The Toronto Marlies fell to their first regulation defeat of 2018, ending their franchise-recording-setting points streak at 16 games.
Throughout the game, Toronto failed to match the intensity of the Belleville Senators, who seemed to revel in a chance to take the top-ranked club down a peg or two.
The Senators set the tone early, drawing the first power play five minutes in when Kerby Rychel headed to the box for tripping. The Marlies were indebted to Garret Sparks, who pulled off two excellent saves to keep Belleville off the board.
Rychel then had a chance to open the scoring after exiting the box but couldn’t apply the finishing the touch on a 2-on-1 break.
Two minutes later, the Marlies had to kill another penalty before the Senators took a deserved lead back at even strength with almost 12 minutes on the clock.
With Timothy Liljegren up ice and Andreas Johnsson covering him, Johnsson looked the part of a forward who hadn’t done a lot of backwards skating defending against the rush. Johnsson got beat wide and fell over, and with Miro Aaltonen was late getting back, Belleville broke into the zone with numbers. Tyler Randell was the recipient of the pass in the slot, where he made no mistake for just his third goal of the season.
There was a little pushback from the Marlies inside the final five minutes, but Vincent LoVerde and Mason Marchment were both turned aside by Sens goaltender Danny Taylor and not much was created on a Toronto power play to finish the period.
Toronto wasted another power play opportunity to begin the second period before the turning point of the game arrived five minutes in. During a rare spell of offensive pressure, Colin Greening for some reason didn’t get a shot off tight before Trevor Moore brought a sharp pad save out of Taylor.
As play continued, the Marlies were scrambled inside the defensive zone, resulting in Ben Sexton doubling the Belleville lead. There was a delay as officials checked to see whether Greening’s effort had previously crossed the line, but the quick decision suggested either it wasn’t as close as previously thought or the technology wasn’t working.
A chance to strike back fell to Kerby Rychel once more, but he wasn’t able to beat Taylor on a breakaway. The Marlies power play was also failing to produce, going scoreless for a third time in the game at the 12-minute mark of the middle frame.
A subsequent Marlies penalty kill held firm, though, and perhaps if Aaltonen’s shot hit the twine and not the post with 75 seconds of the second period remaining, the outcome of the game would have been different.
While the Marlies have won three times on the 11 occasions they’ve trailed after 40 minutes of play, never had a comeback appeared less likely this season than in the third period of this game. Belleville was content to play it safe and dump the puck in, giving no quarter in puck battles along the boards and running the clock down in the process.
The Marlies mustered just eight shots on net during the final frame of regulation. Despite that, they still gave themselves some hope of claiming a point thanks to a strike from Rinat Valiev with seven minutes remaining.
Danny Taylor was not forced into a tough save of note after that point, however, and Belleville secured the two points with an empty-netter with five seconds left on the clock.
It was an unfortunate way to end an incredible stretch for Toronto, but all good things do come to an end. The Marlies will have to quickly reset for a trip to Laval on Saturday night.
Post Game Notes
– This was Toronto first loss in Belleville during this campaign. They continue to lead the season series 5-2.
“It was pretty apparent that we were sleepwalking right from start of this one,” said Sheldon Keefe after the game. “The whole game was a snoozer. There was no real offense going either way. It felt like one of these weeks for us; we could kind of see this coming. We had to find a way to dig in and be better here. We just didn’t generate enough offense.”
– Expanding on his comment about “feeling the loss coming,” Keefe mentioned the team didn’t have a whole lot of jump throughout the week in practice. “It just didn’t feel like we had much… it just felt like this was coming. We’ve played some really good hockey here and we’ve been on a good run. We haven’t had a game like this in quite some time. Teams do go through this. The good teams respond very well the next time out.”
– Keefe pointed out after the game that the team only gave up four even-strength chances in this game compared to 20 the previous visit to Belleville. “I don’t know what to make of that,” said the Marlies head coach. “It was probably just an indication of the fact that the game was very much a snoozer.”
– Andreas Johnsson extended his point streak to seven games (5-9-14) with the primary helper on the sole Marlies goal.
– Miro Aaltonen recorded his fifth assist in as many games and his 19th of the season.
– Martin Marincin and Justin Holl were both absent through injury, but the Marlies penalty kill managed to keep a clean sheet without two of its key contributors.
– Friday’s lines: