With a 5-4 overtime loss in Cleveland, the Toronto Marlies entered the All-Star week on a five-game losing streak and now sit two points back of a playoff berth at the break.
There was more to like from this performance than the others of late, but coughing up pair of two-goal leads allowed their North Division rival to make up some ground in the standings. The Marlies finished their road-trip with a record of 1-5-2 and are now 4-13-2 in their last 19 games — that’s just ten points out of a possible 38.
“You can definitely look at our past and what the record has been of late and fall back on that,” said Greg Moore. “But if you look at this one game, the team put in a great effort. I thought we really competed hard and were much better in the defensive zone. Our 50/50 battles in the o-zone looked good tonight with a lot of interior shots that we hadn’t seen in the past.”
In true Marlies style during this slump, they almost lost the game before it really started during an action-packed opening to the game. Mason Marchment was injured less than 30 seconds in by a questionable hit that incensed the left winger, who was was nabbed for a cross-checking penalty in retaliation. Marchment took no further part in the game while Pontus Aberg served the two minutes in the box.
Adam Clendening then struck the bar as Toronto somewhat rode their luck, but to their credit, the Marlies‘ penalty kill denied Cleveland on two straight power plays and almost netted a shorthanded marker during the second kill. Matt Read then orchestrated his own breakaway and almost beat Veini Vehvilainen with a five-hole attempt.
Joseph Woll was more than playing his part in the Toronto net; he produced a huge save at the nine-minute mark to deny the Monsters during a 2-on-1 break.
Kicking off a chaotic final five minutes to the period, the Marlies swarmed the Cleveland net, with Darren Archibald and Aberg causing havoc in front that forced Vehvilainen into a pokecheck that fell to Ben Harpur, who stayed composed on his finish from the hashmarks.
The Marlies immediately put themselves ahead by two thanks to the perseverance of Teemu Kivihalme, who chased down his own chip-in behind the net. After winning the battle along the boards, the Finnish defenseman freed the puck up for Aberg, who combined with Kristians Rubins to tee up Nic Petan.
The Monsters responded immediately after Derek Barach redirected a shot by Andrew Peeke through a plethora of bodies in front of Woll. Unperturbed by that setback, Toronto restored their lead to two — Garrett Wilson followed the tone set by Kivihalme as he won a battle behind the net following a dump-in by Mac Hollowell and chipped a pass out front to Tanner MacMaster, who tapped home to give Toronto a 3-1 lead.
Cleveland opted to pull Vehvilainen in favour of Matiss Kivlenieks and then narrowed the Marlies lead back to one before the period ended. After a transition play pulled Toronto apart, Woll couldn’t do anything about what essentially turned into a 4-on-2 break for Cleveland.
The Marlies utterly dominated the middle frame without the ability to capitalize on a multitude of excellent scoring opportunities.
Kivlenieks turned aside all 15 shots he faced, including standout saves on Read from the slot and then again on a one-time slap shot, while Adam Brooks looked to the heavens after he was robbed on a backdoor play.
The Marlies weren’t able to capitalize on three straight power plays, and the complexion of the game changed midway through the final frame of regulation.
One scoring chance a piece went begging for both teams as Woll made another fantastic stop on an odd-man rush, while Timothy Liljegren forced a good save out of Kivlenieks following an excellent setup by Hudson Elynuik.
Toronto’s penalty kill let them down yet again on the road trip as it lost all structure and gave up a tic-tac-toe plays in tight for Trey Fix-Wolansky to finish off. Kole Sherwood then made it 4-3 Cleveland just nine seconds later.
After another power play went to waste and with time running out, Toronto finally found their rhythm again offensively. On probably the best shift of the entire game, a howitzer of a slap shot from Kenny Agostino knotted the game at 4-4 with 4:21 remaining.
After another man-advantage went for naught, the Marlies settled for a tie through regulation. Both Petan and Clendening struck the iron inside the opening minute in overtime before Agostino was called for tripping.
Although Toronto killed that penalty, just six seconds elapsed between Agostino exiting the box and Stefan Matteau sealing the extra point for the Monsters, who celebrated their second-straight victory over Toronto to keep themselves firmly in the playoff race.
Post Game Notes
– Special teams proved critical in this game, with Toronto going 0-5 with the extra skater and the penalty kill giving up one on four power-play opportunities for Cleveland.
– Pontus Aberg recorded his second three-point haul (three assists) of the season to take him up to 35 points of the year. Aberg’s 21 assists this season ties his previous career-high in assist set in 2016-17 with the Milwaukee Admirals.
– Back from a concussion, Ben Harpur registered his first goal of the season and first as a Marlie.
– Mac Hollowell looked more like the player we saw during last year’s playoffs. His confidence seemed much higher all of a sudden; he was making plays and recorded a pair of assists to double his points tally for the year.
– Nic Petan scored his ninth goal of the season with the third even-strength marker of his AHL season.
– Matt Read didn’t get on the score sheet, but this was by far his best performance of the year. It’s no stretch to say he could have scored a hat-trick as he led all skaters with six shots on goal. The bar has now been set for a player who the Marlies need a lot more from in the second half of the season.
“He probably had four or five grade-A chances,” said Moore. “He gave the team some momentum and energy, and he was one of the guys who got to the interior.”
– Kalle Kossila is injured once again, although the severity/nature of the issue hasn’t been released at this time.
– Saturday’s lines: