HAMILTON, Ont. -- The Hamilton Bulldogs stressed the need for a strong start before Saturday's game, but the reality on the ice didn't go as planned. Instead, the Utica Comets scored twice in the first period and the Bulldogs never dug out of the early hole.
Benn Ferriero scored twice and Joe Cannata made 32 saves as the Comets defeated the Bulldogs 3-1 in the American Hockey League on Saturday.
"Our first point before the game was that we needed a good start," said Hamilton head coach Sylvain Lefebvre. "They scored two goals early in the first and then we found ourselves battling through adversity and trying to play catch-up.
"We just didn't have it tonight. All-in-all, we just weren't sharp and we couldn't make things work."
Alexandre Grenier also scored for the Comets (12-20-5), who snapped a six-game losing streak with the victory. Comets leading scorer Pascal Pelletier had three assists to increase his point total to 11 in his past eight games.
Maxime Macenauer scored the lone goal for the Bulldogs (19-15-4), while Dustin Tokarski stopped 31 shots.
Sven Andrighetto had a chance to score for Hamilton three minutes into the game, but the Bulldogs' winger could not get his stick on the cross-ice pass from linemate Martin St. Pierre.
The Bulldogs had possibly their best scoring chance of the first period when Justin Courtnall sprung a short-handed rush with Greg Pateryn in the box for tripping. The winger's initial shot was stopped by Cannata, with Patrick Holland unsuccessfully jamming at the loose rebound.
Utica opened the scoring with what looked like a harmless shot from Ferriero at 11:21. After waiting for a thick screen to develop in front of Tokarski, Peter Andersson released a slow, rising wrist shot that tipped off both Pelletier and Ferriero before beating the goaltender, who didn't see the puck until the last moment.
The Comets doubled their advantage through an almost identical move on the power play at 13:42 when Henrik Tommernes fired a high slap shot that deflected off Grenier in front, and beat the goaltender over the blocking glove at the far post.
The Bulldogs cut into their deficit early in the second period, when Macenauer jumped out of the penalty box and victimized the Comets' power-play unit with his fresh legs. The centre latched onto a loose puck in the Utica zone and sped past the Comets' defenders before squeezing a low shot through Cannata for a short-handed goal at 2:07.
"When I got the puck, my first thought was to try to get to the net on a breakaway," said Macenauer. "I realized that the defenceman was very close, and I thought that the five hole was open, so I went for that."
Hamilton began to press for an equalizer midway through the second, and Mike Blunden saw a wrist shot clang off the near post with the Bulldogs on the power play with 11 and a half minutes to play in the period. Despite their pressure, the Bulldogs could not find a second goal before the period's end.
Hamilton got off to a sluggish start in the third, and Tokarski had to be alert to keep his team within a goal.
A scramble with nine and a half minutes to play nearly yielded the equalizer on a power play, but Hamilton came up short. The Bulldogs finished 0-5 with the man advantage.
Lefebvre lamented his team's inability to sustain pressure after its power plays.
"We had one good power play, and I hoped that it might give us some momentum, but we couldn't follow up with good shifts after that," he said. "We had three or four good scoring chances on that one, and a few flurries here and there, but nothing convincing."
Ferriero put the game beyond doubt with 35 seconds to play, putting his second goal of the game into the empty net.
Macenauer argued that he and his teammates will need to get back to basics if they want to return to the win column.
"We have to keep things simple and get back to doing what we were doing when we were winning," he said. "Our forecheck is a strength of our team, and we have some fast guys here, so we need to simplify things and use those parts of our game."