After 40 minutes of play, it seemed inevitable that the Toronto Marlies were going to suffer their first regulation loss of the season.
The Marlies trailed 4-3 after two periods and had largely been outplayed by a hungry Senators team whose lead would have been bigger if not for an out-of-the-blue two-goal blast by the Marlies as well as some excellent Toronto goaltending.
“We don’t like the first two periods at all and it’s a sign of how things have been here of late,” said Sheldon Keefe. “It’s disappointing to me weren’t able to fix that through a good week of practice, but hopefully the third period is you know something we can build upon. It was very encouraging in terms of showing you what we’re capable of.”
Right from the outset, the Marlies were on the back foot and some really sloppy play should have seen them trailing inside the opening minute.
Drake Batherson and Alex Formenton both came close to opening the scoring, their speed causing chaos every time they stepped on the ice. Kasimir Kaskisuo somehow kept Belleville off the board until Toronto broke the deadlock totally against the run of play at the 13-minute mark.
Freshly reassigned to the AHL, Nic Petan picked up a pass from Ben Harpur through the neutral zone with pace before working a give-and-go with Kenny Agostino inside the Belleville zone and giving Marcus Hogberg no chance with a pinpoint finish.
The Senators didn’t deserve to trail, though, and fixed that before the intermission with a pair of power-play goals. Darren Archibald and Rasmus Sandin took back-to-back penalties and were made to pay by Formenton and Max Veronneau.
The middle frame turned into a special teams battle, with the officials sending five players to the box inside 20 minutes.
After the teams exchanged power-play opportunities to begin the period with nothing to show for it, the Marlies continued to turn the puck over in their own zone back at even strength. Consecutive mistakes from Sandin and Agostino should have ended up in the Marlies net, but Kaskisuo bailed out his teammates on both occasions to keep the lead at one.
Petan continued to be the best Marlies skater, almost finding the net again on Toronto’s next power play before the Senators widened the lead just past the midway mark.
Timothy Liljegren’s intended pass to Kevin Gravel in the Marlies zone was off the mark, leading to a turnover that Vitaly Abramov turned into a feed for Josh Norris to score his third of the season.
A two-goal deficit looked like a mountain to climb for an uninspired Toronto team, but practically out of nowhere, the Marlies struck twice in 99 seconds to level the score at three apiece.
During some four-on-four action, Bracco received the puck below the goal line and came back out toward the point before driving to the center of the ice and beating Hogberg with a great shot that found the roof of the net.
Belleville seemed to stop playing after the goal against as a crisp tic-tac-toe passing movement — between Petan, Sandin and Jesper Lindgren — was finished off by Agostino at the far post.
The Marlies’ momentum came to a sudden halt, though, after a turnover at the Senators blue line led to a 2-on-2 break back the other way, where Formenton netted his second of the game.
Whatever Sheldon Keefe said at the second intermission had the desired effect as the Marlies came out with a ton of energy, pace, purpose on the forecheck, and were far sharper with their puck movement.
Pierre Engvall beat Andrew Sturtz inside the Senators zone and delivered a gorgeous back-door feed that Agostino feasted upon to draw Toronto level at 4-4.
That began a sequence of three goals in just over four minutes as the game was turned on its head. The power play found its way as an offensive zone faceoff win by Agostino resulted in Petan firing home from between the hashmarks.
Bracco and Petan then combined before Agostino tipped Petan’s shot in front past a shellshocked Hogberg.
The four-goal, third-period blitz was completed by Garrett Wilson, who finished from the right circle with a goal the Belleville netminder would have like to have back.
After 40 minutes of Belleville dominance, it was one of the most bizarre turnarounds I’ve seen in an AHL game, but a good reminder of the talent on this Toronto roster when they’re on their game.
Post Game Notes
– This was the third straight road game that Toronto has had to manufacture a third-period comeback to come away with any points. The Marlies extended their points streak to nine games (7-0-2) and are now the sole AHL team without a regulation loss following Utica’s shutout defeat at the hands of Providence.
– That’s how you respond to a reassignment: A four-point game for Nic Petan (2-2-4), who also played a big role in a fifth Marlies goal. It was a dominant performance that showed he’s too good for this level. He led all Marlies with six shots.
“Just having Nic Petan as another threat on the other side of the power play, in addition to Jeremy Bracco, really makes things challenging for the opposition,” said Keefe. “When [Petan] is on the ice, he controls the play. His presence today really brought Jeremy Bracco to life as well.”
– Two points (1-1-2) for Jeremy Bracco broke a four-game scoring slump. Hopefully, that gives him something to build off of confidence-wise moving forward.
– It was also a four-point haul (2-2-4) for Kenny Agostino, who oozed confidence playing alongside Petan. Unsurprising for a proven goalscorer at this level, he now has four goals through seven games.
– Garrett Wilson (1-1-2), Pontus Aberg (1-1-2), and Jesper Lindgren (0-2-2) all recorded multi-point games.
– His numbers were done no favours in this game, but Kasimir Kaskisuo kept Toronto in the game through 40 minutes when things could easily have gotten out of hand. Approximately 50% of Belleville’s shots were taken from the high-danger area and the goaltender faced 26 of the 30 through the opening 40 minutes.
– Saturday’s lines: