“We looked a combination of tired and scared today, so that’s not a good thing for us.”
That was Sheldon Keefe’s assessment after his team was blown out by the Rochester Americans on Saturday. The Amerks should have sewn up the game by the midway point and won by a more convincing scoreline than the 5-2 final given their ascendancy throughout the night.
Toronto got off to a positive start for the first few shifts, but once Rochester almost scored on their first attempt — Remi Elie hit the post — they took control of the game.
The pace was fast and furious, with the Marlies struggling to cope and indebted to Michael Hutchinson in net, with his best save of the opening frame coming on Wayne Simpson to deny a certain goal.
Very much against the run of play, the Marlies scored first. Timothy Liljegren’s charge towards net was thwarted by a nasty knee-on-knee hit, but the puck fell kindly for Jeremy Bracco, who teed up Chris Mueller for tap-in with an exquisite cross-crease feed.
The tying goal was just a matter of time, though, and the way it transpired would not have pleased Sheldon Keefe.
Starting deep inside his own end, Kyle Criscuolo was allowed to travel uncontested through all three zones, and while he was initially dispossessed by Jordan Subban behind the Toronto goal line, Criscuolo won back the puck on a lazy play from the Marlies defenseman. Simpson’s pass out front to the unmarked Elie then tied the game at one apiece.
The second period was business as usual for Rochester, who took the lead less than two minutes in. The Marlies were left chasing shadows and Hutchinson was beaten by an excellent tip by Criscuolo on a long-range shot by Jack Dougherty.
Lawrence Pilut struck the post on a power play for the Amerks, Hutchison made a terrific save to deny Victor Olofsson, and then the Marlies goaltender flashed the leather to stonewall Kevin Porter back at even strength.
It took eight minutes of the middle frame for the Marlies to register their second shot of the period, and Tom Sestito probably should have scored when alone in front following a deft backhand pass from Nicholas Baptiste.
A power play for the Marlies then resulted in a single great chance for Michael Carcone, who waited too long to get his shot off.
Olofsson also should have put the Amerks further ahead on a shorthanded opportunity, but Hutchinson once more came to the Marlies’ rescue and was rewarded shortly after as Toronto tied the game up back at even strength.
Baptise opened his Marlies account by redirecting a shot by Pierre Engvall just as the power play expired.
Toronto should really have taken the lead before the second intermission, but they failed to take advantage of a double minor penalty that included a 5-on-3 opportunity for 52 seconds.
The Marlies more than doubled their total shot count of 11 through the final frame, but they never looked capable of a comeback after conceding two goals inside nine minutes.
Olofsson struck with a pair of almost identical goals from above the hash marks after being given all the time in the world to pick his spot.
After the Marlies killed a couple of penalties to keep themselves in the game, Hutchinson was pulled for an extra attacker. Toronto put the puck in the net with just over three minutes remaining, but the goal was waived off initially for the use of a hand and again after a review for a kicking motion, even though the rules state clearly that video review shouldn’t be used for anything other than to check whether the puck crossed the line.
In the grand scheme of things, it mattered little as Rochester went on to clinch a deserved victory with an empty-net goal to inflict a fourth defeat in five games on Toronto this season.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto’s magic number for Calder Cup qualification is now 11. Defeat in Sunday’s rematch against Rochester would essentially end any hopes they might have of securing home advantage in the first round.
– Toronto’s power-play goal streak was halted at eight games after going 0-5 in this game. The penalty kill kept up its good form, however, with a perfect three-for-three night.
– Chris Mueller extended his point streak to 11 games (10-8-17), which is the second longest in team history. With the game opening tally, Mueller has 10 goals in his last 10 games.
– Jeremy Bracco set the single-season assist record for the Toronto Marlies with the primary helper on Chris Mueller’s goal. His 53 assists overtook the previous record held by Spencer Abbott.
“It’s been fun to watch him establish himself as a premier player in the league offensively,” said Sheldon Keefe. “It is a great accomplishment. He is a guy that his entire life has made other people look good. Just to be able to continue to do that at this level is very good to see.”
– Timothy Liljegren recorded two assists for his second multi-point haul of the season.
– Saturday’s lines: