Playing their second game inside 24 hours, the Toronto Marlies simply ran out of gas as they fell to defeat at the hands of the Belleville Senators on Monday.
Already down to the bare bones on defense, the Marlies lost the services of forward Colin Greening heading into the divisional encounter and were also forced to switch goaltenders partway through the game.
There was no easing into the game by either team, with a flurry of back-and-forth action inside the opening two minutes, including an opening goal for the Marlies.
After Sam Jardine let fly from the point and Darren Archibald took the full brunt of the shot — taking him out of the play — Jardine handed possession off to Timothy Liljegren, who picked out Jeremy Bracco down low in the left circle with a perfect pass. Bracco just had to hit the target put Toronto up 1-0 just 31 seconds in.
It was a short-lived Marlies advantage, however, as a harmless-looking shot from Jim O’Brien deceived Michael Hutchinson to tie the game at 1-1.
The two goals were quickly followed by a fight in which Rich Clune got the better of Joseph LaBate, much to the delight of the Scotiabank Arena crowd.
The Marlies were undoubtedly the better team through the opening frame, but they were unable to turn multiple scoring chances into another goal. Gabriel Gagne was stonewalled twice by Marcus Hogberg, Rasmus Sandin fired wide after a fantastic individual piece of play to create some space for himself in the slot, and additional chances for Nick Baptiste and Pierre Engvall went begging.
Kasimir Kaskisuo replaced Hutchinson for the start of the second period for “precautionary reasons” and was called on to make a series of important saves in a period that featured three goals and five penalties.
Hogberg came up with the best save of the game to rob Timothy Liljegren as the trailer on a play involving Brooks and Bracco at the four-minute mark.
Instead, the Marlies were forced to wait and eventually capitalized during 4-on-4 action to take a 2-1 lead at the midway point. Rasmus Sandin stripped Jack Rodewald of the puck along the right boards and waited for the perfect moment to tee up Vincent LoVerde joining the action, and the veteran defenseman finished with a hard wrist shot.
Rodewald almost made up for his earlier mistake, but he was denied by a sharp left pad save by Kaskisuo and Belleville drew a penalty on the play. The Senators weren’t quite able to get it done with the extra man, but mere seconds after the penalized Sam Jardine rejoined the action, Toronto left Vitaly Abramov wide open to score on a backdoor play for his 14th of the year.
The Marlies then regained their lead late in the period courtesy of their red-hot power play.
Brooks drove hard to the net after receiving the puck near the goal line, and while he and Baptise were both initially turned aside, Brooks scored on the second effort.
There was an early third-period chance for Rich Clune to pad Toronto’s lead, but barring that opportunity, Hogberg was rarely challenged in the final frame and the flow of the game switched just before the seven-minute mark.
With Dmytro Timashov in the box for four minutes after for attempted head butting, the Marlies were firmly on the back foot. To their credit, they were stoic on the penalty kill, but the four minutes down a man left little in the tank and the Senators went on to tie the game with seven minutes remaining in regulation.
Drake Batherson had been quiet up until the third period but his line took over the game as he netted on a backhand for his 20th goal of the season. Less than three minutes later, Batherson turned provider for Nick Paul to find the net, and Toronto trailed for the first time in the game with four minutes remaining.
Batherson then doubled his account with an empty-net tally to seal the two points for the Senators, who now take sole control of fourth place in the North Division.
Post Game Notes
– Belleville has dominated the season series and now owns a 7-1-2 record against Toronto.
– Toronto’s special teams were one bright spot in this game: The power play struck for a fourth straight game (1 for 3) and the penalty kill was a perfect five for five.
– Jeremy Bracco recorded a goal and an assist to give him 62 points through 61 games. That leaves him third in AHL points scoring and first in assists.
“I trust him key times in games,” said Sheldon Keefe. “He really wants to win and really wants to do well for himself and for our team, so when he is really committed and dialed in, when it’s time to play on that side of it [defensively], he gets it done just like he does offensively. When he is committed to that, he is a real difference maker. The thing is he’s got to be able to do both all the time regardless of what is happening on the scoreboard or in the game and be more consistent in that sense, but he has shown he has the ability to do it, and that is why I trust him.”
– Adam Brooks led Marlies skaters with five shots, scored his 16th goal of the season, and added an assist for good measure.
– Kasimir Kaskisuo stopped 28 of 31 shots through two periods of action but picked up the loss. During his post-game presser, Sheldon Keefe said Michael Hutchinson “just wasn’t feeling right” after the first period, so the trainers suggested they take him out as a precaution.
– The Marlies are now very much in the middle of an injury crisis with Calle Rosen, Andreas Borgman, Frank Corrado, Steve Oleksy, Chris Mueller, Mason Marchment and Colin Greening all out hurt. Chris Mueller is said to be the closest to a return as per Sheldon Keefe, but no timeline has been set.
“When you play in these games, with the state of our lineup as it is now, you need to play a perfect game and everything needs to go your way,” said Sheldon Keefe. “We scored first, so we got that box checked. We scored on special teams with the 4-on-4 goal and the power play goal, so all of those things happened, but you can’t give up a soft one like we did early, and you can’t turn the puck over in the offensive zone like we did in the second period because it’s hard to get the game back. You can’t be head-butting people. Those types of things really work against you, and with our lineup like it is right now, it is just too much to ask of the guys we were relying on.”
– Monday’s lines: