Aggressive penalty killing paid big dividends for the Hamilton Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs scored two short-handed goals, including Patrick Holland's third period winner, to defeat the St. John's IceCaps 3-2 Friday in their American Hockey League opener.
Hamilton head coach Sylvain Lefebvre confirmed that aggression was a priority for his team's penalty killers.
"We've been trying to be aggressive and block shots," Lefebvre said. "You want to get into good habits. Usually, your best penalty-killer is going to be your goalie, and (Hamilton goaltender Dustin) Tokarski was good tonight."
The coach saw a lot to like in his team's first effort of the season.
"I'm really happy with the result," Lefebvre said. "I think it was a character win too.
"It was 2-2 after two periods in our own building. The guys found a way, and we scored two short-handed goals tonight. Our power play gave us some momentum."
Hamilton regains lead
Greg Pateryn and Mike Blunden also scored for Hamilton (1-0-0), while Tokarski stopped 33 of 35 shots.
Andrew Gordon and Ben Chiarot had goals for St. John's (0-1-0), and Eddie Pasquale made 31 saves.
Hamilton scored its second short-handed goal of the game to retake the lead for good at 5:15 of the third period.
Holland was sprung on a lone break through the middle, and successfully eluded the only defender in front of him before slipping a weak shot through the legs of Pasquale.
"When you're one-on-one and short-handed, you really have nothing to lose," Holland said. "You just have to try to make a play and get a good shot on net.
"The puck went under that defenceman's stick, and at that point I knew that there wasn't much I could do other than go five-hole."
The IceCaps had a golden opportunity to level the game with eight minutes to play in the third when Josh Lunden found himself alone in the low slot with only Tokarski to beat. But Lunden's wrist shot clanged off the far post and bounced to safety.
Power play tie
The Bulldogs opened the scoring at the 4:26 mark of the opening period while short-handed. Pateryn and Blunden broke down the right wing and worked a give-and-go to perfection. Two defenders flocked to Blunden and he sent a centring pass to Pateryn, who snapped a hard shot over Pasquale's shoulder.
The IceCaps tied the game on a power play. Brendan Kitching sent a pass across to the blue-line to his defence partner Gordon, who let go a low slap shot that passed the screening Jason Jaffray in and eluded Tokarski at 10:01 of the first period.
Tokarski made a flurry of saves to preserve the tie with a minute to play in the period. He dropped into a butterfly to knock away a shot through traffic, and sprawled to his right to deny an attempt on the rebound.
Blunden gave Hamilton a 2-1 lead at 1:55 of the second period, receiving a pass along the boards from Joonas Nattinen and walking to the right faceoff dot before releasing a heavy wrist shot than Pasquale could only watch as it passed over his shoulder.
But Hamilton's second lead, much like its first, was short-lived.
IceCaps defenceman Ben Chiarot took control of the puck along the red-line, and moved to the slot before back-handing a shot over Tokarski's outstretched glove to tie the game at two at 5:41 of the second.
Tokarski produced a timely save to excuse his teammates' mistake with four minutes to play in the second period. The Bulldogs were tiring in the middle of a shift extended by an icing, and the goaltender slid to his left to turn aside a point-blank wrist shot and stop play.