Sheldon Keefe was visibly frustrated by his team’s performance after a 3-1 loss to Rockford on Wednesday.
The Toronto Marlies‘ problems were clear to see: They took six penalties in the first 29 minutes, didn’t generate much in the way of offense at even-strength, and lost the special teams battle, with the latter factor ultimately proving the biggest difference between the two teams on the scoreboard.
The opening period began with some sloppy play from the Marlies that led to an icing just 20 seconds into the game before Jordan Schmaltz took a tripping penalty two minutes later, setting the tone for what was to come from Toronto.
The Marlies killed said penalty but continued to play with little impetus, and they should have fallen behind with 9:35 remaining. After a horrific giveaway by Teemu Kivihalme to Nick Moutrey in the heart of the slot, Kasimir Kaskisuo came to the rescue with back-to-back saves.
Kaskisuo produced another wonderful double save to deny MacKenzie Entwistle and Brandon Hagel as the league’s worst power play tested the Marlies‘ penalty-killing units to their limits.
Kevin Lankinen, essentially an interested on-looker during the opening frame, was only really tested late-on by a stinging shot from the left circle courtesy of Pierre Engvall.
After getting out-shot 17-5 through 20 minutes, a response was expected from the Marlies, and they scored a goal out of nothing just eight seconds into the middle frame.
Toronto dumped the puck into the Rockford zone following the opening faceoff before the puck took a funny bounce from the right corner boards and fell perfectly to Matt Read in the right circle, where the winger slapped a shot past Lankinen before the goaltender could set himself.
That really should have been the turning point for the Marlies, or at least it should have given them something to build on at a minimum. Instead, a combination of slack play in the neutral zone — allowing an easy entry across the Marlies’ blue line — and the only real error of the game by Kaskisuo gave up the tying goal just 26 seconds later. After the Finnish netminder couldn’t glove Moutrey’s shot, the rebound fell to Reese Johnson for a simple tap-in.
Three penalties taken in the span of five minutes severely hampered the Marlies from gaining any real rhythm. Rockford also scored a power-play goal on the second of those power-play opportunities; Philipp Kurashev netted his first professional goal with a good wrist shot.
Toronto earned themselves a power play and finally generated some offensive-zone time by engaging more physically, but Lankinen was only really forced into four saves of note in the period to ensure the IceHogs led heading into the second intermission.
The Marlies killed the infraction carrying over from the middle frame and drew a penalty of their own to earn a shortened power play to start the third. The IceHogs came closest to scoring next, though — Tyler Sikura hit the post with a backhand effort before a wayward pass from Kenny Agostino led to a 2-on-1 break, where Kaskisuo denied Alexandre Forte.
Two further power plays were wasted by the Marlies, who appeared fresh out of ideas with the extra man and were especially listless back at 5v5, where they mustered just five shots on goal during the third period. The Marlies played on the perimeter and rarely got inside on the Rockford defense, with just best five of their 20 shots coming from the high-danger areas.
Kaskisuo did his best by making one more important save to keep his team in the game before he was pulled for the majority of the final two minutes of play. An icing during 6-on-5 action summed up Toronto’s performance as Rockford sealed their well-deserved victory with an empty-net goal by Hagel.
Post Game Notes
– The power play was a toothless as it’s been so far this year, going 0-for-5 on the day. Toronto’s penalty kill, meanwhile, has given up at least one goal in the last six games.
“We didn’t give up much at 5v5, but we didn’t generate much ourselves, either,” said Sheldon Keefe. “We took too many penalties, and special teams, for me, is really what lost the game.”
– Matt Read scored his first goal in a Toronto Marlies uniform and just his third point (1-2-3) in nine games.
– Kasimir Kaskisuo would certainly want the one goal back, but otherwise, he one again gave Toronto a chance to win despite facing more action than his counterpart at the other end.
“He keeps it at 2-2,” said Keefe. “He would’ve liked a save on that second goal for us, but they had the better chances of the game. We didn’t give up a lot, but the ones we did, there was some high quality there. He made the saves to give us a chance. Any time he keeps it at two, we should be able to win the game.”
– Rasmus Sandin was a healthy scratch for this game, with Sheldon Keefe intimating that some of the younger prospects would benefit from not playing all the games on this road-trip and spending some time in the gym instead. My expectation is he returns this weekend in the pair of games against Grand Rapids.
– Wednesday’s lines: