Recent trades created a different look to the Toronto Marlies’ lineup on Wednesday. It paid immediate dividends as the Marlies broke a three-game winless skid to move back to within two points of a playoff spot.
The difference in attitude, enthusiasm, and pace was evident to see from the opening minute as Toronto played with playoff intensity.
The Marlies stormed out to deserved two-goal lead inside eight minutes. The Monsters had no answers as Matt Read, Tyler Gaudet, and Kristians Rubins all combined in a fluid passing movement to tee up newcomer Miikka Salomaki for a debut goal from down low in the right circle.
Gaudet was also the architect of the second tally as his perfectly-weighted pass found Michael Kapla moving from left to right across the Cleveland zone. The defenseman isn’t known for his offensive abilities, but he shrugged off the attention of Ryan MacInnis before beating Veini Vehvilainen with a pinpoint finish.
Joseph Woll was essentially an onlooker for the majority of the first period, making just one save of note to turn aside Maxime Fortier.
The Marlies then wasted their first chance on the power-play and let Cleveland creep back into the game from there.
With Toronto caught flat-footed on a transition play, Trey Fix-Wolansky escaped down the right side before firing an inch-perfect shot off of the inside of Woll’s far post.
Had the officials not changed their decision, Salomaki could have had himself a second goal, but it was ruled that Egor Korshkov committed goaltender interference even though he was hauled down during a strong net drive.
The middle frame began brightly for the Marlies as they capitalized on a four-minute power-play that carried over from the end of the first period. A shot from the point by Teemu Kivihalme deflected in off Gaudet to put Toronto up 3-1 with 3:30 on the clock.
However, the Marlies‘ play at even strength failed to match that of the opening frame and Cleveland grew in confidence, clawing their way back to level pegging.
It could have been even worse for the Marlies had Woll not robbed McInnis on a breakaway following an offensive zone turnover, but the special teams were their ultimate undoing in the middle frame. The Monsters went a perfect two-for-two on the man advantage, requiring just a combined 21 seconds of power-play time to score through MacInnis and Adam Clendening,
In between times, Matt Lorito hit the post on a rare offensive foray by Toronto, but the teams were deadlocked at three apiece through 40 minutes.
Third Period & Overtime
It’s fair to say that many Marlies performances this season have been lacking in resilience, but that wasn’t the case in this game. Toronto rebounded from their second period and found their game from the opening frame.
A tremendous second effort on the back-check from Lorito generated a scoring chance for Riley Woods, with a penalty drawn seconds later. Pontus Aberg hit the crossbar from point-blank range before Kenny Agostino was robbed as the Marlies came really close to scoring a second power-play marker.
It set the tone for the Marlies, though, as the majority of the final frame of regulation was spent in Cleveland’s zone, with Toronto dominating the shot clock 11-2. The line of Salomaki-Gaudet-Read, in particular, was dominant and generated the best of the scoring chances with little in the way of puck luck.
Cleveland only really threatened to steal the points on a power-play opportunity, but the Marlies’ penalty kill finally got its act together to keep the Monsters off the board.
The Marlies’ incessant pressure drew three penalties in the third period, but they weren’t able to capitalize on any of the power plays — including one opportunity in the final three minutes — and overtime was needed to decide the extra point.
It took 23 seconds for Toronto to end the game, and it almost liked like a set-play. Agostino drove back toward the blue line as Tanner MacMaster headed the other way and got himself inside positioning on MacInnis.
When Agostino curled back heading for goal, his perfectly-weighted pass allowed MacMaster to redirect past Vehvilainen for a much-needed win and confidence boost for the Marlies.
Post Game Notes
– At the time of writing, Toronto is now up to fifth place in the North Division and two points back of fourth-place Syracuse. The win was not only big in the standings but also for the confidence level as the Marlies now head on the road for four games in six days, including a trip to Texas.
– Tyler Gaudet’s last goal was October 27, 2019. There wasn’t so much a monkey on his back as a family of gorillas. The relief was there for all to see following his power-play tally as he put together a three-point game. This was his first multi-point haul since the end of November. His line, including debutant Miika Salomaki and Matt Read, was superb and at times unstoppable. It’s just one game, but there is real potential here for something special.
– Miika Salomaki introduced himself to Marlies fans with a two-point game (1-12), including the opening goal. He’s only had a couple of days to acclimate, and I’m certain he’s going to be a key factor for Toronto down the stretch — certainly more impactful than either Nic Baptiste or Darren Archibald were.
“He had great chemistry with Gaudet and Read,” said Greg Moore. “They spent most of the game in the offensive zone mostly because they worked hard and moved their feet, took away time and space, and when they did get the puck, they had good movement. They stayed in motion and they were predictable to play with.”
– Matt Lorito was another Marlie making his debut and his talent was clear to see. He recorded three shots on goal, struck some nice chemistry with Egor Korshkov and Riley Woods, and was a positive presence on the power-play.
“Really good addition to the power play,” said Moore. “He has a knack for making plays on the wall as he attacks downhill. We are very excited to have him.”
– It was interesting to see Riley Woods thrust into a second-line role after being used predominately in a fourth-line role in games previous. There was nothing fancy to his game he kept it simple and looked to dish off to his more experienced wingers at every opportunity. He was sound defensively and wasn’t caught on the wrong side of the puck. It remains to be seen where he would fit in when the rest of the Marlies’ centers are healthy.
– Michael Kapla recorded his first-ever goal for the Marlies and put together another solid game defensively.
– Rich Clune skated in his 500th regular-season AHL game.
– Kasimir Kaskisuo is considered day-to-day by Greg Moore, with no official confirmation on the nature of the injury, which I’m led to believe is hand-related.
– Wednesday’s lines: