“There really wasn’t a great effort from our group from the beginning of the game. Stockton came with a gameplan. They came to work for each other. They wore us down. We were not willing to do the same.”
Those are damning post-game words from head coach Greg Moore, whose team was dismantled by the Stockton Heat by a score of 5-1 on Friday night.
“We came out flat, we thought our skill was going to beat them rather than our work ethic, and we didn’t even attempt to execute our game plan that we talked about before the game.”
The opening frame was a fast-paced affair with few whistles, but Toronto never really had a foothold in the game, always looking one step behind the Heat.
Stockton recorded 12 shots in the first 20 minutes, with the best chance falling to Matt Phillips on a back door play following a deft no-look backhand pass from Connor Zary. Andrew D’Agostini was caught momentarily off-guard, but he flung himself to his right to make a good save.
The Marlies had a few good looks on one power-play opportunity, but they never really forced Garret Sparks into any serious action.
An excellent block by Martin Marincin in the slot on Stockton’s first power-play ensured the game remained scoreless heading into the intermission.
Toronto killed the remainder of the penalty carried over from the first period, but Rourke Chartier did not endear himself to the coaches with a neutral-zone turnover after exiting the box. On the subsequent 2-on-1 break, D’Agostini had to make another excellent save to deny Phillips.
The Marlies killed a second penalty, but it felt like a matter of time before Stockton finally got themselves on the board. They had to wait until the midway mark, but the floodgates fully opened at that point.
Phillips, a fantastic skater, created a zone entry off with no Toronto player able to get near him and off-loaded possession down by the goal line to Zary, who found Adam Ruzicka. Neither Kristian Rubins or Joseph Duszak picked up the Slovak forward, who finished top shelf.
Toronto dug deep to kill off another penalty, but they remained so inept at 5v5, failing to execute basic zone exits. That led to a third penalty, and Stockton finally took advantage of the extra man: Martin Pospisil applied the final touch after what was a frenetic scrum in front of D’Agositini.
A two-goal deficit became three 37 seconds later. On a harmless-looking shot by Alex Petrovic, a tip in front by Eetu Tuulola beat D’Agostini. It was undoubtedly a deft redirect, but the lack of effort to challenge the Stockton forwards in front was plainly evident.
Against the run of play, Toronto gave themselves a sniff of a comeback with a late-period goal. Of all people, it was Martin Marincin who was hard on the puck behind the Moose net, and his determination to drive the net allowed Colt Conrad to score his first of the season.
Rich Clune and Alex Gallant dropped the gloves late in the period, quickly followed by Scott Pooley and Justin Kirkland exchanging phone numbers before the intermission, as the period ended with a little passion and nastiness from both teams.
The Marlies played a little better in the early going of the third period, but they squandered their best chance four minutes in.
A weird bounce off of the left boards left Conrad alone in the slot with the puck on his stick, but despite having Sparks down and out, the Toronto forward was unable to deliver a much-needed finishing touch for a second time.
The Marlies wasted three consecutive power plays and appeared completely out of ideas against a Stockton penalty kill unit that had obviously done their homework.
The Heat’s special teams dominance rolled into their next power play, where Toronto afforded Ruzicka the space to receive a cross-ice feed, and he made no mistake for his second goal of the game.
The Slovak forward has feasted on Toronto’s generosity during the team’s last three meetings, helping himself to six goals and nine points. Greg Moore then made the mystifying decision to pull D’Agostini for Angus Redmond, something I’ll touch upon in the post-game notes.
The scoring was rounded off with a little under four minutes remaining when a neutral zone turnover by Alex Galchenyuk resulted in a 4-on-2 break. It was a gift for Connor Mackey, who was essentially presented with a tap-in for his first goal of the season.
That capped a 5-1 final that could and probably should have been a greater margin of defeat for the Marlies.
Post Game Notes
– Nick Robertson was a late scratch after taking warm-ups. Greg Moore confirmed that the rookie has been dealing with an oblique injury.
– Moore’s decision to pull D’Agostini for Angus Redmond with so little time remaining leads me to believe that he’s going to put #29 back in for Saturday’s rematch against Stockton. I understand the loyalty aspect if this is indeed the case, but I would argue the goaltender could use a rest and Angus Redmond has a body of ECHL work at least equal to D’Agositini.
– Colt Conrad scored his first goal of the season, while Martin Marincin registered his first point.
“Colt has been working hard,” said Moore. “He is trying to find his place within the team and his role within the group. He is actively asking the right questions and watching video. It is sometimes challenging, especially in the last few games, if you don’t find yourself on the power play or penalty kill rotations. You end up sitting for an extended period of time. I talked to him about the challenge. It is a skill as well to sit for four or five minutes sometimes and go out for your next shift when you don’t feel like you’re in the flow of the game. It is a tough thing to do. He got better at it tonight. He is finding his way and working through a process.”
– Calle Rosen’s assist was his eighth point (4-4-8) on the year through 11 games. Despite Toronto’s five power-play opportunities, though, the defenseman recorded just one shot on goal in this game.
– Friday’s lines: