TORONTO – Carter Ashton received the call Saturday night that no player wants.
However, after being told he was being demoted, the 22-year-old made the best of his return to the American Hockey League by scoring the game-winning goal as the Toronto Marlies edged the visiting Hamilton Bulldogs 2-1 on Sunday.
Despite Ashton’s disappointment of being sent down after playing nine games with the Maple Leafs, Marlies’ head coach Steve Spott was pleased with the power forward’s mindset heading into his first AHL game of the season.
“He was good. He went right with Trevor (Smith) and with Spencer (Abbott) on that first line and I thought he had a heck of a game,” said Spott. “He was just a dominant player out there. He played 5-on-5, killed penalties and was good at the net front on power play.
“It’s great to see when he comes down. It sends the right message for our young guys.”
Toronto took a 2-0 lead at 5:30 of the second period when Ashton put home an Abbott rebound while on the power play.
“Abbott stood on the half wall and just walked it to the net,” said Ashton of the goal. “I knew the puck might come out and I got a good rebound, right on my stick.”
T.J. Brennan also scored for the Marlies (4-1-0), who are unbeaten in four games at the Ricoh Coliseum this season, and goaltender Drew MacIntyre made 17 saves for the victory.
Mike Blunden scored the lone goal for the Bulldogs (1-1-2), who were held to just nine shots through the final 40 minutes. Robert Mayer stopped 26 shots in defeat.
Hamilton cut Toronto’s lead in half 2:08 into the third period on Blunden’s second goal of the season.
The Bulldogs pulled their goaltender with less than a minute remaining, but could not find the equalizer.
Ashton had an excellent chance to get Toronto on the board 6:55 into the first period when he was awarded a penalty shot, however Mayer stopped him.
“I was thinking about trying to fake a shot and open him up somewhere and I tried going five hole, but he dropped pretty quick,” Ashton said.
Brennan opened the scoring with his league-leading eighth goal of the season, on the power play, at 8:29 of the first period. With Erik Nystrom off serving a tripping penalty, Brennan one-timed a John-Michael Liles feed past Mayer.
Near the midway mark of the opening period, Hamilton’s Gabriel Dumont hit Toronto’s Jerry D’Amigo hard, from behind. D’Amigo remained down for a moment, but was able to skate off under his own strength. Dumont was assessed a minor penalty for boarding.
Thirty seconds later, Nathan Beaulieu went to the box for shooting the puck over the glass giving the Marlies an extended 5-on-3 opportunity, but Toronto was unable to capitalize.
Toronto finished 2-for-8 on the power play, but was unable to score with a two-man advantage in first period, which has become an early-season trend for the club.
“The challenge for me is still that 5-on-3,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to punish teams 5-on-3. We were up 1-0 when we had the extended 5-on-3 and we didn’t get it done. That’s an area we’ve got to continue to focus on.”
Notes: Bulldogs’ forward Martin St. Pierre missed his second straight game with a lower-body injury. The Maple Leafs assigned Carter Ashton, Trevor Smith and David Broll to the Marlies Sunday morning.