Twenty-four hours after an utterly abysmal performance, the Hamilton Bulldogs looked like a different team on Saturday against the Abbotsford Heat.
The Montreal Canadiens farm team was energetic and physical from the opening faceoff, and goalie Cedrick Desjardins – a longtime Heat tormentor dating back to the local club’s inaugural 2009-10 season – stopped all 24 shots he faced as the Bulldogs won 3-0 at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
It didn’t help the Heat that two of their top three scorers, Sven Baertschi and Ben Walter, watched from the press box after suffering injuries late in Friday’s 5-1 win. But nevertheless, it was a subpar effort – and a rare one, at that – at home for the AHL’s top overall team.
Saturday’s defeat marked the first regulation loss at the AESC for the Heat, who had out-scored opponents 42-12 and posted a 9-0-2 record coming in.
“We got a little bit embarrassed yesterday,” admitted Bulldogs rookie forward Patrick Holland, whose first-period goal stood up as the game-winner. “Against a good team you’re going to get embarrassed on any night you don’t come out to play.
“We kind of just re-evaluated where we were at. We came out on a clean slate, tried to work hard and keep it simple.”
Holland, a former Calgary Flames draftee who joined the Montreal Canadiens organization in the Mike Cammalleri trade last season, opened the scoring at 4:23 of the first. Stationed in front of the net, he took a centring feed from Brendan Gallagher and chopped the puck over Heat goalie Danny Taylor’s glove.
The Heat had the better of the scoring chances in the second period thanks to a pair of overlapping power plays, but Desjardins stood tall. Most notably, he stoned Tyler Ruegsegger, who hammered a one-timer off a feed from Ben Street.
The Bulldogs put the game away with a pair of goals early in the third. After Heat defenceman T.J. Brodie picked up a roughing penalty in the offensive zone, Steve Quailer popped a rebound past Taylor on the ensuing power play.
Taylor was the victim of some bad luck on the next goal, as Louis Leblanc’s sharp-angle shot went in off a defender’s skate.
In the aftermath, Heat head coach Troy Ward said his charges simply didn’t play hard enough.
“I thought it was pretty evident from the first puck drop, maybe the first couple puck battles,” he said. “They seemed to get into us pretty good, and our posture was back on our heels right away. We haven’t had many games like that all year – this was one of the first times.
“If I was the coach over there, I’d be proud of how they handled the 5-1 loss. They came back, and they pushed pretty hard.”
Ruegsegger said he could sense in warm-ups that the Hamilton crew was motivated after laying an egg the night before.
“You’ve got to credit them – they came out with a lot of heart tonight, and we didn’t match it,” he noted.
Bulldogs coach Sylvain Lefebvre lauded the play of Desjardins, whose highlight reel included a larcenous glove save on Max Reinhart in the first period.
“He brings the team confidence,” said Lefebvre. “He breathes confidence. It shows. The guys like to play in front of him. Not that they don’t like to play in front of (Robert) Mayer (the starter on Friday), but Cedrick went through a tough time at the start of the season. Now he’s happy to be back.”
The Heat (13-3-4, 30 points) still sit atop the AHL overall standings, while the Bulldogs (7-9-2, 16 points) sit last in the North Division.
• Ward shed no light on the nature of the Baertschi/Walter injuries.
“You know me – they’re hurt,” he said. “I only worry about the 20 guys that are playing.”
• Saturday was the Heat’s annual Pucks ‘n Paws promotion. Fans were allowed to bring their dogs to the rink, with $5 dog tickets going to support the local SPCA.
• The Heat are return to action on home ice with a Tuesday-Wednesday set against the San Antonio Rampage (7 p.m. both nights).