After a close loss against their Ontario rivals, Bulldogs take on the Calgary Flames’ AHL affliate, the Abbotsford Heat. The Bulldogs look to break a 3 game losing streak against a strong Abbotsford team that has yet to lose in regulation and is lead by AHL rookie and top Flames prospect, Sven Baertschi, who drives their first line and leads the team with 8 points in 6 games, and NHL level defenseman T.J. Brodie.
After last night’s loss the Bulldogs have shuffled their lineup some, by taking out Hagel the goon and putting in Alain Berger, the not particularly talented goalscorer. Berger has been a victim of the AHL numbers game being a healthy scratch along side Alex Avtsin for every game so far. Also Brandon Nash draws in to the third defensive pairing with Morgan Ellis, benching Corbin. Nash doesn’t change the number of defensemen in the lineup who played in the AHL last year (1, St. Denis) but does raise the number of defenders who have played in the AHL before this season to 2. Hopefully Nash can bring a bit of stability to a talented but very raw group of defenders. Robert Mayer is expected to start.
Over the last few games a new top line for the Bulldogs has emerged from the combination of 3 20-year old rookies fresh from the CHL. Holland-Bournival-Gallagher together have been excellent at controlling the play at even strength. Bournival has been perhaps the Bulldogs best all round forward thus far, his speed and tenacity making for a fine two-way centerman. Patrick Holland has usually been one of his winger and been the Bulldogs’ best playmaker, consistently making smart plays with the puck as he attempts to set up plays from the boards as well as being a fairly effective fore-checker. Brendan Gallagher completes the line as the goal scorer. In the offensive zone he looks to attack the opposition puck carrier along the right side of the ice when they have the puck, or if his team is in control, he goes hard to the goal mouth, slipping through cracks in the oppositions coverage.
Going into tonight the Bulldogs are a team deep in talent but lacking experience and top level offensive threats. The are good at controlling the balance of play on even strength but lapses in positional defense and poor goaltending ability makes them vulnerable to quick strikes from the opposing team and they don’t have any kind of great offensive player that could lead them in converting offensive zone time into goals.
On special teams they have a competent but not spectacular penalty kill and a powerplay that has generally failed to convert on its chances.
View From the Other Side:
To get a better read on the Abbotsford team, I talked to the great and terrible Nations Network Overlord Kent Wilson who extensively covers the Calgary Flames.
Here are roughly the lines you can expect to see tonight:
Baertschi – Walter/Horak – Sylvester
Horak – Kolanos – Ruesegger
Street – Laing – Bancks
Olson – Reinhart – Aliu
Brodie – Piskula
McKelvie – Callahan
Pinning down the Heat’s forwards units is tough. Troy Ward has six veterans on the team (five per game is allowed) so he actively rotates the healthy scratch amongst them. In addition, most of the guys are natural centers (Reinhart, Kolanos, Olson, Street, Laing, Walter) so he sometimes switches that up based on the scratch and who is playing well or not.
The players to watch are Roman Horak, TJ Brodie and Sven Baertschi. Horak is scorching hot at the moment while Baertschi is the Flames best prospect by a wide margin. He frequently looks like the most dangerous player on the ice despite having just turned 20 in September. Brodie is a 21 year old defender who doesn’t lay out big hits or anything, but is really smooth and poised on the back-end. He’s already the Heat’s best defender and has averaged a point-per-game through the early going.
Paul Byron and Greg Nemisz are a couple of potential top-6 options who are currently injured for the Heat. Max Reinhart was a former third round pick of the Flames and has some high expectations to eventually become a capable two-way center at the NHL level, but he’s mostly played in a bottom-six, PK role for the Heat so far. He’ll need a lot more time than Baertschi to take the next step I suspect.
The Heat escaped their back-to-back with Lake Erie with three of a possible four points, despite being outshot a cumulative 66-43. Abbotsford has yet to lose in regulation this year, mostly due to red hot special teams (PP of 30%+, 100% PK) and some above average goaltending. Roman Horak and his team leading SH% (33) and goal total (6) hasn’t hurt either.
Keys to the Game:
For the Bulldogs to be successful they will likely need to repeat what worked for them last game. An offense from the top two lines and top defensive pair. They also really could use more shutdown capability from the second pairing, who were improved against Toronto but still falling short of what Tinordi and Pateryn are capable off.
Against Abbotsford in particular, they will need to counter the threat of their star winger Baertschi. They will also need to either stay out of the penalty box or find a way to defeat the Heat’s strong first powerplay unit.
As always, for the Bulldogs to have a chance at victory they will need at least a decent night from their goaltender, in this case Robert Mayer, who has only been really good in one match so far this season (first Marlies’ game).