Bulldogs Need to Rebound

The Hamilton Bulldogs got off to one of the best starts in the OHL. In their first 10 games, they went 7-3 and were ranked second or third place in their division and the Eastern Conference. However, they have fallen on hard times and are in danger of losing their spot.

Since the opening 10 games, the Bulldogs have not won more than two games in a row. They have six losses in their last seven games. They are now at 30 points and have been caught by both the North Bay Battalion and the Peterborough Petes. Thanks to tiebreakers, they have fallen to fourth place in the Eastern Conference and third place in the East Division. What’s worse is that the two teams behind them, the Kingston Frontenacs and Ottawa 67’s are only two points behind. The Sudbury Wolves are also at 28 points. If all these teams get one more win, the Bulldogs are suddenly sitting in seventh place in the conference.

How to Fix the Problem

A look at their record when trailing after the first period and it’s not hard to see why they have been losing. That record includes one win and nine losses. It seems that if the Bulldogs don’t get off to a good start, they don’t win the game. Want more proof? On the other side of the coin, they are 10-0-0-1 when leading after the first period. That one shootout loss came Saturday night against Kingston.

Against the Frontenacs, the Bulldogs got off to a great start. They managed a quick lead six minutes into the game and showed a lot of fight in the first period. They extended the lead to 2-0 before three minutes had passed in the second period. However, the momentum shifted in the second half of the period as Kingston scored two quick goals in the last five minutes. The Bulldogs eventually lost 3-2 in the shootout.

John Gruden, Flint Firebirds, Hamilton Bulldogs, OHL
John Gruden behind the Hamilton Bulldogs bench in 2016-17. (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

It was a tale of two games. If the Bulldogs continue to play the way they did in the first half of the game, they will finish with a good playoff position. If they play the way they did in the second half, they will struggle to make the playoffs. As they’ve proven, the Bulldogs have the potential to be a very good team. They might not get to first place since the Oshawa Generals are still a powerhouse, but they can manage a third place finish (only because the division leaders automatically get first and second).

Another problem is their special teams. Their power play is ranked 17th and their penalty kill is ranked 18th. Remember, there are only 20 teams in the OHL. They need to improve on those aspects of the game if they want to maintain their standing. It’s okay to be great at 5-on-5 but special teams can be key to winning or losing. This is something that head coach John Gruden and his staff will have to work on.

The Bulldogs have six more games before the Christmas break where they will have 10 days off. Hopefully, they can fix their issues and come out of the gate flying, just as they did at the start of the season.