The Toronto Maple Leafs showed signs of turning it around with a solid performance through almost 40 minutes before the same old defensive frailty reared its ugly head in a third-straight loss on Friday night.
The Marlies have now fallen down to sixth in the North Division, three points back of a playoff berth.
The opening 20 minutes were fairly balanced, with the Marlies managing to get a jump on Belleville — who had won five straight and picked up points in 11 of their last 12 games — with the opening goal at the 4:30 mark.
Kristians Rubins’ determination in his one-on-one battle at the Belleville blue line set the stage for Pontus Aberg to drive toward the hashmarks and rip a shot past the glove hand of Joey Daccord.
Ben Harpur made an excellent defensive block to deny Alex Formenton tying the game at the eight-minute mark — a rare lapse by the Marlies in the first period, where they were more organized and responsible without the puck.
The Marlies earned the first power play of the game also, and while they created some decent looks, Daccord was only called on to make one real save of note on Kenny Agostino.
After a reckless elbow by Darren Archibald sent the Senators on the power play, Belleville made it count within seconds. Josh Norris’ shot hit the shin of Jordan Szwarz, giving Kasimir Kaskisuo no chance to react. Kaskisuo went on to post 12 saves in the opening frame.
Goals against aside, the second period was one the Marlies should use as a model to build their game around.
They built themselves a 3-1 lead inside five minutes, beginning with a power-play marker just 63 seconds in when Mason Marchment battled in front to open up for Nic Petan, who found him with a perfect pass.
Matt Read was robbed twice at the 90-second mark after an individual effort from the left-wing before more hard work allowed Toronto to double the lead after Belleville iced the puck and never recovered. The Marlies hunted down possession along the boards before Petan and Marchment combined once again.
Unsurprisingly, though, a calamitous defensive breakdown led to the Senators grabbing their first goal of the period. As a Toronto penalty kill was ending, there was a lack of communication between a stumbling Marchment and Mac Hollowell at the Marlies’ blue line. Instead of playing it safe and clearing his lines, the rookie defenseman attempted to carry the puck to safety and got stripped by Formenton, creating a 3-on-1 break that former Marlie Michael Carcone finished off.
Despite the setback, the Marlies got back into their groove quickly and restored a two-goal lead with their second power-play marker. It was the Petan and Marchment show yet again as the left-winger completed a 38-minute hat-trick to give the Marlies a 4-2 lead.
Game management was now imperative with under two minutes remaining in the middle frame, but Toronto switched off and gave up an inexcusable goal with three seconds left. Josh Norris was given time and space on the right side of the ice and went coast-to-coast unchallenged for his 25th on the year.
A middle frame dominated by the Marlies team should have left them in command on the scoreboard, but two defensive lapses turned the tide, and Toronto proceeded to fall apart in the final frame of regulation.
First, Erik Brannstrom skated down the left wing through all three zones and dangled his way past Rubins before sending a bullet of a shot past Kaskisuo from the left circle.
The game wasn’t tied at four apiece for long — Belleville took the lead less than a minute later with their second goal at the 8:26 mark. It was a goal Kaskisuo would want back as a floated effort from Morgan Klimchuk seemed to deceive the Finnish netminder, who was pulled for Joseph Woll.
Jean-Christophe Beaudin then scored a shorthanded marker following a nice passing play by the Senators — a goal that had to be reviewed several shifts afterward due to it initially being waived off, but it counted, all but putting the game to bed. At this point, the Marlies had given up four unanswered goals in under 15 minutes.
An empty-net marker by Parker Kelly cemented the result to give Belleville the 7-4 victory.
Post Game Notes
“I would say today’s the most frustrating loss we’ve had,” said Greg Moore. “There were some good efforts today. Some guys stepped up for the team. There are again moments of the game that we controlled. At this point, it’s really frustrating. We need to start seeing results.”
– It was the second hat-trick of the season for Mason Marchment, and both have come in a losing cause. His two power-play goals were his first of the season. He’s now at eight goals in 12 games. After two games without a point, Nic Petan is back in form with three primary assists on all of Marchment’s goals. The diminutive centreman has 29 points (10-19-29) in 21 games.
“From power play to five on five, those guys gained a lot of momentum for themselves and the team,” said Moore.
– Joseph Duszak recorded his first-ever multi-point AHL haul with a pair of assists. The rookie defenseman has four points (1-3-4) in nine games with the Marlies this year and looks as though he’s in for an extended stay this time around following Timothy Liljegren’s call-up to the Leafs.