A Friday night tilt against a Lehigh Valley Phantoms team playing their sixth game in 11 days should have been the perfect recipe for Toronto to convincingly rebound from Wednesday’s embarrassing loss.
The struggling Phantoms had lost four straight games heading into Toronto and played in Rochester on Friday evening.
Instead, Toronto came out of the blocks slowly and never truly got going at any point. At no stage did the Marlies impose themselves on their opposition, and they were pretty fortunate to register two points in the standings after this performance.
Before the game, Greg Moore spoke of the response needed from his team, but there was little sign of it from the opening faceoff.
In yet another undisciplined performance from Toronto, Kurtis Gabriel took a boarding penalty inside the first two minutes. Three seconds after the penalty expired, Morgan Forst coasted in toward the hashmarks and picked the corner, comprehensively beating Michael Hutchinson for his third goal of the season.
Toronto wasted their first man advantage of the game, but it was no surprise that neither team was able to capitalize in that regard — by the numbers, this game featured the two worst power plays in the league.
The Phantoms really should have doubled their lead through Jackson Cates with five minutes remaining in the period following a Marlies turnover. However, they didn’t have to wait long for a deserved second goal.
After the Marlies coughed up the puck during a rare offensive zone foray that led to an odd-man rush the other way, Isaac Ratcliffe dished the puck to Cates, who was denied again before the rebound fell back to Ratcliffe for a tap-in. It was as easy of a goal as the forward will score this year and underscored the difference in work rate between the two teams.
The Marlies registered just four shots in the opening frame with only one coming below the faceoff dots.
If you had told me the Marlies took a nap between periods, I might have believed you. They again came out sleepwalking at the start of the period. There was no pace or competitive intensity to their play.
There was just one shot from Josh Ho-Sang at the five-minute mark that tested Pat Nagle between the pipes. Hayden Hodgson wasted a great chance for the Phantoms to increase the lead further, but it appeared as though Lehigh might hold onto their 2-0 advantage through 40 minutes of play.
That was until Toronto manufactured a goal out of nowhere. It was as if a switch had flipped — for the first time in the game, the Marlies generated a spell of offensive-zone pressure.
It didn’t initially result in a goal, but on the next zone entry, they halved the deficit. Brett Seney sent the puck back to Joseph Duszak on the right wing, where the defenseman already knew what he was going to do. Marc Michaelis had been left all alone at the far post and only had to redirect Duszak’s past Nagle, who had no chance on the goal.
To their credit, Philadelphia’s affiliate rolled up their sleeves and attempted to hit right back after a sloppy goal against. They created three excellent scoring chances in the final few minutes of the frame. The best of those fell to Hodgson, whose effort from the slot might have clipped Hutchinson’s pad before hitting the post and rolling to safety.
With a little more puck luck, it’s conceivable that Lehigh could have won this game comfortably. The Phantoms struck the post yet again inside the opening minute of the third period.
The tying goal that came with 3:34 on the clock owed a lot to Ho-Sang and a dollop of good fortune.
Ho-Sang did well to keep the puck in the Lehigh zone with an inside-outside move on Cooper Zech. The winger then sent a pass behind the goal for Curtis Douglas, who actually held onto possession and did something with it, dropping the puck back to the unmarked Ho-Sang waiting at the right faceoff dot. A quick-release found the left skate of Rich Clune providing a screen in front and past Nagle.
Regardless of the intention of the play or how bad the infraction was in reality, Joey Anderson’s recklessness on his boarding penalty was not what the Marlies needed at this stage. It ended the right winger’s evening and presented the Phantoms with a five-minute power play.
Lehigh did next to nothing with the extra man, recording just one shot, and neither team looked too likely to score the decisive next goal. Former Marlie Garrett Wilson fired wide on a breakaway with a couple of minutes remaining, while an effort from Seney with seconds left on the clock was the closest the Marlies came to claiming a regulation victory.
The three-on-three play was cagey for the most part.
Gerry Mayhew had a chance just 20 seconds in, but he waited a fraction too long to get his shot off and it was deflected high into the netting. Pavel Gogolev then rang an effort off the iron, leaving Toronto without a recorded shot on net entering the final minute of overtime.
A shootout appeared inevitable until a piece of individual brilliance arrived courtesy of Ho-Sang. He pick the puck up in the neutral zone and flew toward the net with a blistering turn of speed, duly danced around Cam York with some slick puck skills, and beat Nagle cleanly to secure the extra point.
Josh Ho-Sang scores a BEAUTIFUL OT winner pic.twitter.com/LSieM4AmQu
— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) November 20, 2021
Post Game Notes
– Toronto has picked up points in seven of their last eight games. Just how long that kind of form lasts if this kind of quality of performance continues is the question mark.
– The power play is now league-worst 8.9% and has failed to score in five consecutive games (0/18).
– Josh Ho-Sang provided two pieces of individual brilliance that went a long way to winning this game for the Marlies. His goal and an assist gave him his fourth multi-point haul this season (now at eight goals, 12 points in 12 games on the season).
“He was kind of mirroring the team by finding his game in the second half,” said Greg Moore. “Because he is so skilled and creative, sometimes he is hard to read off of. When he is playing within a system, he has more of an impact. When the right time is within the game for him to open up and use the skill as he did on the winning goal there, it shines.”
– Joseph Duszak and Brett Seney both recorded a pair of assists. Duszak has 10 assists in as many games and is riding a four-game points streak. Seney has five points in his last two outings and 11 points on the season, surpassing his production over 30 games with Binghamton last season.
– Michael Hutchinson turned aside 24 of 26 shots. For my money, it wasn’t exactly the rebound performance described by Moore and the players after the game. He was fortunate on a couple of occasions, and with better finishing, Lehigh could and should have put a couple more past him.
– Kyle Clifford made his Marlies debut in limited minutes on a fourth line with Rich Clune and Curtis Douglas. “You just know exactly what you are going to get: a super competitive person who is going to outwork everybody,” said Moore. “He knows his game, how he can have an impact, and how he can get the ice tilted in the right direction. His leadership on the bench came a long way today. He said a lot of the right things to certain guys in a very positive way with some teaching moments. His experience of managing the game, knowing where the clock is at, and where the game is at really helped us today.”
– Saturday’s lines:
Steeves – SDA – Anderson
Seney – Michaelis – Ho-Sang
Gogolev – Abramov – Gabriel
Clifford – Douglas – Clune
Král – Biega
Rubins – Duszak
Dahlström – Menell