“The way we played today, we look like a team that doesn’t want anything to do with the playoffs.”
So went the damning post-game assessment by head coach Sheldon Keefe after he witnessed his team turn in one of their worst performances of the season in a 3-0 loss to Hershey on Thursday afternoon. The Marlies mustered a season-low 17 shots on goal as goaltender Ilya Samsonov and the Bears coasted to a shutout victory.
It took Hershey just 78 seconds to open the scoring and it was far too easy for them from the Marlies‘ perspective.
Jason Megna picked up speed unchallenged through the neutral zone, coasting past Michael Carcone before embarrassing Andreas Borgman with a curl and drag move. Michael Hutchinson didn’t sense the danger quickly enough and was still stuck in the blue paint as Megna beat him top shelf.
For the next 14 minutes, the Marlies held the edge in possession and were actually out-shooting the Bears, but they failed to take advantage of their chances, the best of which came on the power play.
Instead, Toronto totally capitulated as they allowed two goals in 14 seconds and the game was essentially over as a contest from that point on.
Mike Sgarbossa struck on the power play, beating Hutchinson with a short-side shot that the goaltender certainly wanted back. Toronto’s netminder was pulled shortly after the third goal tallied by Brian Pinho, and if not for a crucial first save by Kasimir Kaskisuo to deny Steve Whitney, the Marlies would have found themselves trailing by four after 20 minutes of play.
There was no scoring in the middle frame due to the excellent play of Kaskisuo and some wasteful finishing (or lack thereof) by the Bears. Liam O’Brien was twice robbed in tight, while Sgarbossa was guilty of the worst miss after jumping on a turnover and firing high from the slot.
The Marlies recorded just two shots through 17 minutes of the second period, but they did force Samsonov into action three times inside the final three minutes. The returning Mason Marchment and Adam Brooks combined to good effect but the movement lacked a clinical finish, while Josh Jooris was unlucky to see his shot on the turn deflected gently into the pads of Samsonov.
Sgarbossa, who should have scored a hat-trick in this game, somehow didn’t bury on two excellent chances inside the first five minutes of the third period, as Kaskisuo did everything within his power to keep his team in the game.
Nicholas Baptise rang a shot off the outside of the post at the eight-minute mark, and that was as close as Toronto came to breaking the shutout as they recorded just three shots through the final frame and meekly surrendered to a 3-0 final.
Post Game Notes
– The loss broke a three-game points streak for Toronto. This was the third time the Marlies have been shutout in regulation this season.
– As per the AHL, the Marlies can clinch a playoff berth on Friday with:
(a) a win at Utica AND a Belleville loss (reg/OT/SO) vs. Hershey, OR
(b) an OTL/SOL at Utica AND a Belleville regulation loss vs. Hershey
– Mason Marchment returned to action for the first time in two months after missing 25 games through injury. He was one of very few players to emerge with any credit for his performance; he was most effective in the first period as he laid a huge hit on Riley Barber, drew a penalty, recorded two shots, and effectively gained the offensive zone with the puck.
“It was nice to see him coming back here and I thought he had good legs today,” said Keefe. “He was one of the guys that I thought was really pushing. He was competitive and he looked comfortable in the environment out there.”
– Kasimir Kaskisuo was Toronto’s best performer by far as he turned aside all 17 shots he faced in 44 minutes of action. He was selected for praise by Sheldon Keefe after the game and is likely to get the start on Friday evening.
“He was outstanding coming in in tough circumstances,” said Keefe. “He looked really confident in the net and gave us a chance to continue to play and find a way back. Unfortunately, on the offensive side of it, we weren’t able to do anything with it.”
– Thursday’s lines: