It was a second straight regulation loss for the Toronto Marlies on Friday night as they took far too many penalties and were thoroughly outmatched in the special teams department.
The issues run deeper than just a lack of discipline, however, as the Marlies failed to generate much offensively at even strength against an opponent that entered the night having lost three straight while conceding 17 goals against in those games.
After a tepid start to the game, the Marlies were gifted the opening goal: A misplayed pass allowed Egor Korshkov to escape alone on a breakaway, where the Russian forward beat Calvin Pickard glove side.
The goal failed to give Toronto much of a lift, but they were limiting Grand Rapids for the most part at even strength in the opening 20 minutes.
The Marlies wasted power-play opportunities through the first 20 minutes before poor discipline reared its ugly head at the buzzer, with Garrett Wilson tabbed for slashing.
Wilson exited the box at the two-minute mark of the middle frame, but it was only due to Woll that it wasn’t sooner — the goaltender produced three excellent saves on the early-period penalty kill.
Woll was left helpless on Grand Rapids next man advantage, though. In fairness to the Marlies penalty kill, it was a flukey goal that tied the game at 1-1. Matt Puempel’s shot sailed high and looked to be heading out of play, but the puck took a wild bounce off the back glass and fell right at the feet of Filip Zadina, who had the easy task of finishing from the blue paint.
The Marlies created three chances to retake the lead but failed to take advantage of any of them. Tanner MacMaster’s breakaway just seconds after the tying goal was turned aside by Calvin Pickard, who then denied Pierre Engvall after he combined with Pontus Aberg during four-on-four action. On a shortened power play, Korshkov came agonizingly close to netting his second of the game, but that was as close as Toronto ever came to getting their noses in front.
The Griffins should have led heading into the second intermission, but Woll pulled off yet another good save at full stretch after a reckless pass from Liljegren in the corner was pounced on in the slot.
Chris Terry then thought he scored with five minutes left in the period, but the noted AHL scorer actually hit the post as the Marlies were caught running around their own end on a rough 90-second shift.
The tone for the third period was set from the opening faceoff: The Marlies were asleep and allowed an immediate 2-on-1 break against, but Matt Read’s brave shot block snuffed out the danger. Even an early power play couldn’t spark the Marlies, who appeared fresh out of ideas against the league’s worst penalty kill.
A fifth man advantage was cut short by a make-up call before Grand Rapids made hay on their shortened power play. It was a fantastic shot from Puempel, who found the top far corner of Woll’s net with the goaltender well screened.
Grand Rapids then made it 3-1 with another power-play goal after Givani Smith netted his third of the season, and the game was now dead as a contest with nine minutes remaining.
A second straight penalty to Read just seconds after the third goal summed up the Marlies’ performance as Grand Rapids coasted to the victory in the end, capped by Dominic Turgeon’s empty-net goal.
Post Game Notes
– We are 12 games into the 2019-20 campaign and this overhauled Marlies team is still lacking an identity. Timely offense at key moments has helped mask mostly underwhelming team performances to date. These two consecutive road losses were a while in the making.
– Toronto’s power play came up empty on six attempts, while the penalty kill gave up three goals on six kills. This was the second straight game the Marlies gave their opponent six power-play opportunities, and I can only surmise it is a sign of frustration creeping in; they were the least penalized team in the league as of last weekend. Pontus Aberg and Matt Read were the worst offenders, with two minor penalties apiece.
“Both [special teams] were in a good place statistically, but they had all sorts of luck, which is what we were getting as a team,” said Sheldon Keefe. “The reality is we’ve been outplayed in the majority of games we’ve played this season and it is catching up to us now. Special teams is no different.”
– Toronto recorded just 24 shots, with Calvin Pickard only tested on seven of them for what I imagine was his easiest win of the season. The Marlies have now been held to a single goal in each of their last two games.
– Egor Korshkov’s goal was unassisted. It was his seventh of the year and second at 5v5.
– You have to feel a little sympathy for Joseph Woll, who was not at fault in his first regulation loss of the season. It was the goaltender’s first start that wasn’t in the second half of a back-to-back, and he couldn’t have done anything more to give his team a chance.
– Rasmus Sandin missed the game through illness, but he is expected to return for Saturday’s game. Joining him will be Nic Petan, who was reassigned to the AHL after clearing waivers. Petan’s return comes at a good time for the Marlies’ ailing offense and power play.
“Both are first-unit power-play guys,” said Keefe. “A number-one center and our number one defenseman change our team significantly. That’ll help, but as coaches, we’ve got to do a better job of preparing our team. More importantly, we’ve got to stay out of the penalty box. That’s not the trademark of Marlies hockey — usually, it goes the other way.”
– Friday’s lines: