12/21/2012 12:11 PM
Story By: Stuart McComish
HAMILTON, Ont. – With their four-game Midwest Division road trip in the rear-view mirror, the Hamilton Bulldogs are now focused on two key home games before the American Hockey League’s Christmas break.
The Bulldogs who posted one win and three one-goal losses, including one via shootout, on the trip, host the St. John’s IceCaps at 7:30 Friday and the San Antonio Rampage at 7 p.m. Saturday. Both games will be telecast nationally on Sportsnet.
The Bulldogs will then enjoy a three-day break before visiting the Toronto Marlies in a Boxing Day game at Air Canada Centre.
The Bulldogs split two games with the IceCaps at St. John’s on November 20th and 21st. The IceCaps skated to a 3-1 win in the opener, but goaltender Cedrick Desjardins made 29 saves to backstop the Bulldogs to a 2-1 triumph in the rematch.
The IceCaps, whose visit to Copps Coliseum is part of a stretch of eight consecutive road dates, dropped a 3-2 decision to the Adirondack Phantoms on Wednesday night. St. John’s is in fifth place in the Atlantic Division with a record of 13-15-0-1 for 27 points.
“We’re going to have three days off, but before that we have two big games,” Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre said Thursday. “We want to focus on St. John’s then we will look at San Antonio. But we need points. We need to establish ourselves at home. We played well on the road trip and we need to take care of business at home.”
The Bulldogs, who will only play four home games in December, are in fifth place in the North Division with a record of 10-12-1-2 for 23 points. Only the Albany Devils and Binghamton Senators have played fewer games to date.
“The season has gone by pretty quick,” said Lefebvre. “We have some games in hand and we need to make sure we put some wins together. We’re still close to a playoff spot. We have to focus on one game at a time and one shift at a time if we are going to climb up the standings.”
The Bulldogs road trip began with a 4-3 loss to the Chicago Wolves last Thursday night. The Wolves raced out to a 3-0 lead and fended off a late comeback bid from the Bulldogs who scored three third-period goals. Two nights later the Bulldogs equaled their season-high offensive output in a 6-4 win over the Rockford IceHogs. The following evening the Bulldogs trailed three times by two goals en route to a 4-3 defeat against the Milwaukee Admirals. The trip ended Tuesday night against the Peoria Rivermen, who built a 3-1 lead only to see the Bulldogs battle back to tie the game with third-period goals from Brendan Gallagher and Stefan Chaput. Peoria’s T.J. Hensick scored the decisive goal in a shootout.
“I was disappointed for the guys because they worked hard, especially in the last game,” said Lefebvre. “They battled back to make it 3-3 in the third period and then came up short in the shootout.
“We felt that we could have won the two games we lost. In Chicago we came up a goal short, but made a push at the end, and in Milwaukee we probably played one of our best periods of the season in the first. Our second period was not as good and they took the lead and we couldn’t come back. What’s hopeful for us from that trip is we scored some goals. Before that we had had a tough time scoring.”
The Bulldogs’ offensive outburst over that quartet of games was a huge step forward for a team that had only scored 14 goals in its previous nine games before hitting the road.
“The guys worked hard for their goals,” said Lefebvre. “I hope this gives them some more confidence.”
The trip saw Chaput and Mike Blunden contribute two-goal efforts and rookie defencemen Nathan Beaulieu, Antoine Corbin and Jarred Tinordi score their first goals as professionals.
“We know that when we win games we are all on the same page and everybody is contributing,” said Lefebvre. “As much as we’d like to have one or two guys win games for us, on most nights that’s not going to happen. The guys have to pay together and be strong as a team.
“Over the long haul that makes us a better team. The guys know they need each other and have to support each other no matter what the situation is in the game. The guys have to play together and read off one another.”
Desjardins and fellow netminder Robert Mayer split the goaltending chores on the road. Desjardins played at Chicago and Milwaukee while Mayer picked up his first win in seven starts at Rockford and took the shootout loss at Peoria.
“We know we have two good goalies and we feel very good about our tandem,” said Lefebvre, who believes his team is tightening up defensively.
“In most of the games we have outshot the opposition. We seem to be giving up fewer scoring chances on a game-by-game basis and we have to keep doing that.”