The Hamilton Bulldogs are just over a month into their 2017-18 season and so far things aren’t going as planned. While they have a record of 8-5-1-3, it’s only good for second to last place in the East Division of the OHL’s Eastern Conference. It’s still early, but they will want to fix their problems as soon as possible if they want to make the playoffs.
What is the reason for their struggles?
The biggest reason is the number of goals they’ve scored. Seventeen games into the season, the Bulldogs have scored 42 goals. Compare that to last season and you’ll see the problem. They scored 72 goals in the first 17 games last season. While that scoring pace could never be held up, the Bulldogs lack the finish they had last season.
Can They Have Matt Luff Back, Please?
Part of the lack of scoring can be explained by the departures of Niki Petti, Michael Cramarossa and Matt Luff. Petti and Cramarossa were over-agers last season and the Los Angeles Kings decided to send Luff to the AHL’s Ontario Reign. Take away those players, three of the Bulldogs’ top six scorers, and that’s 155 points off the board.
With those departures, other players were in line to help replace that production. So far that has not happened. There are only three players with 10 or more points: Will Bitten, Brandon Saigeon and Matthew Strome. While Bitten leads the team with 14 points, only three are goals. Saigeon leads the team in goals with seven, followed by Strome with five. Marian Studenic, Arthur Kaliyev and Isaac Nurse are tied for third with four.
While it’s great that Saigeon is thriving after being passed over in the draft twice, he shouldn’t be the Bulldogs’ leading scorer. Bitten has the same amount of goals as captain (and defenseman) Justin Lemcke, which is a sign that he needs to score more. Connor Roberts is another player that needs to pick it up. He only has two goals while regularly playing on a line with Saigeon and Studenic. As this is Roberts’ draft year, it’s in his best interest to find the scoresheet more.
Struggling Top Line
Last season’s top two scorers, Strome and Bitten, are not on pace to match their total goal output from last season. If the Bulldogs want to improve in the standings, these two need to find the net more.
One player who has yet to find the back of the net is MacKenzie Entwistle. He has only played nine games due to injury troubles, but the Bulldogs will need him when he’s healthy. This will be especially imperative if Studenic’s recent injury keeps him out for a extended period of time.
As you can probably guess, the lack of scoring has also affected the Bulldogs’ power play. They have had the man advantage 65 times, the second-lowest amount of any team, and only converted on 10 of them. That places them third from the bottom in power play percentage with a 15.4% success rate.
Right now, the Bulldogs need to keep to low-scoring games if they have any hope of winning. Only twice have they allowed three goals in a game and won. While Kaden Fulcher and Nick Donofrio haven’t been bad, if the Bulldogs can’t score more, they will still have to be better.
If the Bulldogs want to get back to the playoffs, they need to be better. That may have started with their two wins this past weekend but it’s going to need to continue.