11/16/2012 1:06 PM
Story By: Stuart McComish
HAMILTON, Ont. – More goals will certainly be one of the goals for the Hamilton Bulldogs on Friday night as they embark on a home-and-home set with the Toronto Marlies.
The Bulldogs, who will host their American Hockey League North Division rival at 7:30 p.m., have lost their last three games and managed only two goals in that span. The Marlies host the return engagement at 3 p.m. Saturday in a game that will be telecast live across Canada on Rogers Sportsnet.
“We just need to keep battling,” right winger Aaron Palushaj said after a 4-1 loss to the visiting Rochester Americans on Wednesday. “It’s such a long season that you will have goal-scoring droughts like this.”
Palushaj, 23, has three goals and two assists for five points in 11 games this season.
“For me, personally, it’s been a tough few games,” said the native of Livonia, Michigan who is a veteran of 180 AHL games. “My job is to find the back of the net and it’s been tough for me to do that. It’s frustrating, but I will keep working hard. I might be trying to do too much on my own.”
With the Americans up 1-0 early in the first period, Palushaj had a chance to net the equalizer, but missed an open net from the left-wing circle in the fourth minute. That play proved a harbinger of things to come for the Bulldogs, who fired 16 shots at Rochester goaltender David Leggio in the first period, but couldn’t score until Joonas Nattinen recorded his first goal of the season at 17:35 of the third.
“It was one of those things,” said Palushaj, who took three of the Bulldogs’ 27 shots. “The puck just didn’t want to go in the back of the net until late in the game. We came out pretty strong for the first time in several games and we really need to build off that. Our second period was flat and that went into the third as well. We put ourselves off our game, we weren’t getting pucks deep and we were turning it over. We weren’t making the easy plays. In this league if you get away from that you will get scored on. We have to limit the other team’s chances if the puck isn’t going in for us.”
Nattinen’s goal prodded the Bulldogs to some inspired play over the game’s final two minutes.
“We needed to play 60 minutes like we played the last two,” said Palushaj. “That’s probably the biggest thing for us right now. Once we can do that we will be a very good team. It’s still a learning process for a lot of guys on our team. We can’t use that as an excuse all season, but we’re 11 games in and we saw things we did like.”
Head coach Sylvain Lefebvre also saw some positive developments.
“I thought we came out strong in the first period and we had some scoring chances. We moved the puck around quite a bit on the power play. Their goalie shut the door on us and if we get a goal or two in the first period it’s a different game. We made it tough on ourselves in the second period, we turned the puck over and gave up some odd-man rushes. It’s tough to battle back against these guys, we can’t do that every game. They are a good team.
“We have to bear down on the chances we have and sometimes we might squeeze the stick too much. It’s part of the process, part of the learning curve here. The power play moved the puck around. We had some shots, we just couldn’t get enough rebounds. I thought we played with more authority on the power play.”
The Marlies have won their last four games, all on the road. The Marlies won three games in as many days in a swing through Texas and skated to a 6-5 win via shootout over the Oklahoma City Barons on Tuesday.
“The Marlies are a good team, with a lot of good players,” said Palushaj. “They are tough to play against and work hard. We have to show up and be ready to compete. “
The Marlies are fourth in the North with a record of 7-4-0-1 for 15 points, five ahead of the Bulldogs. The Ontario rivals have met three times this season. The Bulldogs won 4-1 at home on October 19th and lost 5-0 the following night at Toronto. The Marlies prevailed 5-4 in overtime at home on October 26th.
“We have to be positive with some of things we did against Rochester, but at the same time, we have to play better defensively,” said Lefebvre. “There are a lot of things we can do better. We have to show character and we have that in our dressing room. We have to bounce back.”
A large crowd is expected for Friday night’s game, but the decibel level isn’t expected to reach the one created by the 10,649 that took in Wednesday’s school-day game, which began at 10 a.m.
“It was great, the kids are probably our most loyal fans,” said Lefebvre. “The girls screamed so loud that when we took a timeout we couldn’t hear anything. It was great to see so many kids enjoying the game.”
The game is the Bulldogs’ last home date until November 25th when they will host the Lake Erie Monsters at 4 p.m. After visiting Toronto, the Bulldogs hit the road for two games next week against the St. John’s IceCaps.