“This is our annual trip out to Syracuse to figure out how to be a hockey team. There were a lot of lessons to be learned in the game today. Most of the game, it didn’t even feel like we were even in the arena, but for us to have the fight to stay with it and earn ourselves a point is a really positive thing.”

Those were the post-game words from head coach Sheldon Keefe after the Marlies stole a point their performance didn’t warrant in Syracuse on Sunday night.

It’s no exaggeration to say this game could have been over as a contest inside the opening ten minutes after Syracuse totally dominated the run of play, out-shooting the Marlies by a count of 10-2, which doesn’t even fully encapsulate the number of scoring chances the Crunch generated early on.

First Period

Syracuse struck the post just 99 seconds in and looked destined to score on the game’s first power play shortly thereafter. Thankfully, Joseph Woll was sharp early as Toronto’s penalty kill was pulled apart but held on until Pierre Engvall exited the box.

Back at even strength, with cheap turnovers proving problematic for Toronto, Woll pulled off a pair of spectacular reaction saves to deny both Boris Katchouk and Mitchell Stephens.

Pontus Aberg finally gave Louis Domingue something to think about with 9:30 on the clock, but no Marlies players were in the vicinity to jump on a juicy rebound.

Their first real sight of goal seemed to awaken the Marlies, who earned their first man advantage three minutes later. Kenny Agostino and Egor Korshkov were both denied by fantastic reaction saves by Domingue before the Marlies broke through exactly one second after the penalty expired.

After a nice fake, Timothy Liljegren’s pass from the top of the right circle found Aberg for a one-time finish into an empty net.

After killing a second power play for Crunch, against all odds, Toronto led 1-0 heading into the first intermission.

Second Period

The middle frame featured some debatable officiating, a plethora of penalties, and a moment to forget for the Marlies’ rookie netminder.

Almost immediately, the Toronto PK was called into action and did its job without much trouble. However, the Crunch scored three times before the second period was through — the first of which was a particularly unlucky break for the Marlies.

As Woll left his net to play a dump-in behind his own net, the notoriously-lively boards at The Oncenter War Memorial Arena produced an odd ricochet out in front of the net. In a split-second reaction, Woll mishandled the puck off the bottom of his stick blade and redirected it into his own net.

Two quick infractions then placed Toronto in a bind — down two men for 76 seconds — but the Marlies stuck with it admirably as the fluid Syracuse power play from the first period wasn’t clicking this time around.

The Marlies built on the PK momentum, with Hudson Elynuik, in particular, putting in some excellent work to draw a penalty. While Rasmus Sandin and Kenny Agostino both came agonizingly close to re-establishing the lead, the Marlies were left to rue missed opportunities as a let-off late in the period left them trailing 3-1 heading into the second intermission.

Aberg was at fault on the left wing as he lost a puck battle to Mitchell Stephens after reaching at the loose puck rather than moving his feet to retrieve it. Ross Colton took a pass to the slot area and finished with aplomb for his first goal of the season.

A sixth penalty of the game against Toronto led to the 3-1 goal — Taylor Raddysh netted his first of the year off a feed from Gemel Smith, meaning the Marlies now needed a second multi-goal comeback of the weekend to keep their point streak alive.

Third Period

With the penalty kill called on again to start the period, the seventh time was a charm as tremendous consecutive saves from Woll back at even strength on Yann Denis and Cory Conacher allowed Toronto to begin an unlikely comeback.

The starting point was Tyler Gaudet’s tremendous poke-check to dispossess Dominik Masin while he attempting an outlet pass from behind his own net. Aberg picked up possession and found Garrett Wilson, who finished from the slot to halve the deficit.

The game meandered somewhat from there, with Syracuse happy to try and clog up the neutral zone in an attempt to see out the two points. The Crunch were made to pay for their negative play when Toronto leveled the score at three apiece with seven minutes remaining.

A breakout pass from Jordan Schmaltz found Agostino at center ice, where his deft one-time touch pass allowed Tyler Gaudet to sneak in behind the defense across the blue line.
Ignoring Bracco to his right, Gaudet’s low show beat Domingue at his far post.

The closest Syracuse came to restoring their lead was a shot that hit the post, while Korshkov and Nic Baptiste both forced Domingue into saves in the final minute.

It took just 39 seconds for the Syracuse winner to arrive in the extra frame, but it really could have been the Marlies taking home both points on offer. Domingue denied Aberg’s backhand attempt in alone before the play swiftly transitioned to the other end of the ice, where Rasmus Sandin could’ve played his one-on-one better against Smith, who beat Woll off his backhand for the game-winner.

Post Game Notes

– Despite two poor overall performances this weekend, the Marlies extended their points streak to 6-0-2 to begin the season. It’s their best start since the 2007-08 campaign when the Marlies picked up at least a point in their opening 13 games.

– A goal and an assist for Pontus Aberg make him Toronto’s leading scorer with nine points (5-4-9) in eight games.

Tyler Gaudet has struggled for offense somewhat early in the season, but he recorded his second multi-point haul (1-1-2) of the month to give him four points in his opening eight games.

– Ignore Joseph Woll‘s .886 save percentage in this game. Barring the mishap for the opening goal, Woll put in a good performance a game in which he received little help from the team in front of him. Awarded the third star for his 31 saves, Woll was the main reason the Marlies were in a position to get anything from the game.

“He was outstanding,” said Keefe. “It is a far different game without him in the net. He gave us an opportunity to come back. Just like last night — goaltending has given us a chance to come back and earn points.”

Sheldon Keefe Post Game: Crunch 4 vs. Marlies 3 (OT)

Game Highlights