Coming off of their largest defeat of the season in Laval and facing a Cleveland team that had lost four of its last five games, the Toronto Marlies should have been hungry and well set up to end the calendar year on a positive note.
Instead, a makeshift but hard-working Monsters lineup claimed victory to hoist themselves back to .500 heading into 2020. The Marlies ended 2019 with a record of 19-10-3 and 41 points, good for third place in the North Division.
Called out for their poor starts to games by new head coach Greg Moore already during his short tenure, the Marlies began the first period strongly, holding the upper hand in possession and zone time during the opening 10 minutes.
After Marlies drew the first penalty of the game, the power play looked much improved in its puck movement, although the units were gun shy when it came to shooting the puck.
The Monsters broke the deadlock against the run of play just five seconds after their first power play of the game expired. Paul Bittner received a pass banked off the right boards and switched onto his forehand in the right circle before beating Kasimir Kaskisuo with a low shot on the far side.
Sam Vigneault could have doubled the Cleveland lead on a partial breakaway, but Kaskisuo came up with a big save.
Toronto then drew a penalty to finish the period, and overall, they could count themselves a little unlucky to be trailing after 20 minutes.
The middle frame turned in a special teams battle as the level of Toronto’s control at even strength ebbed in the second period.
The Marlies came close on the power play to begin the period — Mason Marchment should have scored instead of stuffing the puck into the pads of Veini Vehvilainen.
For a solid five minutes, a multitude of Marlie turnovers and an inability to exit the defensive zone cleanly allowed Cleveland to build up a head of steam and take control of the game.
The Monsters drew a penalty during this stretch of play, although Toronto tied the game immediately after their kill.
After a long stretch pass from Timothy Liljegren found Kenny Agostino exiting the box, Toronto’s leading goal scorer used the last Cleveland defenseman as a screen and rifled a shot by Vehvilainen to draw the Marlies level at the nine-minute mark.
Agostino quickly found himself back in the box and he was followed four minutes later by Joseph Duszak, but Toronto’s penalty kill held firm.
The Marlies power play — which had showed some promise earlier in the game — was still struggling to find the net against the league’s third-ranked PK, and the game remained tied heading into the final frame of regulation.
The third period was one to forget for Toronto despite the box-score statistics suggesting otherwise. 16 shots in a nice high number, but just three of those were taken from below the hash marks as Cleveland kept the Marlies to the perimeter and did an excellent job of directing traffic away from their goaltender.
That was true on another wasted power-play opportunity for the Marlies, and at the six-minute mark, the Monsters scored what would prove to be the game-winner as Justin Scott’s shot appeared to take a wicked deflection in front of Kaskisuo.
Nic Petan came closest to tying the game up for the Marlies on their fifth man advantage, but Vehvilainen came up with his best save of the game.
With eight minutes remaining, the game was a good as dead as Kole Sherwood scored with a speculative long-range shot — one Kaskisuo would like back, but it had little bearing on the outcome.
A final Toronto power play was negated by an unfortunate high stick by Timothy Liljegren, and it turned into a penalty kill after Jeremy Bracco verbally abused the officials and was handed an unsportsmanlike penalty.
An empty-net goal by Scott iced the game and gave Cleveland a 4-1 win to keep themselves on the coattails of the playoff pack. The North Division standings continue to tighten up heading into the new year.
Post Game Notes
– A combination of a coaching change, injuries and call-ups have all played their part as the Marlies have lost six of their last eight games and allowed an average of four goals against per game during that stretch.
– Kenny Agostino is tied for third place in the AHL for goals after netting his 17th of the season.
– Timothy Liljegren surpassed his single-season career-high for points with his 15th assist of the season to give him 18 points in 28 games.
“We lean on him a lot,” said Greg Moore. “He gets a lot of ice. We depend on him. He’s an excellent player. He makes things happen. The team success this year — a lot of it is because of him on the backend.”
– It wasn’t a perfect game for Kasimir Kaskisuo, who likely would want goals one and three back. However, a little regression in net shouldn’t be too surprising as he and Joseph Woll have faced a ton of rubber lately behind some awful team performances.
– Jeremy Bracco was a non-factor in this game at even strength (two notable turnovers in the first period) and wasn’t much better during the power play, which ended the night at 0-for-6. His verbal abuse of officials at the end of the game isn’t a great look and speaks to his current frustration level, which if reports are true, might also have something to do with his feelings about a lack of opportunity to advance in the organization.
– Egor Korshkov made his return to the lineup after recovering from a leg laceration. He will take time to get back to his form earlier in the season. Kalle Kossila remains in the same boat as both need regular reps to get back up to speed.
– I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a very Happy New Year. Thank you for your support and readership in 2019 and here’s to a prosperous 2020.
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