“Better but still not good enough,” is an apt description as the Toronto Marlies slipped to a fourth straight loss in Cleveland.
Another slow start combined with what Greg Moore called, “a lack of intensity in the defensive zone,” dug the Marlies a hole they were never able to climb out of against the Monsters on Friday night.
The Monsters were too easily able to build a 2-0 with 3:37 on the clock due to the lack of intensity mentioned by Moore. Cleveland simply wasn’t put under any real pressure in possession, resulting in Dillon Simpson applying the redirect in front of a shot Calvin Thurkauf.
Jake Muzzin, making his first-ever appearance for the Toronto Marlies on a conditioning stint, wasn’t immune to the own-zone mistakes that have plagued this team throughout the season. From below the goal line, Muzzin attempted an ill-advised pass through the middle of his own zone, where Simpson said thank you very much and fired home his second of the game.
A quick response was very much needed and arrived via pocket dynamo Trevor Moore just 17 seconds later. A solo effort from Moore coming in off the right wing cut the deficit in half after his deceptive shot beat Matiss Kivlenieks.
The Marlies were by far the better team for the remainder of the period, controlling possession and dominating offensive zone time, but they failed to get inside the Cleveland homeplate frequently enough with just three shots registered from between the circles.
After establishing their footing in the second half of the first period, Toronto threw that away with a poor showing in the middle frame, although they weren’t helped by some highly questionable officiating. Kasimir Kaskisuo bailed out his team inside the opening 40 seconds following consecutive turnovers by Muzzin and Moore, but he could do little to prevent Cleveland from extending their lead to two with six minutes played.
After a phantom call on Scott Pooley put the Monsters on the power play, a failed clearance by Mason Marchment resulted in Trey Fix-Wolansky scoring on what turned into a 2-on-0 in front of Kaskisuo.
Adam Brooks took an elbow to the face behind the Cleveland net — which went uncalled — and had to leave the game for a short period. The game then turned into a penalty fest, with the officials awarding the Monsters four straight power plays.
Toronto had just one real scoring chance of note — a booming shot by Kenny Agostino produced a juicy rebound for Timothy Liljegren, but the Swedish defenseman was absolutely robbed by Kivlenieks.
The Marlies struggled to deal with Cleveland’s persistent forecheck as they struggled to create anything offensively at even strength in the first half of the final frame.
The cheap shots kept coming from the Monsters, with Pontus Aberg elbowed in the head (he was also badly slashed in the first period, leading to him missing time) going uncalled before a late hit on Jesper Lindgren left the defenseman prone on the ice until he eventually hobbled down the tunnel.
Eventually, the officiating crew decided to penalize Cleveland and Toronto found themselves on a 5-on-3 power play with three minutes remaining. After several missed opportunities and some excellent shot-blocking, Jeremy Bracco finally cracked the Monsters penalty kill, but with one penalty already expired, it was back to 5vs5 with 1:46 remaining.
Toronto huffed and puffed but couldn’t break down a resilient defensive rearguard from a desperate Cleveland team that still holds playoff aspirations. A pair of empty-net goals sealed the victory with a 5-2 eventual scoreline that was flattering to Monsters.
Post Game Notes
– A fourth straight defeat for Toronto (0-3-1) extends their recent stretch to 4-13-1. They are now two points outside of a playoff berth and 10 points behind North Division leaders Belleville Senators.
– Jake Muzzin was responsible for a couple of notable turnovers and was burnt once, but in general, this was a good effort for his first return to competitive action.
“He hasn’t been in a game for a while and he got a lot of minutes,” said Greg Moore. “He competed and added a lot for us today. He should be proud of the effort he gave.”
– Jeremy Bracco broke a 16-game goalless streak with just his fourth tally of the season.
– Timothy Liljegren recorded two assists to extend his points streak to eight games (1-9-10).
– Kasimir Kaskisuo stopped 28 of 31 shots and once again took the loss despite keeping Toronto in the game.
“It’s a mindset [defensively],” said Greg Moore. “As soon as there is a 50/50 puck, we’ve got to close and separate somebody. We can’t get beat off the walls back to our net. We are not protecting our net. We are not boxing out. We are not getting sticks. When we have a chance to be strong and win a battle, we’ve got to come up with those pucks. We just haven’t built a mindset in our d-zone to do that yet.”
– Friday’s lines: