The Toronto Marlies’ defensive deficiencies reared their ugly head once again this season against Lehigh on Sunday.
Unlike Saturday’s win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, there was no escaping a first-period two-goal hole and there was little to like about the Marlies‘ overall performance in this game. If not for Eamon McAdam, the margin of defeat could have been a whole lot worse.
“Defensively, just a disaster,” said Sheldon Keefe after the game. “No attention to detail… It’s disappointing, frankly. The most disappointing part is that a lot of it is falling on the guys who played significant roles in us winning a championship last season. It’s not the new guys. It’s the guys who have been here and guys we have won with… It’s on me as a coach to figure that out.”
The Marlies were indebted to their goaltender after Morgan Klimchuk took an early penalty, as McAdam made three excellent saves with his team down a man.
Dmytro Timashov then took a selfish penalty to negate Toronto’s first power play before the Marlies wasted a second opportunity with the extra man.
The only chance of note in the opening 10 minutes fell to Carl Grundstrom, who forced Carter Hart into a glove save before Lehigh opened the scoring.
Frank Corrado and Emerson Clark failed to engage Phil Varone as he ghosted between the pair of them before beating McAdam with a far-post finish.
The Phantoms then increased their lead with another avoidable goal as the Marlies failed to do the simple things correctly inside their own zone. Rasmus Sandin was out-battled for the puck behind his own net and nobody picked up Varone alone in front, where he promptly scored his second of the period courtesy of a feed from Greg Carey.
An individual rush from Pierre Engvall down the left side and around the Lehigh defense resulted in him firing a shot that clipped the outside of the post, but that’s as close as the Marlies came in the opening 20 minutes.
Lehigh almost made it 3-0 early in the middle frame with a shorthanded rush from Mikhail Vorobyev, but McAdam bailed out his team after a giveaway.
Against the run of play, the Marlies halved the deficit five-minute minute mark when Engvall redirected a long range shot from Jordan Subban.
The goal did nothing for the Marlies’ legs; instead, it was Lehigh who continued to drive the pace of the game as they recorded 14 shots on net for the second straight period.
An error from Calle Rosen, who tried to kick the puck to safety, allowed Nicolas Aube-Kubel to sneak in behind him, where he gave McAdam no chance on a top-shelf finish.
Despite their defensive inadequacies, the Marlies did create three opportunities of note: Grundstrom forced a blocker save out of Hart and Klimchuk was denied during a 2-on-1 break, but the best chance fell to Chris Mueller, who really should have buried in tight if not for a highlight reel glove save from Hart.
Trailing 3-1, the Marlies began the third period on the penalty kill after Mason Marchment was tabbed for tripping as the intermission buzzer sounded.
The winger almost redeemed himself after exiting the box with a tremendous backcheck to regain possession, but the Marlies failed to capitalize on a 3-on-1 odd-man rush.
Sam Jardine became the latest culprit to fire into Hart when presented with an excellent scoring opportunity before the new arrival in Klimchuk showed his teammates the way. The beneficiary of a turnover, Klimchuk weaved his way into the slot before roofing his shot past Hart to bring Toronto within one.
There was comeback forthcoming, however, as a needless and reckless elbowing penalty from Timashov put his team down a man. Lehigh pulled apart the Marlies penalty kill and Chris Conner scored his 10th of the season to extend Lehigh’s lead to 4-2.
Marchment was unable to nestle the twine in alone with seven minutes remaining and it proved the last chance of note for the Marlies, who fell further behind two minutes later. Taylor Leir put the game out of reach on a penalty shot after Sandin hauled him down.
This was a frustrating game for the coaching staff, who have watched their Marlies team take one step forward and two steps back all season.
Post Game Notes
– It was a much-changed defense for Toronto, with Timothy Liljegren (injury) and Andreas Borgman (possibly nursing an ailment) both absent. Neither Sam Jardine or Jordan Subban impressed in expanded opportunities.
– Morgan Klimchuk scored for a second straight game and showcased a little more of his offensive ability in this game than on Saturday.
– Pierre Engvall also scored his second in as many games to give him seven on the season in 19 games.
– Eamon McAdam’s statistics took another hit despite making 35 saves, but there wasn’t a whole lot more he could have done as his efforts prevented this game from becoming an utter rout.
– Carl Grundstrom recorded his 10th assist of the season with the secondary helper on Engvall’s goal.
– Sheldon Keefe after the game when asked whether there were pockets of the game he was pleased with despite the result: “No.”
– Sunday’s lines: