“Our play today was unacceptable.”

Those were the post-game words from head coach Sheldon Keefe, whose Marlies team’s early-season penchant for high-scoring games and defensive fragility returned with a vengeance in Cleveland on Friday night, ending their three-game winning streak.

“The fact that we got a point here today was a miracle,” said Keefe.

First Period

It took Cleveland just 85 seconds to open the scoring as the Marlies turned the puck over cheaply in the neutral zone, allowing an odd-man rush against. Two battles were lost in front of the net as Zac Dalpe eventually tucked home a rebound after Jeff Glass turned aside Paul Bitnner.

The Marlies looked bereft of ideas until a strong shift from the fourth line saw them hem Cleveland in their own zone for a sustained spell. While the Monsters were able to clear their lines, the Marlies scored on the following shift as Dmytro Timashov’s shot found its way through traffic at the five-minute mark.

Despite a persistent inability to clear their own zone, the Marlies were able to withstand the pressure and took the lead with nine minutes on the clock against the run of play. A beautifully-weighted aerial pass by the returning Adam Brooks led to Trevor Moore escaping in alone on net, where the in-form winger made no mistake.

That was the only time the Marlies held the lead in this game as they proceeded to concede three goals in a little under four minutes.

A failure to clear the zone and a lost skirmish for the puck behind the net resulted in Eric Robinson having all the time in the world to score at the far side on a wraparound. Of the five goals Jeff Glass conceded in this game, that’s the one he may feel he should have done better on by challenging the scorer more.

Jeremy Bracco contrived not to score on two glorious chances before an error from Josh Jooris directly led Brett Gallant putting the home team ahead 3-2.

The normally-reliable Colin Greening was the next to turn the puck over; as Cleveland broke toward the Toronto net, Rasmus Sandin was embarrassed by Kevin Stenlund, who turned the rookie inside and out and left him flailing on the ice before netting his third of the season.

Second Period

Trailing by two heading into the middle frame, the Marlies got off to the worst possible start, conceding 75 seconds in. Robinson beat Borgman to a loose puck behind the goal line and teed up the unmarked Dalpe for his second of the game.

Glass was pulled for Eamon McAdam, who was immediately forced into action on a subsequent Marlies power play as a mistake from Jordan Subban nearly led to a shorthanded goal against.

An unlikely Marlies comeback began as the game approached the midway mark — Toronto struck three times in the following six minutes.

An intelligent pinch from Timothy Liljegren kept the puck inside the blue line, enabling Pierre Engvall to showcase some excellent puck skills down the middle of the ice before teeing up Jooris for an easy redirect.

Cleveland struck the post before Toronto benefited from a phantom slashing call from the officials. Liljegren did the donkey work to set up Sam Gagner for a power play marker, putting the Marlies within one.

The game was then tied thanks to Toronto’s standout forward line. Mason Marchment and Trevor Moore created room for Sandin to shoot; the rookie’s effort was blocked, but Brooks picked up the rebound and fired low past Matiss Kivlenieks, who was then pulled by the Monsters in favour of Brad Thiessen.

Third Period

After 10 goals in two periods, the 11th took just three minutes to arrive in the final frame. Zac Dalpe tipped home on the power play for his hat-trick, but in truth, he’ll never score an easier trio of goals under less pressure from the slot area.

Thiessen pulled off a fantastic save to deny Dmytro Timashov at the six-minute mark, and the game should have been put to bed shortly after by Cleveland. A bad pinch from Sandin resulted in a 3-on-1 break, but the eventual shot took the slightest of deflections off the inside of McAdam’s pads before striking the post and sliding away to safety.

The line of Marchment-Brooks-Moore looked most likely to force a tying goal, doing everything but scoring. However, their incessant pressure resulted in some tired Cleveland legs, setting up a hard-working shift from the “top line” that broke the Monsters will.

The forwards all contributed to retrieving possession and funneling the puck toward Sandin, who let fly with a long-range shot that nestled into the top shelf past Thiessen to tie the game at 6-6.

McAdam was forced into a pad save to deny Cleveland a second wraparound goal, and the Marlies will feel aggrieved not to have been awarded a penalty shot with 75 seconds remaining, with Engvall clearly tripped up in alone en route to goal.

Overtime also failed to solve the game, although Toronto mostly had McAdam to thank for that as the debutant netminder made seven saves through the five extra minutes.

The closest the Marlies came to stealing the extra point was Adam Brooks striking the post in the final 60 seconds. Cleveland then prevailed 2-1 in the shootout, with Sam Gagner netting the lone goal for Toronto.

Post Game Notes

– The shootout loss extended the Toronto Marlies‘ points streak to five games (3-0-0-2).

– There were very few positives to pick out of this performance, but the line of Mason Marchment (0-1-1), Adam Brooks (1-1-2) and Trevor Moore (1-0-1) were head and shoulders above everyone else. Brooks played exceptionally well in his season debut, Marchment continued to be a beast in possession and a constant pest to the Monsters, while Moore netted his eighth of the season and now has 11 points in 10 games prior to his callup to the Leafs.

“I thought that line, especially as we got going in the second and third period, was dominant,” said Keefe. “That was a real positive for us for sure and a great sign. We’re going to need more than one line if we’re going to have more success as a team. But, definitely, it was nice to have Adam back today.”

Eamon McAdam received his first taste of action for Toronto in the worst of circumstances. Bearing that in mind, he remained composed for the most part, although he did have to thank a couple of goal posts along the way. It’s unfortunate he takes the loss (a stupid rule, in my opinion), but by posting 22 saves, McAdam ensured his team garnered at least a point.

– Friday’s lines:




Game Highlights

Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe