02/04/2013 10:26 AM
Story By: Stuart McComish
TORONTO – The city of Toronto has not been kind to the Hamilton Bulldogs this season.
The Bulldogs have made five trips to the capital of Ontario to battle their provincial rivals, the Toronto Marlies, either at Ricoh Coliseum or Air Canada Centre, and come up on the short end each time, including a 4-2 defeat on Saturday.
The Bulldogs, who have been outscored 24-5 at Toronto this season, return to Ricoh Coliseum at 7 p.m. Wednesday for the penultimate meeting in the American Hockey League’s 12-game, regular season Battle of Ontario.
The Bulldogs, who have three wins and one loss each in overtime and via shootout at home against the Marlies this season, jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead Saturday on goals 11 seconds apart by Zack Stortini and Gabriel Dumont. The visitors held a 9-7 lead in first-period shots, but the Marlies scored four unanswered goals and outshot the Bulldogs, who ran into penalty trouble over the first 40 minutes, 26-19 the rest of the way.
Carter Ashton brought the Marlies within one on a wraparound at 7:11 of the second period and Simon Gysbers tied it on the power play at 9:57. Nicolas Deschamps slid the winning goal by a sprawling Robert Mayer at 3:45 of the third period and Spencer Abbott capitalized on a turnover deep in Hamilton territory to close the scoring at 11:32.
“We had a good start,” said Bulldogs head coach Sylvain Lefebvre. “Their first goal hurt us, it came as a result of a broken play. We started taking penalties and that took the momentum away from us. We had spurts where we spent some good time in the offensive zone, but they played better than we did in the second half of the game. Every time we come here it seems to be the same thing. It’s kind of frustrating, but that’s the way it goes.”
Coming on the heels of a 5-1 loss to the visiting Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday night, an early lead against the Marlies was just what the Bulldogs needed.
“That’s the start we wanted,” said Stortini “We weren’t happy with our loss Friday. We weren’t able to maintain that start. They’re a good team, they compete hard and they come at us in waves.
Stortini fired a Stefan Chaput feed through the legs of goaltender Jussi Rynnas for his second goal of the season and later battled to a draw in a third-period fight with Jamie Devane.
“That was a great pass, he put it right on my tape,” said Stortini, a veteran of more than 500 professional games. “That’s where most of my goals are going to come from, a couple of feet outside the crease.”
Dumont’s team-leading 14th goal of the season came as he charged to the net and beat Rynnas tight to the glove side. Rynnas was strong the rest of the way, especially in the third when he denied Michael Bournival as he tried to convert a rebound from the lip of the crease in the eighth minute and he got his glove on a hard shot from Dumont with Mayer on the bench for a sixth attacker.
“A lot of it has to do with confidence with the puck,” Lefebvre said of his team’s lack of scoring punch this season. “Sometimes we squeeze the stick and we have chances and just can’t bury them. We have run into some good goaltending at times. Our offence starts from our defence and when we are strong defensively and not spending a lot of time in our zone we will have better chances.”
The game against Grand Rapids was the first of nine February home dates for the Bulldogs, who trailed 2-0 after the first period. Defenceman Frederic St-Denis brought the home side within a goal at 5:41 of the second, but Tomas Tatar scored his second of three goals on the night to restore the visitors’ two-goal lead at 15:43. Tatar and Luke Glendening each added third-periods goals.
“We had no legs in the first period,” Lefebvre said of the start against the Griffins. “We showed something in the second period and scored a goal. We had a power play and had our chances. Louis Leblanc had a wide-open net and hit the cross bar. That could have made it 2-2 and then it would be a different game. We started much better here than we did against Grand Rapids. I’m sure the Marlies’ coaches weren’t happy with their start. They are a character team and they came back and beat us.”
The Bulldogs’ visit to Toronto next Wednesday marks their final road game of the month. The Bulldogs entertain the Chicago Wolves at 7:30 p.m. Friday and the Texas Stars at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Marlies will conclude the Battle of Ontario with a visit to Copps Coliseum on February 12th at 7:30 p.m.