The Bulldogs are red hot right now...how hot? I'll let Dustin Tokarski tell you how hot they are.
First up on the Bulldogs busy holiday schedule was a game against the Toronto Marlies at the Air Canada Centre on Boxing Day and Hamilton put on one of their best performances of the year. Hamilton doubled up Toronto 40-19 in total shots over the course of the game and thanks to goals from Joonas Nättinen(his 5th) and Greg Pateryn (his 5th) the Bulldogs would come away with a 2-1 OT victory(Pateryn scored in OT to win it). For a team that has struggled to limit teams this season this game was a masterclass in terms of defense especially against a very good Marlies team.
Following their Boxing Day victory Hamilton returned to Copps Coliseum to once again battle the Marlies in a North Division showdown and once again Hamilton would stifle their Ontario rivals. Carter Ashton would put the Marlies up 1-0 early in the 1st period and despite holding a 14-8 shot advantage the Bulldogs would be unable to answer it. However early in the 2nd Michael Blunden would put home a Gabriel Dumont rebound for his 7th goal of the year and tie the game. With the Bulldogs on the power play Marlies forward Sam Carrick would steal the puck dangle around Nathan Beaulieu and put the puck past Dustin Tokarski for a highlight reel shorthanded goal. However Blunden would once again tie the game by getting an ugly goal on a loose puck scramble in front of the crease(He would also fall over Drew MacIntyre while attempting to celebrate). The real story in the 2nd period was Hamilton putting up 20 shots vs the Marlies 6 and doing it while having only 1 powerplay. Hamilton would take the lead less than 2 minutes into the 3rd as Sven Andrighetto put home his 8th goal and from there the Dogs never looked back...Martin St. Pierre would add an insurance marker with less than a minute remaining to seal the win for Hamilton while Ashton sat for holding.
Next up on a the schedule was a trip to Utica(yes three games in three nights) and the defensive prowess from the previous two games disappeared against the Comets. Alexandre Grenier would beat Michael Condon with less than 15 seconds left in the first to put the Comets up early but Hamilton would come storming back in the 2nd with Dumont scoring less than a minute in to tie the score and Louis Leblanc adding his 9th goal to give the Dogs the lead. Greg Pateryn tallied his 6th goal 47 seconds into the 3rd period which should have sealed the win. However Utica would battle back and goals from Darren Archibald and Henrik Tommernes would see the game head to OT and eventually into a shootout. Thankfully Condon was up to the task and turned away 3 out of 5 shooters while Maxime Macenauer, Martin St. Pierre and Nathan Beaulieu scored to secure the win for the rookie goalie.
After some well deserved time off the team was off to Abbotsford where they played a back to back against the Heat this past Friday and Saturday. Behind some stellar goaltending from Tokarski the Bulldogs earned a 2-1 win Friday night with goals from Justin Courtnall and Christian Thomas. Courtnall would score on a beautiful wrap around attempt 7 minutes into the 1st period to open the scoring for Hamilton and Thomas would put home his 3rd goal 10 minutes into the 2nd period for the game winner. Sven Baertschi would break Tokarski's shut out bid less than 4 minutes into the 3rd but the Bulldogs netminder would shut the door from there to preserve the win.
Saturday night would see the rematch between the Heat and the Bulldogs and once again Hamilton would come away victorious. Markus Granlund would score his 14th goal for the Heat on the powerplay but from there it was all Hamilton. Gabriel Dumont put home his 6th goal in the 2nd period and his 7th goal of the year in the 3rd to give the Bulldogs a lead heading into the final stretch of the game. With Sven Andrighetto sitting for high sticking Morgan Ellis would make several key blocks to keep the puck out of Hamilton's net and Tokarski would make several scrambling stops before Maxime Macenauer fired the puck from the Bulldogs zone into the empty net to clinch the victory for Hamilton.
Needless to say this is exactly what Hamilton needed coming off a discouraging five game losing skid that saw them drop down the standings in a very close North Division. However with this current run of form the Bulldogs have passed Lake Erie for 2nd place in the division behind the Marlies and sit 7th overall in the conference with a 17-14-0-4 record. While it's impossible to expect long winning streaks all of the time some consistency will do Hamilton well as they seemed to have sparked the offense with their current line combinations and defensive pairings, Tokarski as always has been a rock in net for this young squad and gives them a chance to win every night. Statistically the Bulldogs are sitting in the middle of the pack when it comes to AHL fancy stats(credit to @joshweissbock for the table). Despite this the Bulldogs hold wins over the top team the Texas Stars and the team in front of the them in the Syracuse Crunch but have struggled with one of the worst possession teams in the league the Rochester Amerks, as I said...some consistency will help this team immensely.
Next up for Hamilton is another 3 games in 3 days road trip starting here in Rochester then 2 games at home against Rochester and the Iowa Wild.
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