The Toronto Marlies got off to a near-perfect start to their 2021-22 season with an emphatic 5-1 victory over Manitoba on Saturday.
The Marlies dominated the opening eight minutes of the game, out-shooting Manitoba 6-0 in the process.
Alex Biega was unable to capitalize on some good fortune as a broken play fell to him in the slot and Mikhail Berdin denied the veteran defenseman with a good early save.
Brett Seney, an early breakout-performer candidate this season, was turned aside on a breakaway attempt at the six-minute mark. The play quickly transitioned back toward the Toronto net and an odd-man rush, but Seney hustled back, showing his footspeed in the process of breaking up a potential scoring chance for the Moose.
The Marlies remained on top in the second half of the opening frame, but the flow of play became fragmented until three final three minutes when some sustained offensive zone pressure finally paid dividends for Toronto.
Found at the top of the hash marks by Joseph Duszak, Kirill Semyonov spun and shot in one move. Seney, who was crashing the net hard, deflected the puck past Berdin to give Toronto a 1-0 lead heading into the intermission.
Toronto began the middle frame on the penalty kill with Nick Robertson in the box.
Although the Moose failed to make the extra man count, they certainly held the upper hand and were out-shooting the Mailers 3-0 through six minutes.
The tide was initially turned by Jack Kopacka using his strength and a surprising burst of speed to drive the net. That was followed by a swift transition play involving Josh Ho-Sang and Nick Robertson, who forced a sharp glove save out of Berdin.
The Marlies then doubled their lead just past the halfway mark of the game. There is nobody more pumped to be in Toronto and excited for a second chance Josh Ho-Sang, who scored a wonderfully worked goal with a deft finish off of a pass from Robertson. The exuberant celebration from the 25-year-old told the story:
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) October 16, 2021
What was missed in the beauty of Ho-Sang’s finish was the tremendous defensive work by Semyonov in the build-up. The Russian forward intercepted an intended slot pass before chasing down a battle on the boards in the neutral zone. Not only did he win the race, but he also made a no-look backhand pass in the process of crashing hard to the ice. That move set Robertson on his way, leading directly to the second goal.
Toronto then gifted the Moose an avenue back into the game. It was a shift to forget for Kopacka, who overplayed the puck on a 3-on-2 rush. He then missed an assignment back in the defensive zone, and in the ensuing carnage, Mikey Eyssimont was left all alone on the backdoor for an easy finish.
The next key turning point arrived with two minutes remaining in the period. Joseph Duszak likes to wheel and deal with the puck on his stick, but the problem is his decision-making isn’t always sound, and a failed move inside the Manitoba blue line allowed the Moose to break on an odd-man rush.
Duszak also fell in his efforts to recover on the play, but Toronto caught a break as Luke Johnson’s shot thudded off of the underside of the crossbar and came straight down, staying on the right side of the goal line from the Marlies‘ perspective.
90 seconds later, Toronto took a 3-1 lead. Ho-Sang’s presence on the power play is a danger to any team in the league, and Manitoba afforded the winger a lot of time and space at the top of the left circle to work out his options. The winger opted to wire a slap shot that beat Berdin clean at his far post.
A reckless high-sticking penalty by Duszak less than five minutes into the final frame handed Manitoba a four-minute power play — a significant opportunity for the Moose to get themselves back into the game.
Toronto’s penalty killers did an admirable job of limiting chances and goaltender Erik Källgren stood tall, making the six saves asked of him. The hugely impressive Semyonov almost scored a short-handed marker as he continued to make his mark in all situations.
Duszak was barely out of the box for 60 seconds when he was called for an interference penalty, much to his disbelief. The Marlies also killed that penalty with ease and proceeded to score the goal of the game, all but cementing the opening-day victory.
A triangle passing play involving Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Robertson, and Joey Anderson ended with the latter showing fantastic skating and finishing ability in tight. It is a goal worth watching back a few times (and then a few more):
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) October 16, 2021
Fittingly, Brett Seney, who opened the scoring, finished it off with an empty-net tally to put the seal on a 5-1 victory.
Post Game Notes
– Josh Ho-Sang came as expected in his debut. There was an audible buzz every time he took possession and he played with a ton of confidence. Instant chemistry was struck with Semyonov and Robertson, but more importantly, Ho-Sang was engaged defensively. That will need to continue. The two goals were a bonus from my perspective.
– Speaking of Kirill Semyonov, he was my first star of the game — a standout in all three zones, at 5v5, and on special teams. His positioning was excellent, he was defensively sound, and he chose the right play every time he had the puck on his stick. It’s just one game, but he looks a better player to me than Michael Amadio with more upside offensively. Initially credited with four assists, the Russian centerman was eventually credited with three on the final game sheet.
– There are a lot of eyes on Nick Robertson this season. As a fan base, Toronto needs to calm down and recognize his age and that he’s a rookie for all intents and purposes. His poor decision-making reared its head on a couple of occasions defensively, but overall, this was a strong performance.
There was one drive through the neutral zone, across the blue line, and then past a defenseman with a burst of speed that I particularly enjoyed. His first thought was to shoot and not to curl back in search of a pass, which he did last too frequently last season for my liking. Robertson led the team with five shots on goal and registered two assists.
– Brett Seney netted a pair of goals in his debut, and I enjoy watching his all-action style.
I think there’s a little more to be squeezed from his game offensively.
– This is a big season for Joey Anderson. The goal showcased his potential offensively.
Overall, he was solid without the puck and proved himself a nuisance throughout the game. I want to see that ‘Zach Hyman-esque’ pursuit of the puck from him consistently.
– Alex Biega played like a veteran on the backend in the best possible way. He is penciled into a top-pair role at this point.
– Joseph Duszak registered two assists, but otherwise, this was an ordinary showing from him. The penalty minutes were a concern back in 2019-20 (12 minor penalties in 23 games). I don’t suppose the coaching staff was in love with the lack of discipline in this outing.
– Duszak’s partner was a different matter. Filip Kral was outstanding and showed incredible composure through all three zones. He did all the little things correctly that don’t show up on the scoresheet, including clearing several rebounds away from danger.
– Nobody ever talks about the winning goaltender in a 5-1 victory, but Erik Källgren posted 34 saves for a win in his Toronto Marlies debut. His rebound control was a little sloppy at times, but Toronto’s defense was on top of things in that regard. Källgren’s positioning looked sound — he was never floundering and appeared perfectly comfortable playing the puck. A solid if unspectacular start to his Toronto career.
– Toronto improved to 13-4-0 all-time in home openers. The Marlies were 1/3 on the power play and killed all six penalties.
– Saturday’s lines:
Robertson – Semyonov – Ho-Sang
Seney – SDA – Anderson
Clune – Kopacka – Gabriel
Michaelis – Abramov – Gogolev
Dahlstrom – Biega
Rubins – Hollowell
Kral – Duszak