MONTREAL -- The route between Montreal and Hamilton isn’t exactly the road less travelled this season.
The Bulldogs and Canadiens are piling up frequent flyer miles this season. Already in 2009-10, a total of 17 different players have suited up both on the farm and for the big club. While seeing such drastic personnel changes could leave any head coach spinning his wheels, Hamilton bench boss Guy Boucher has kept his troops rolling along smoothly.
To keep things constant despite the whirlwind surrounding his team, the first year AHL coach has integrated a little of his own personal philosophy into the ‘Dogs game plan.
“You always have to be ready to improvise,” preached Boucher. “It’s happened where two days before a game, we’re working on the power play and then the day of the game, three of those five players are called up and not available. I know I can fill those gaps with some of the other guys who can carry that load. I can always count on having players who can step up and fill the roles we need.”
One of the stingiest defensive teams in the league, the Bulldogs can keep teams off the board no matter who’s been called up to Montreal.
“When players leave, our offense hasn’t suffered. Our game is a defense-first mentality and that’s where all the offense is created,” explained Boucher, whose Bulldogs have allowed the fewest goals against in the AHL this season. “When our best offensive guys are gone, our defense is so strong that we’re still winning games and playing well.”
A few times this year, bad luck has even struck the Canadiens, Bulldogs and ECHL affiliate Cyclones at the exact same time.
“We actually played one game with only 10 forwards and five defensemen, because we could only bring up one guy from the Cyclones who were also hit by a string of injuries,” recalled Boucher, who also admitted that those personnel shortages take their toll on the team after a few undermanned games.
“In Montreal, the guys don’t want to make any mistakes. Be it in a game, during practice, whenever. It’s completely normal; they’re playing with big time players like the Gomezes and Giontas and they’re running on adrenaline. When come back to Hamilton, they fall back into their comfort zone, a more normal and lower-stress environment and it sometimes takes a little to get back on track,” explained Boucher of recent call-ups like David Desharnais
, Tom Pyatt and P.K. Subban
, who all struggled upon their return to the Bulldogs’ kennel.
With the AHL playoffs looming, Boucher knows his team will have their work cut out for them the rest of the way.
“Teams will be ready for us there’s no doubt about that,” warned Boucher. “Since they know we don’t give up many goals, they tend to sit back and really try to clamp down on our offense. There isn’t much space out there for us. We make it a point not to look at the standings. It’s all about playing better than our last game each time we step on the ice. If we keep doing that, we’ll keep improving and be in good shape for the playoffs.”
If the first-place Bulldogs improve any further, the AHL postseason may be little more than the Westminster Dog Show come the spring.Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Shauna Denis.See also:Pleky’s Redemption 2010 Olympic Games My Playlist: Paul Mara