalties, winning face-offs, clearing the puck in defensive situations, and dishing to teammates. At 6’0” and 200 lbs, he’s average sized, which about sums up most of his other abilities as well. He works hard and will rarely put you in a trouble situation for sending him out on the ice. For these reasons, Lefebvre may see him as a safety net, which has resulted in significant ice time at even strength, on the powerplay, and on the P.K.
– Jarred Tinordi: If you were to compare Tinordi’s play in Hamilton to how he looked in Montreal during this year’s training camp, it has been a disappointing season for the 21-year old. At 6’6” and 218 lbs, you would hope to see him working on his physical game at the AHL level, but the hits have been few and far between this season, deciding his style was better suited to playing a positional defensive game rather than running around and chasing the opposition. Unfortunately even that has taken some time, as he is far from an impermeable forcefield in his own end, but part of that may simply be confidence. Undoubtedly Tinordi had illusions of grandeur starting the year in the NHL, and the return to the American League was a difficult transition, but since being moved to the top pairing with Greg Pateryn, his game has taken a step forward. Playing with a partner that he doesn’t have to worry about covering for, he seems more confident in his own skates. Though still not throwing big hits, the American behemoth is an adequate crease-clearer, and unlike a Doug Murray or Hal Gill, is a very smooth skater, able to pick his spots and support offensive breakouts despite what his low point total would make one think. If not overly physical during game action, Tinordi never shies away from after the whistle scrums, always there to stand up for a teammate and dropping the gloves with semi-regularity.
IN A RUT
– Martin St. Pierre: It is imperative that Sylvain Lefebve separates St. Pierre from linemate Patrick Holland to get at least one of the two should-be-AHL-stars going. They have been paired at five-on-five for some time now, and the line has become a virtual black hole for the Bulldogs, generating little in the way of offensive opportunities despite the skill sets of its members. Though he may lead the team in scoring, captain St. Pierre has been a disappointment this season, unable to play an offensive catalyst role at even strength, and frequently guilty of poor or lazy penalties. In the face-off dot, the team relies heavily on Macenauer and Joonas Nattinen, effectively limiting St. Pierre to a role of powerplay specialist. While that definitely has its uses, it’s not the high impact signing the Bulldogs believed they had bagged when inking the veteran last summer. Plus-minus may not be a high quality statistic, but his -7 being second worst on the team to only Nick Tarnasky is very reflective of his play this year.
– Mike Blunden: It’s hard to dislike Mike Blunden. The former second round selection of the Chicago Blackhawks is a model teammate and works hard every shift. He can play a physical game with his 6’3” frame, and positions himself well in the slot to obtain scoring chances nightly. Unfortunately his weak skating and mediocre hands have betrayed him this season, as the ‘Dogs needed him to take on a more offensive role on a team with little experienced firepower. Though he remains the team’s fourth leading scorer, he has been ice cold in 2014, with only 1 assist and a -2 rating in his past nine games. When the team is winning, it’s easy to laugh at the number of great Gabriel Dumont set-ups that Blunden fans on or fires wide. But when the goals are tougher to come by, what should be a dependable and productive line has been letting the team down at times.
– Greg Pateryn: This isn’t to say that Pateryn has been bad, but just as I spoke so very highly of him earlier this season, it’s fair to point out that the Pateryn of the past five or so games hasn’t been playing up to that level. Part of it may be learning to play with Jarred Tinordi after spending significant time beside Nathan Beaulieu, but Pateryn has only a single point to go with a -1 rating in his past nine games while looking more human in his own end following a dominant start. The injury to Ellis and the absence of Beaulieu will put a lot of pressure on Pateryn and Tinordi as the Bulldogs head out for an extended road trip, so the team needs the 23-year old to be at his best, rather than committing the kind of turnovers we’ve seen most recently.
The Bulldogs head out west this weekend for two games against the Abbotsford Heat, and remain on the road for stops in Rockford, Milwaukee, Binghamton, and Toronto. They’ll return home to the newly renamed FirstOntario Place (formerly Copps Coliseum) for a date with the Texas Stars on February 15. As the team finds itself in a playoff battle in the second half of the regular season, home crowds been gaining steam in Hamilton creating a great atmosphere, so be sure to check the team out if you’re in the area, with tickets available at http://www.hamiltonbulldogs.com/.