The Toronto Marlies power play has enjoyed early success this season, but it failed to register on six opportunities in this game, including some 5-on-3 time.
Stockton, meanwhile, scored twice on the man advantage and fully capitalized on Toronto’s worst showing of the 2021 season to date in a 4-2 Heat victory on Wednesday night.
“They made it difficult for us,” said Greg Moore. “As we have talked about, they are going to get better in every game throughout the series. It is early in the year, and you know their staff is going to continue to tighten up the details. They did a great job on the penalty kill of making it difficult for us to gain entry and get set up. In the zone, they made it challenging for us to get pucks to the net.”
With Kalle Kossila in for his first game of the season, the Marlies got off to the perfect start, scoring inside 90 seconds. After a quick transition play, Joseph Duszak flew forward to add numbers to the rush, took a pass inside the blue line, and threw a pass out front that bounced off of a Stockton player past goaltender Dustin Wolf.
Toronto probably should have doubled their lead at the three-minute mark when Rich Clune led a 2-on-1 break with Kossila in tow. The former teed up the latter, who probably wanted a little more mustard on a shot that Wolf snatched with his glove.
Almost from that point until the first intermission buzzer, the Marlies were on the back foot, inviting pressure from the Heat. Connor Zary struck the iron with an effort that resulted from a passing play that pulled the Marlies apart. On the game’s first power play, Martin Pospisil also hit the post as Toronto held on for dear life.
Rourke Chartier created a chance from nothing with sheer hard work, but his backhand effort was denied before a good look for Nick Robertson on Toronto’s first power play was dealt with by Wolf.
The deserved tying goal arrived late in the period courtesy of a missed assignment. Zach Leslie was given time and space to walk off of the point into the left circle, where his shot trickled through Andrew D’Agostini. As good as the Marlies goaltender has been to start the season, he would want that one back.
The middle frame could not have started worse for Toronto. Matthew Phillips walked off of the left half wall and got the better of two Marlies in the area, working into the middle of the zone and dishing to Adam Ruzicka, who made no mistake with a one-time finish.
Mac Hollowell almost gave his team an immediate response, but his rasping drive from the point only found Wolf’s far post with the goaltender beaten.
Stockton’s power play certainly looked more potent than it had in the two previous games, although it’s easier to score when players are left alone in the high slot with the time to pick their shot — Alex Petrovic buried his first of the year to give Stockton a 3-1 lead.
Toronto played their best hockey of the game at even strength through the final 10 minutes of the middle frame. Their domination turned into two power plays, but Wolf was rarely threatened between the pipes. His only save of note occurred with 90 seconds remaining when he just held on to a heavy shot from Scott Pooley that almost snuck through the goaltender’s gear.
With Nick Robertson in the box for roughing for the first two minutes of the period, Toronto needed to kill a penalty to even harbour thoughts of a comeback. It was a period filled with penalties — six in total.
Before the parade to the penalty box, however, Toronto drew within one: Teemu Kivihalme scored on a long-range effort that found its way through traffic past an unsighted Wolf.
With Stock guilty of three successive penalties, they handed Toronto a pair of 5-on-3 shortened power plays. They may have only been for 14 and 40 seconds, respectively, but Toronto failed to generate any chances of note barring an effort from Kenny Agostino that struck the outside of the post.
Stockton’s rookie goaltender came up with his best save of the game with five minutes remaining when Wolf flung himself across the crease to his right to deny Duszak of a second goal of the game on a backdoor play.
Despite camping in the Stockton zone, too many shots came from the perimeter with little to no traffic in front to cause Wolf much of a problem. A lazy penalty taken by Nick Robertson with 2:35 remaining stopped the comeback attempt dead in its tracks, and Ruzicka helped himself to a second goal of the game on the subsequent power play.
Post Game Notes
– Tyler Gaudet recorded an assist and now leads the Marlies in scoring with eight points (4-4-8).
– Joseph Duszak scored for the second straight game against Stockton and looked threatening every time he jumped up into the play offensively.
– Nick Robertson registered a pair of assists, but neither were key to the goal being scored. This was his least impactful outing in the AHL to date at even strength. He also took two selfish penalties, retaliating after the intermission buzzer before committing a holding infraction behind the Stockton net when Toronto was chasing the game.
– Kalle Kossila returned from injury to slot into the line-up at 4C with Hudson Elynuik missing out.
– Wednesday’s lines: