Less than 24 hours after their best performance in a long while, the Toronto Marlies took two steps backward on Saturday.
Facing a motivated Charlotte Checkers team who everyone in the building knew would be coming out hard after a 6-2 defeat the night previous, the Marlies didn’t match the intensity of their Atlantic Division rival en route to a 4-3 loss on home ice.
The Checkers started fast and announced their intent to split the weekend set as they buzzed around the Toronto net without turning it into a goal.
The Marlies did threaten through Mason Marchment and Scott Pooley, which is more than can be said about their first attempt with the extra man. Toronto’s first power play was too slow and tentative against an ultra-aggressive penalty-killing unit, and Alex Nedeljkovic went untested between the pipes.
The Marlies were then too passive on the penalty kill during the Checkers’ first attempt on the power play as Oliwer Kaski ripped a shot past the glove of Joseph Woll at the eight-minute mark.
The game turned into somewhat of a special teams battle, which Charlotte was winning by a wide margin. The Checkers could easily have netted themselves a shorthanded goal after creating three excellent chances while down a man.
Charlotte then struck for a second time with just 40 seconds remaining in the period as Toronto broke down and missed assignments defensively. Terry Broadhurst and Clark Bishop combined to put the latter in alone on goal, where Bishop scored unchallenged from in tight.
Greg Moore made the decision to pull Joseph Woll during the intermission — a curious decision which I didn’t like at the time and still don’t with hindsight — but it made little impact on Toronto’s performance in the middle frame.
The second period was another special teams battle, and there are no prizes for guessing that Charlotte came out on the winning end in that department. Morgan Geekie struck his 15th goal of the season with a power-play tally, giving the Checkers a 3-0 lead with only 30 minutes played.
Timothy Liljegren gave the Marlies fans something to cheer about with a blast through traffic as the Marlies finally tallied with the extra man, but it proved to be short-lived momentum as Toronto then shot themselves in the foot.
Julien Gauthier escaped free as Charlotte again created a shorthanded scoring opportunity, this time making good on it as the Quebec native tallied his 22nd goal on the year.
After surviving an early kill, Toronto wasted yet another power play, but the combination of Charlotte taking their foot off the gas and the Marlies finally showing some urgency resulted in an entertaining final frame of regulation.
Alex Nedeljkovic misplayed a whimsical dump-in play by Ben Harpur before the hard-working Hudson Elynuik pounced on the loose puck to slot home past the out-of-position Charlotte goaltender.
The momentum had visibly turned as Liljegren and Teemu Kivihalme, in particular, looked like they were trying to carry the team toward a comeback. They had a good chance apiece at the seven-minute mark before Adam Brooks was robbed on a 2-on-1 break with Egor Korshkov 60 seconds later.
A third goal arrived before the midway point of the period as Garrett Wilson showed greater desire than anyone in the slot area, diving full length to put the puck across the line following a shot by Jordan Schmaltz.
Charlotte immediately called a timeout after watching their lead dwindle to a single goal, and it seemed to do the trick as the Checkers reset and made life difficult again for Toronto.
The Marlies wasted one last power-play chance and were unable to bury three scoring chances from high-danger areas, ultimately sealing their fate.
In truth, a point would have been more than Toronto deserved for yet another disjointed performance in which they didn’t show up until the game was basically out of reach. It’s all the more frustrating knowing the Marlies manhandled Charlotte the night prior as the search for consistency remains a puzzle for this team.
The rest of the month will see Toronto face off against North Division opponents. A losing record in February would likely put to bed their playoff aspirations.
Post Game Notes
– The Toronto Marlies are now just four games over .500 with a record of 22-18-3-2. They slipped back to fifth place in the North Division, one point back of the playoffs.
– I have mentioned many times that the erratic defensive performances by the Toronto Marlies are likely doing little for the confidence of Joseph Woll. The rookie allowed two goals on eight shots in the first period, but for Greg Moore to say, “I just didn’t like how the first couple of goals went in,” leaves me a little concerned about what he might be saying to Woll in the room. Hanging a rookie goaltender out to dry when the team in front of him has not been good enough — by Moore’s admission — is a little surprising.
– This was the seventh multi-point haul this season for Timothy Liljegren (1-1-2), including a third power-play goal. He and Teemu Kivihamle were standouts in an otherwise dire performance.
“[Liljegren] might have been our best player on the ice tonight,” said Moore. “He generates a lot with his skating, ability to get pucks back, transition game. He is an elite player who is starting to find his way and has been for some time. He definitely showcased that.”
– Saturday’s lines: