The Toronto Marlies are a riddle this season.
Capable at times of dominating opponents and scoring at will, they’re also prone to let-offs featuring some really ugly hockey, and that was certainly the case in this 6-4 loss to Utica on Wednesday night.
The first period showcased the Marlies at their best, saving for one mistake. They were the better team through the first period, starting with a few early scoring chances through Mason Marchment.
A bad turnover in the Utica zone paved the way for the Comets to open the scoring — a 3-on-2 break followed, and Lukas Jasek watched his initial effort clang off the iron before the puck fell kindly for him during the scramble in front and he finished off his own rebound.
The goal didn’t really knock the Marlies off their stride; they continued to drive the majority of the play, leading to a power-play opportunity. With just 14 seconds remaining on the man advantage, Tanner MacMaster scooped home his own rebound to tie the game at 1-1.
Tempers flared throughout the game and boiled over in the middle frame. Toronto’s total lack of focus and composure was unacceptable as fell behind 5-1 inside the first four minutes of the second period.
Kasimir Kaskisuo was left hung out to dry as missed assignments in the defensive zone gifted Francis Perron, Guillaume Brisebois, and Jasek even-strength goals. On Utica’s first power play, Sven Baertschi really should have finished with ease alone at the back door, but Kaskisuo’s excellent stop turned him aside only for Kole Lind to tap in the rebound with Marlies defenders simply watching the play unfold without ever engaging.
Four goals conceded in 2:37 is unforgivable for any professional team, with the defeat now looking inevitable and the threat of Utica inflicting the heaviest loss in Marlies‘ franchise history looking a distinct possibility at this stage of the night (8-1 vs. Syracuse in 2005).
Unsurprisingly, the Comets took their foot off the gas a little and Toronto had a much-needed reprieve before beginning to find their footing in the game again.
A Darren Archibald power-play marker got the ball rolling with a little over seven minutes remaining, putting some energy back in the Marlies‘ legs, and they thought they reduced the deficit to two shortly after.
Scott Pooley found the net on what appeared to be a delayed penalty, but the goal was waved off to much confusion. The official reason given was that Mason Marchment was tabbed for “Interference from the bench,” although there was no whistle on the play, and whether that infraction occurred before Toronto scored is also highly questionable.
It summed up a poor performance from the officiating crew, who later allowed Utica to carry on in possession of the puck — and create a scoring opportunity — despite having a delayed penalty called against them.
Another power-play goal from Toronto with just two seconds left in the period gave the Marlies the perfect fillip heading into the break: Garrett Wilson’s sixth of the season drew Toronto within a pair, and thoughts suddenly turned to the memorable encounter between the teams last season when the Marlies produced a third-period master class to claim victory from a large deficit.
Akin to the opening frame, the Marlies were the better team in the third period and controlled the majority of possession, but they were unable to turn it into anything on the scoreboard in the first 12 minutes.
The animosity between the divisional rivals was now at a fever pitch, with Ben Harpur bloodying Jonah Gadjovich during their scrap and Tanner MacMaster dropping the mitts with Reid Boucher.
The Marlies threw themselves a lifeline with a goal at the 12:08 mark: A broken play ended on the stick of Mason Marchment, who maneuvered himself just above the hash marks before wiring a nice shot past Michael DiPietro to make it a one-goal game.
Having worked so hard to get themselves back into a position to potentially get something out of the game, the Marlies then proceeded to throw it away with a lack of focus and poor discipline at such a key moment. Nic Baptiste was guilty of a needless slashing penalty behind the Utica net, and after he exited the box, Marchment took a holding penalty less than 60 seconds later.
Both penalties killed any chance the Marlies had of building sustained momentum to test the Comets with some late pressure, and their fate was sealed with 16 seconds remaining when Reid Boucher finished Utica’s sixth of the night into the empty net.
Post Game Notes
– One positive was the Marlies power play, which found the net three times. Per Todd Crocker, “The last time the Toronto Marlies had three power-play goals in a game was March 15th last season in a 5-4 win in Hershey.”
– The combined 56 penalty minutes handed out is a season-high in a game featuring Toronto.
“It was eventful, it was emotional, and we lost our composure for probably five minutes,” said AJ MacLean. “That was the game right there. The guys before that and after that played hard and played well, but for five minutes we really lost our focus, and that was it.”
– Timothy Liljegren recorded a pair of assists and led all Toronto skaters with five shots.
– Mason Marchment scored his first goal of the season. He played with snarl in the first period and was right on the edge of what’s acceptable to the benefit of his team. Unfortunately, from the second period onward, he overstepped the mark and became a liability with the lack of discipline.
– It’s a little surprising that Kasimir Kaskisuo wasn’t pulled after the fifth Utica game if only for a wake-up call for the team. I can only guess that the coaching staff didn’t want to expose rookie Joseph Woll to what might have played out if the Marlies didn’t snap out of it.
This defeat wasn’t on the Finnish netminder, who made every stop required of him for the final 36 minutes of the game to ensure the Marlies kept alive the slim chance of a comeback. Kaskisuo also recorded his first point of the season with a secondary assist on Wilson’s power play goal.
– Not sure whether it occurred late in the first period or early in the second, but Adam Brooks sustained an injury and didn’t finish the game.
– Matt Read returned to the lineup after sustaining a minor injury over the weekend, but Egor Korshkov remains out.
– Wednesday’s lines: