Faced with their first real test of adversity this season, the Toronto Marlies found a way to pick up their sixth straight victory despite never holding a lead in a high-scoring Sunday afternoon game versus Cleveland.
For the first time this season, the Marlies gave up the first goal, trailed for over 22 minutes throughout the game, and were heavily outplayed in the special teams battle, but they dug in with a big penalty kill in overtime before prevailing in the shootout.
“It was a good sign of some resilience,” said Sheldon Keefe. “We have been winning all sorts of different ways and this is a unique one here today. But I liked how our guys just kind of stayed with it. The way our season has gone, it could’ve been easier to say, ‘It’s not really our day.’ Some of the bounces were catching up to us, but I liked how we fought right until the end.”
Much credit should be given to a Cleveland Monsters team that was playing its third game in under 72 hours — they came out the gates flying in the opening period, out-working the Marlies and spotting themselves a 2-0 lead inside 12 minutes.
That urgency was evident in the game’s first tally — Robinson and Markus Hannikainen showed more desire than anyone else inside the Toronto zone, setting up Zac Dalpe for his third goal of the season on a back door tap-in.
The Marlies had the first power-play opportunity, but they failed to level the game despite some good looks. Cleveland then made them pay by striking with their first man-advantage — Joseph Woll could consider himself a little unlucky as a redirect from Justin Scott in the slot hit the left post and found the net via the left skate of the goaltender on the rebound.
A lacklustre Marlies team required a spark, and they found it via a late-period power play.
Pontus Aberg somehow kept the puck inside the Monsters zone under intense pressure, setting the stage for Rasmus Sandin’s one-time slapshot from just inside the blueline that blew past goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks.
It took only 42 seconds for Toronto to tie the game up: After Pierre Envall won an offensive zone face-off, Aberg labeled a wicked shot that found the net via the underside of the crossbar, sending the game into the first intermission even at 2-2.
The momentum should have been with the Marlies after they extricated themselves from a 0-2 hole — especially given they had the fresher legs — but a breakdown on an early second-period power play handed some much-needed life back to Cleveland. Sam Vigneault escaped down the right wing and showed an electric turn of speed before finishing off a shorthanded marker.
To their credit, the Marlies weren’t rattled and elevated their play for the remainder of the power play before tying the game back at even strength 95 seconds later.
Hudson Elynuik wasn’t credited with an assist of the play, but his pressure on the puck carrier at the Toronto blue line resulted in a misplayed pass straight to Tanner MacMaster, creating a 2-on-1 break. MacMaster sped away and finished with aplomb, roofing the puck past the static Kivlenieks.
The see-saw affair continued as Cleveland struck back quickly on the power play — Kole Sherwood cleaned up the garbage in front after Dalpe saw his initial shot saved by the pads of Woll, with the Marlies’ penalty kill looking like a shadow of itself in this game.
A piece of good fortune allowed the Marlies to tie the game at 4-4 moments after Aberg nearly scored a highlight-reel goal.
Again, Toronto did an excellent job of keeping the pressure on Cleveland inside their own zone, and Kenny Agostino ended up with possession in the left corner behind the goal line. With nothing much on, the former AHL all-star threw an effort toward the goal and benefited from a deflection off the boot of one defenseman, off the back of Ryan Collins, and into the net.
Cleveland thought they had regained the lead inside the final 90 seconds of the middle frame, but it was clear that Markus Hannikainen intentionally scored with his hand and the goal was correctly waved off.
The Marlies had plenty to feel aggrieved about in the third period as far as the officiating was concerned, but they did catch a break early on after Cleveland struck the post on a power-play carrying over from the end of the second period.
The Monsters had two more opportunities with the man advantage and made hay on the second of those, albeit in controversial circumstances.
Elynuik was clearly interfered with as he tracked through the neutral zone, but no call came before Justin Scott escaped down the right wing and wired a shot over the shoulder of Woll to put his team up 5-4.
Thankfully, the goal did not prove to be too much of a talking point as the Marlies regained their composure and tied the game quickly once again.
Engvall and Sandin combined on the left side inside the Monsters zone, with the defenseman picking out Garret Wilson between the hash marks with a perfect pass. The left-winger spun and shot in one movement to find the far corner of the net with a finish that matched the quality of the assist.
The game was now developing a nasty edge, especially after the Elynuik incident. Nathan Gerbe got away with a multitude of infringements during a late Toronto power play. The officials decided to take both the Cleveland player and Agostino to the box when it appeared Agostino only tried to free himself to get back into the play after being pinned down in the far corner.
Overtime proved a test for both penalty kills as Toronto’s power play carried over into the extra frame.
After the Marlies were unable to make the extra man count, following a prolonged spell of four-on-four, the Marlies were staring down a penalty kill to survive to a shootout.
After struggling in regulation, the Marlies’ penalty killers were inspired. Tyler Gaudet and Matt Read both made big plays to clear the zone, while Sandin put his body on the line as the Monsters were limited to just two shots on goal in overtime.
In the shootout, Agostino responded to Hannikainen’s strike, and in sudden death, it was left to Egor Korshkov to score the winner as Toronto kept their perfect record intact.
Post Game Notes
– The Toronto Marlies are now 6-0-0 on the season and will now hit the road for seven games.
– Toronto’s power play went 1/4 but allowed a shorthanded goal against. The penalty kill was 3/6 as the special teams struggled overall.
– Kenny Agostino scored his second of the season and now looks up to full speed following his recovery from a blow to the head in game one.
– Rasmus Sandin potted one goal and had the primary assist on the tying goal for his first multi-point game of the year. The defenseman has four points (1-3-4) in three games and looks set for a big season offensively following on from his production during the Calder Cup playoffs (10 points in 13 games).
– Pontus Aberg recorded his fourth goal of the season and now has seven points (4-3-7) in six games. Pierre Engvall also has seven points (2-5-7) after recording a pair of assists for his second multi-point haul this year. He led all Toronto skaters with five shots.
“I liked all three of [Wilson-Engvall-Aberg] today,” said Keefe. “I thought they were creating. Garrett Wilson is finding his legs and his game. He is showing why he spent the better part of the end of last season in the NHL — a very serviceable guy in all areas for us. Pierre was really skating today and Pontus score a goal and had some chances and made plays.”
– Egor Korshkov may have seen his five-game goal-scoring streak come to an end, but the points-scoring streak continued with an assist.
– Joseph Woll had a bit of a rude awakening in his second game of professional hockey after a shutout on debut. He certainly wasn’t given much help at times, but by his own admission, he wasn’t at his best. However, the young goaltender came up big in the third period, with seven of his nine saves coming from shots between the hashmarks and the blue paint. The rookie then showed some good composure during overtime and the shootout.
“When you look at the first few goals there, there is a backdoor tap-in, a high tip on the power play, and a breakaway,” said Keefe. “We’ve got to do a better job of helping him out there. I thought he did a good job of making some good saves and then he got tested in the shootout and he aced that test.”
– Adam Brooks remains unavailable through a neck strain but is expected to return during the upcoming road-trip.
– Sunday’s lines: