The Toronto Marlies’ failure to put together a 60-minute effort coupled with less-than-stellar special teams spelled defeat in their first meeting of the season against Belleville on Friday night.
“It’s a game that is really tough with all of the special teams,” said Greg Moore. “Finding the flow is tough with guys sitting out for long periods of time. It was a difficult game, but it definitely needed to be a stronger start for us.”
The Marlies went 0-for-9 on the power play and gave up one goal on five penalty kills in the 3-2 loss despite out-shooting the Senators 45-32.
“We felt as a staff that we generated a lot of good looks,” said Moore. “Their goalie was really patient and made a lot of big stops. It is not as if we went through the nine power plays and didn’t generate anything. There were definitely a lot of good things created. We were trying to keep them from getting frustrated and to keep attacking. It is one of those nights where don’t generate as much as we like, but we did get the one goal that technically wasn’t on the power play with the guy just coming out of the box.”
The opening moments of this game provided something of a false dawn for the Marlies. Facing a Senators team that had lost eight of 10 games so far this season, Toronto dominated the shot clock in the early going and cycled the puck for extended periods in the Belleville zone.
They weren’t able to fully test rookie goaltender Kevin Mandolese, though, and they should have fallen behind at the seven-minute mark, when Parker Kelly fanned on his effort on a breakaway.
Belleville found the opening goal before long, however, after an offensive zone face-off win allowed the Senators to build pressure and Matthew Peca tipped in an initial Jack Dougherty shot from the point.
The Marlies power play created three good looks on their first attempt, but Mandolese held firm, albeit he wasn’t forced to deal with much in the way of traffic in his crease.
after Alex Formenton went to the box for a double minor, the Marlies finished the period with the man advantage and had three minutes carry over into the middle frame.
Just as the aforementioned penalties expired, Toronto leveled the game. A reverse pass by Joey Anderson found Kenny Agostino waiting at the backdoor, where Agostino went upstairs over Mandolese.
The teams then exchanged power-play opportunities, with Adam Brooks coming the closest for Toronto with an effort that rang off the post in a similar position to where Agostino scored from.
A plethora of penalties near the midway mark of the period left Toronto facing a 5-on-3, leading to the inevitable. Erik Brannstrom — why he’s in the AHL is beyond me — single-handedly set up the go-ahead goal for Alex Formenton, who finished from the slot.
The Marlies imploded from there, quickly conceding another as Belleville struck twice in as many minutes. It was almost a carbon copy of the opening goal of the game, with Cody Goloubef credited with the final touch this time around.
The Marlies really should have been trailing 4-1 heading into the break, but Joseph Woll pulled off a huge save on a breakaway attempt to keep his team within reach.
On too many occasions this season, Toronto has been reliant on third-period comebacks to earn points. This time, the rally fell short despite an early goal in the final frame. Just 83 seconds in, the Marlies drew within one through Jeremy McKenna, who sent a backhand shot into the far corner after Agostino struck the iron.
It didn’t precipitate a major push offensively, though, and the Marlies were fortunate not to concede the next goal inside the opening five minutes of the period. An excellent play by Formenton teed up Logan Shaw, whose effort cannoned off the crossbar. Matthew Peca also struck iron with a speculative effort that hit Woll’s far post.
The Marlies power play continued to falter in the final frame, failing to score on a seventh try as the final ten minutes approached.
The Marlies registered 19 shots through the final frame, two of which were excellent scoring opportunities with a little under nine minutes left — Agostino was turned aside on a breakaway before Brooks forced a good shoulder save out of Mandolese seconds later.
The penalty parade continued inside the final seven minutes, with both teams taking consecutive penalties. Toronto hung tight to survive a 5-on-3 Belleville power-play, but they were unable to capitalize on a pair of man advantages that ran into the final two minutes of the game.
One final late flurry in the dying seconds with the goalie pulled wasn’t enough to scrape something out of the game for the Marlies.
Post Game Notes
– Kenny Agostino recorded a goal and an assist in his return to the Marlies.
“It is nice to have him back,” said Moore. “He is a great leader. The guys love him. He brings energy. We can’t say enough about what he does and who he is as a person.”
– Calle Rosen recorded nine shots, although a few too many were from distance with no traffic in front of the Belleville net.
“We definitely at times encourage establishing the shot from the top just to keep the PK honest and create some space for other players,” said Moore. “He has a knack for getting pucks to the net. He had a few good sifters today that were threatening and just missed by a few inches.”
– Jeremy McKenna scored his first AHL goal. It was McKenna’s first promotion into the top six and he fared okay in a performance where few Toronto players covered themselves in glory.
“He has been unbelievable,” said Moore. “He is a team guy. The decisions he makes around the rink, and how smart he is — he is a really good hockey player. You can tell on the bench that he is rooting for his teammates. It is good to see him get rewarded tonight.”
– Scott Sabourin returned to the line-up following his suspension. His line including Hudson Elynuik and Rourke Chartier was largely ineffective.
– An assist for Adam Brooks broke a four-game slump without a point. He also recorded five shots on goal, although the stats keepers might be giving him a little too much credit. Whether it’s an injury or something else, the Winnipeg native hasn’t been playing at his best for two weeks.
– Friday’s lines: