Despite icing a particularly young lineup, the Toronto Marlies managed to pick up a third consecutive victory in their season series finale against the Stockton Heat.
10 Marlies aged 23 or under suited up for this game, with Nick Robertson the youngest of the group at 19, and just one 30-plus-year-old was in the lineup — captain Rich Clune.
The opening frame was played at a frenetic, breathless pace with few stoppages in play.
Toronto drew the first penalty two minutes in, but Garret Sparks was rarely tested due to the passed-up shooting opportunities by the Marlies. Semyon Der-Arguchintsev was guilty of overpassing, as he sauntered into the high-slot area and opted to look for a teammate with a clear lane open in front of him.
At the six-minute mark, Joseph Woll was called into action to make an excellent double save. His initial stop on Georgio Estephan resulted in a rebound chance for Glenn Gawdin, but Woll flung himself to his right to make a desperation blocker save.
Greg Moore might have had a word with SDA on the bench before following the power play — the rookie chose to shoot during a 3-on-2 break for Toronto, ripping his effort just wide of the post.
Sparks has been inspired between the pipes against his former team this year, and there was no better example than the double save he pulled off at the 12-minute mark. Kenny Agostino and Noel Hoefenmayer were both frustrated as Toronto swarmed the Heat net but were unable to force the puck past Sparks.
Adam Ruzicka, a constant thorn in the Marlies‘ side during the season series, appeared to have broken the deadlock with a piece of individual brilliance. The centerman burst through the middle of Toronto’s defense before setting up what looked to be a backdoor tap-in for Matthew Phillips. Somehow, Woll came up with the save to stonewall the Stockton right winger, keeping the game scoreless heading into the intermission.
The Heat began the middle frame with fire in their belly, setting up camp inside the Marlies zone for the majority of the opening two minutes. With Stockton unable to capitalize, Toronto almost made them pay 60 seconds later, but Joey Anderson’s shot rang off the post.
The first goal arrived at the eight-minute mark after a moment to forget for Toronto’s goaltender. With little danger around him and options to his left and right, Woll attempted to flick a backhand pass from his crease and whiffed on the pass, sending the puck all of a foot away from himself. Luke Philip seized on the gift, roofing a backhand shot past Woll.
Stockton almost seemed content to sit back and attempt to contain the Marlies with half of the game remaining, recording just three shots on goal in the second period. It was working until Rourke Chartier entered the fray with a good drive to the net that resulted in drawing a hooking penalty off of Emilio Pettersen.
The Marlies power play looked threatening from the outset, with SDA and Anderson almost teeing up Robertson within seconds. As Toronto continued their puck movement in the zone, the same two players combined to set up Kalle Kossila, whose perfect redirect in tight chipped the puck up and over Sparks to the game at 1-1.
The Marlies were unlucky not to take a lead into the final 20 minutes as they carved out a great chance with three minutes remaining. After Nic Petan set in a motion a 2-on-1 break from the Marlies, Agostino chose not to shoot with the passing lane cut off.
With the game in the balance at 1-1, Toronto almost got off to the perfect start to the third period. Just 75 seconds in, Nic Petan found Agostino in the slot, but Agostino’s effort rang off the crossbar, dropped directly down in the crease, and stayed on the wrong side of the goal line.
After penalties just nine seconds apart led to some four-on-action, Stockton came to life with the extra space on the rink. Woll came up with three huge saves to deny Byron Froese and Eetu Tuulola (x2) even when prone on his back and halfway in his net.
If we ever needed more proof that hockey games are won and lost in the puck battles, Toronto’s second goal was Exhibit A. After Jeremy McKenna won the battle on the right boards against two Heat players, the puck squirted up the boards to Tyler Gaudet, who chipped it past Glenn Gawdin for a 2-on-1 break. Gaudet froze Sparks with a shoulder fake and beat him far side with a perfectly-placed shot.
The lead lasted a little under three minutes, though, as Toronto was undone defensively by one stretch pass. Zac Leslie fired a pass from inside his own zone off the left boards to Pettersen, who was speeding through the neutral zone. With the Marlies caught flatfooted, nobody was near the Stockton forward as he finished confidently past Woll.
The fairytale ending we all would’ve scripted for this game: The two former Peterborough Petes teammates and Leaf draft selections combining for the winning goal in their first AHL game together. Well, sometimes fairytales come true.
Der-Arguchintsev was the creator of this goal, as he showcased an encouraging element to his game that bodes well for his potential at the next level. After his pressure at the Stockton blue line denied the Heat a zone exit and flipped possession, SDA won a battle for the loose puck against Colton Beck, a six-year veteran of the AHL, before laying a pass off to Nick Robertson to his left. From a tight angle in the left circle, Robertson found a way to beat Sparks with a wicked top-shelf finish.
Toronto broke Stockton’s resolve with a second goal 88 seconds later courtesy of some puck luck on the power play. Petan entered the Stockton zone with speed before his attempted backhand zone found a deflection and looped perfectly into the wheelhouse of Agostino, who finished from the slot.
The Heat went for broke early, pulling Sparks with over four minutes remaining, but never really put the Marlies under any concerted pressure. Petan sealed the victory with an empty-net goal, and for the first time this season, the Toronto Marlies recorded a third consecutive win.
Post Game Notes
– This was the final game between these two teams this season, with the series finishing at four wins apiece. It’s a shame Stockton and Toronto likely won’t face each other again unless both make it into the Calder Cup final sometime in the future.
– Toronto’s power play was ranked at the bottom in the league heading into this game, clicking at just 13%, but it went two-for-four in this outing. Undoubtedly, player availability has a major impact on special teams, but through the last two games, Toronto’s power-play units have moved the puck with speed and purpose.
– Semyon Der-Arguchintsev recorded two primary assists, but it was his work defensively that stood out positively on several occasions.
“You can tell in the little pockets of time when he is away from the puck, he is scanning the rink and finding his teammates,” said Greg Moore. “He can predict where the movement is going. He has a special way of putting pucks into areas as players are moving into it, even if it is cross ice or a direction that is not in the flow of the game in which he is moving. He is a special talent in how he sees it, but a lot of it stems from his habit of how he is pre-scanning and finding options in the pockets of space away from the puck, which allows him to make high-level reads when he has the puck.”
– Nick Robertson mentioned in his post-game comments that this feels like his third start to the season after battling two injuries. After missing almost a month due to an oblique issue, Robertson didn’t miss a beat, and it was obvious that he enjoyed playing alongside SDA. If he can stay healthy, the Marlies will certainly benefit greatly from the high-calibre shooting ability that was on display tonight.
“I thought [Robertson-SDA-Anderson] complemented each other really well,” said Greg Moore. “Uncle Joey, as a mentor, did a really good job talking to those guys between every shift, helping coach them up with details. It was really great to see the creative play between the three of them. You can tell that Robertson and Semyon have some chemistry and have spent a lot of time together. The line had a huge impact on the game today.”
– Kenny Agostino and Nic Petan both recorded two-point hauls (1-1-2). They are another pair who enjoy playing on the same line and complement each other well. Kalle Kossila is the perfect center for those two, and I’d expect/hope Greg Moore will keep this line together.
– We shouldn’t dwell for too long on Joseph Woll’s mistake on the first goal. What was so encouraging is that it didn’t affect the rest of his performance. He came up with some key saves, including on a short-handed chance for Stockton (not noted in the recap) that occurred just before Agostino made it a 4-2 game.
– Sergei Sapego made his AHL debut, and in the best possible way, he wasn’t noticeable. The 21-year-old spent the 2019-20 season with Newfoundland Growlers, appearing in just 35 games.
– Wednesday’s lines:
Agostino – Kossila – Petan
Robertson – SDA – Anderson
Chartier – Gaudet – McKenna
Clune – Elynuik – Pooley
Hoefenmayer – Duszak
Sapego – Rosen
Rubins – Hollowell