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OWEN SOUND, ON - The effort was there, the offense just wasn't. The Belleville Bulls pushed for a goal late after Daniil Zharkov came up with what looked to be the beginning of a solution with ten minutes remaining, but the tying goal didn't come as the Bulls fell 2-1.
It seemed the Bulls had trouble adjusting to a smaller ice surface at the Bayshore off the opening faceoff. A scrambly first period of play saw very few shots in the first half of the frame before Owen Sound began pressing the Bulls in the late stages. Pucks seemed to be rolling and bounces weren't going Belleville's way with the end result being an Owen Sound victory on the shot clock by a tally of 13-5 with no goals between the two clubs.
Charlie Graham returned to the crease after a night off on Friday, providing some timely saves to keep the scoreboard clear. Graham came up big in the final two minutes with saves off Gemel Smith from in close and a sharp glove save off Cameron Brace from the right circle.
Each team went 0 for 2 on the man advantage in the first as the Bulls couldn't seem to click in their first pair of attempts.
The Bulls couldn't get the wheels turning early in the second as a pair of minor penalties hampered them early and forced them to send their PK unit out. Although Belleville successfully killed off both infractions, it allowed the Attack to generate some good offence and they'd score shortly after the expiration of the second minor.
With Luke Judson just out of the box and a tired group of Bulls out at the end of a long shift, the Attack broke up ice as Daniel Catenacci displayed his jets down the left wing, snapping a quick shot on Graham who appeared to flash the leather. The puck however, had other ideas as it squirted out of Graham's glove and sat loose as Mike Halmo barreled down the middle and evaded his check to bury the puck into a gaping net for his 33rd goal of the season at 8:25.
The reigning OHL Champions stretched their lead to two at 18:32 as the Belleville powerplay allowed it's sixth shorthanded goal of the season. Halmo and Catenacci hooked up again, with "Cat" collecting the goal for number 25 on the season. With Jason Shaw stranded on a two-on-one after a turnover at the offensive blueline, Halmo threaded the needle through the slot to Catenacci who chipped the puck over Graham at 18:32.
The Bulls had their opportunities, going 0 for 3 on the man advantage through the opening two periods but had nothing to show for their efforts. The Attack controlled the shot clock 26-16 headed into the third period.
Knowing their need for points in the current Eastern Conference landscape, the Bulls played a hard fought third period as they dominated the Attack in the offensive zone. The powerplay couldn't connect on it's first opportunity of the third, but with Kyle Hope in the box at 8:38 for delay of game after he intentionally pushed the net off it's moorings, Belleville finally converted.
Daniil Zharkov ended a 13 game goal drought dating back to December 29th as he rifled in a shot from the high slot past the catching hand of Jordan Binnington. Blueliner Stephen Silas had slid down to the half wall and took a pass from Jake Worrad before finding Zharkov waiting cocked and loaded in the slot for the Russian's 16th goal of the season.
The Bulls were pulled to within one and a pair of big saves off Cameron Brace by Charlie Graham kept the Bulls within contention of achieving a point. Graham first made a right pad save when Brace found time and space in the high slot with eight minutes remaining. Brace nearly scored Owen Sound's second shorthanded marker of the night with three minutes remaining but Graham stymied his attempt with a cool glove save from in close.
Despite a valiant effort in the final two minutes, the Bulls couldn't beat Binnington as the closest they'd come was a deflection by Brendan Gaunce with 20 seconds left on the clock.
"I thought we had a tougher time adjusting to our surroundings tonight," said Bulls blueline Stephen Silas after the loss. "You'd think it'd be more difficult for a team like us to get used to playing in Kitchener as opposed to Owen Sound that is a little more like the rink we play in. The small ice surface definately bogged us down in the first period."
Silas also weighed in on the team's powerplay difficulties in the game as Belleville went 1 for 6. "It was nice to get it going in the third when it seemed like we finally started to play as a unit. The first two periods just seemed like we'd be making some good plays and then one bad pass or a misread play would cost us more time on the clock."
Charlie Graham was named the game's third star with 33 saves in a solid effort.
The Bulls are back to .500 with a record of 24-24-1-0 and will head to Kingston on Friday night for a 7:30 date with the Frontenacs before returning home to face the Guelph Storm on Saturday night.
The Bulls and Storm square off in the Sticks and Stones Event in support of the Belleville General Hospital Foundation when the puck drops at 7:05pm. For ticket information, contact the Bulls Box Office at 613-966-8338.