Slow starts are not holding back the Toronto Marlies through two games.
For the second straight game, they found themselves trailing after 20 minutes but roared back to secure a well-deserved 6-2 victory over the Manitoba Moose.
Sloppy would be the best one-word description for Toronto’s play in the opening frame. There were some nice moments, but missed assignments and carelessness with the puck in the defensive zone proved costly.
Against the run of play, Colt Conrad almost gave Toronto the lead on a partial breakaway, but his backhand effort was turned aside by Mikail Berdin. Manitoba went straight back up the ice, where Rosen was pickpocketed in the middle of the defensive zone, allowing C.J. Suess to tee up Kristian Reichel for the opening goal.
Toronto responded with a spell of good pressure after falling behind, leading to the tying goal with 8:55 on the clock. Neither picked up a point on the goal, but tremendous board battles on the end wall — for over 20 seconds — by Nick Robertson and Joey Anderson allowed Toronto to retain possession.
That eventually resulted in Timothy Liljegren and Adam Brooks teeing up Calle Rosen to score with a big slapshot.
The response to the goal was poor, however, and Greg Moore was no doubt a frustrated man after watching his team hand the Moose another go-ahead marker just 39 seconds later. Amidst a fire drill in the Marlies end, Nathan Todd was all alone in front on a delayed penalty and made no mistake with a finish over the pads of Andrew D’Agostini.
The closest Toronto came to tying the game before the intermission was on an individual rush by Brooks, but his effort struck the post.
Manitoba’s Jimmy Oligny, who did not endear himself to the Marlies in game one, was up to the same antics in this game before Rich Clune intervened. The pair dropped the gloves, with the Marlies veteran making easy work of his combatant in a very one-sided tilt.
Whatever was said in the room in the first intermission had the desired effect: The Marlies struck three times in a little over three minutes to put themselves ahead 4-2 by the 6:09 mark of the middle frame.
The tying tally came courtesy of turning defense into offense in quick transition. Kristians Rubins and Joseph Duszak broke up a play at the Marlies blue line before the latter carried possession into the Moose zone with pace. With Manitoba unable to reset themselves, Duszak teed up Anderson for a slapshot that produced a tap-in rebound for Kenny Agostino to pounce on.
The go-ahead marker was a story of persistence and hard work. Aftter Toronto cleared their own zone following a save from D’Agostini, Robertson chipped the puck in deep. Rourke Chartier and Justin Brazeau hounded Ville Heinola, forcing a turnover which Brazeau put on a plate for Robertson to score his first AHL goal.
The third goal during this three-minute spell had a deal of good fortune to it. With a fantastic screen set up in front of Berdin, Rosen once again let rip from distance. His effort went whistling wide of the target but took a weird bounce off the boards and found the net via either the back of Berdin or a defenseman’s stick in the blue paint.
To their credit, the Moose pushed back after such a disastrous start to the period, hitting a few posts and firing 13 shots on target. While it wasn’t always pretty or by the book, D’Agostini found a way to keep the two-goal lead intact.
The fifth goal of the frame, tallied with 1:04 remaining was, yet another showcase of Robertson’s talent and work-rate. He stripped the puck from Nicholas Jones in the Moose zone and perfectly found an on-rushing Kristinas Rubins steaming down the middle.
The towering defenseman wasn’t able to get much mustard on his effort, but it was on target and that was enough thanks to another effective screen in front of Berdin.
Refusing to lie down, Manitoba came out hungry and really should have reduced the deficit in the opening five minutes. A combination of good puck luck and excellent work from D’Agositini kept the Moose off the board. There was no more frustrated Moose player than Reichel, who was shut down on three separate occasions.
The icing on the cake for Toronto arrived with ten minutes remaining. The first power-play goal of the season was a simple tap-in for Adam Brooks after a low shot from Liljegren found the pads of Berdin.
For a team that doesn’t have many “offensive stars,” the Toronto Marlies are finding different ways to score in this season-opening series against the Moose.
Post Game Notes
– The story of the game was Nick Robertson — 1g,1a — showcasing his ability to hang onto the puck, his hunger in battles for possession along the boards, his overall compete level, and his nose for goal. He was simply a joy to watch in this game. He didn’t shy away even after Manitoba began to target him later in the night.
– Calle Rosen’s shot has always been a weapon. It was nice to see him bag a pair of goals. Timothy Liljegren recorded two assists and had the puck on a string at times. I counted at least four occasions when he carried the puck through all three zones when the breakout play he was looking for wasn’t available. It’s been a very encouraging start to the season for the fourth-year pro.
– It doesn’t feel like Kenny Agostino has found anywhere near his top gear yet (in my opinion), but he’s such an established player at this level that he nearly always finds a way to contribute: a goal and an assist in this game for last season’s leading Marlies goalscorer.
– He doesn’t fill me with confidence at times during games, but full credit to Andrew D’Agositini for finding a way to battle and keep pucks out. He made 26 saves for the win.
– Rourke Chartier was the player I was most intrigued about heading into this season. He is slowly becoming my guy to root for just two games in (read my season preview for an insight into his story). He does all the right things in all three zones and was rewarded with two assists in this game.
– Making his professional debut was Keegan Stevenson of the Guelph Storm. The 20-year-old centerman played right wing and acquitted himself well, making three positive plays of note. He almost picked up a primary assist on a goal and made two excellent defensive plays. He will have earned some confidence from the coaching staff.
– Rasmus Sandin was listed day-to-day with a bone contusion. He sustained the injury blocking a shot in game one. Chris Johnston reported on Wednesday that it appears to be worse than initially feared:
It sounds like Rasmus Sandin's foot injury will sideline him for several weeks. He got hurt blocking a shot during the Toronto Marlies season opener in Winnipeg on Monday night.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) February 17, 2021
– Tuesday’s lines: