The Toronto Marlies may have led 4-1 at one point in the night, but they were outplayed throughout the game.
In a strange contest featuring a lot of run-and-gun hockey, the Marlies were mostly outmatched in that department by a speedy Cleveland team that excels in transition.
“We got too much into a foot race with this team,” said Greg Moore. “They break out fast and get above pressure really well. Early on, you could see the guys were committed to playing the right way, getting pucks to the bottom, and establishing our o-zone, but we were a little disconnected with our F1 and F2. That got better as the game wore on, but even with our F3 trying to stay above, they have a really good rush game. It was tough to handle for us tonight… It wasn’t one of our better games throughout the 60 minutes.”
It feels like I type this in every game recap: the Marlies got off to a slow start and fell behind early. Cleveland took only four minutes to get on the board through Jake Christiansen after missing a couple of great chances beforehand.
The turning point of the period was a power play for the Marlies. Cleveland’s penalty kill — one of the best in the league this season — created a breakaway for Justin Scott, but the Monsters forward failed to hit the target before Cleveland took another penalty shortly afterwards.
Brett Seney connected on a cross-ice feed from Semyon Der-Arguchintsev to level the score at the nine-minute mark on the ensuing 5-on-3 power play.
From there, both teams created two excellent scoring chances to take a lead into the intermission.
The speedy Liam Foudy was a thorn in Toronto’s side in this game, but he buried two efforts into Michael Hutchinson equipment with indecisive finishing. At the other end of the ice, Daniil Tarasov pulled off a stunning left-pad save to turn aside Mikhail Abramov and Pavel Goglev on a 2-on-0 break.
The Cleveland netminder could do little about the goal that gave Toronto a 2-1 lead, though. Curtis Douglas scored from close range, but Alex Steeves was the architect, generating a ton of speed on an end-to-end rush to stretch the Monsters defense before dropping the puck off of his backhand to Douglas alone in front of the blue paint for the go-ahead goal.
The Marlies were outshot 18-8 in the middle frame, but they extended their lead against the run of play just past the midway point.
The Monsters fired nine shots in the first eight minutes but could not find a breakthrough. There were other near misses in the mix, including a 5-on-3 power play that left Cleveland mystified as to how they came up empty-handed.
At the other end, Toronto’s power play struck for a second time. After some quick east-west passing following a puck recovery on the left wall, Jack Kopacka’s simple backdoor finish on a perfect feed from Pavel Gogolev gave the Marlies a 3-1 lead.
With 93 seconds left in the second period, the Marlies padded their opportunistic 4-1 lead. Gogolev was looking for a backhand cross-crease pass toward Kopacka, but Tarasov’s attempt to cut out the pass appeared to help the puck past his own goal line.
Cleveland’s comeback got underway 54 seconds before the intermission buzzer. They finally capitalized on another swift transition play after Filip Kral lost his footing defending a burst of speed off of the rush from Foudy, who finally make it count with a far-post finish past Hutchinson.
Another sluggish start to a period cost the Marlies in the final frame. Within six minutes, the Monsters found the twine twice to tie the game at 4-4.
The third goal, timed at 23 seconds, was as bad as it gets for any goaltender. Brendan Gaunce’s shot nearly from boards along the goal line snuck past Michael Hutchinson.
The fourth was the result of Cleveland’s offensive-zone pressure and dogged determination. Carson Meyer applied the final touch after a flurry of blocked shots in the slot.
Cleveland either ran out of gas or appeared to take their foot off the gas after tying the game. The Marlies were able to steady themselves and re-established a lead through an opportunistic piece of play on a rare offensive foray.
After Kristians Rubins was denied by a pad save on a cross-ice feed from Joseph Duszak, the big Latvian defenseman recovered possession at the backboards and took a hit to make a play, sending a perfect backhand pass into the slot for Alex Steeves to give Toronto the lead with 11 minutes remaining.
After letting a four-goal lead slip against Laval and squandering a three-goal advantage in this game, it felt like only a matter of time until Cleveland found a way to level the score again. The tying goal came with 99 seconds left in regulation when Trey Fix-Wolansky gathered speed just inside the red line, torched Rubins — who was all twisted around defending him off the rush — and lifted a backhand shot up and over the glove of Hutchinson to force overtime.
The extra frame was short-lived and dominated by Cleveland. The Monsters earned a power play with Gogolev forced to take a penalty to deny what looked like a sure goal.
On the ensuing man advantage, Tyler Sikura got a piece of a shot from Jake Christiansen to solve Hutchinson for the sixth time and secure a fully-deserved second point for Cleveland.
Post Game Notes
– This was the sixth time this season that the Marlies have allowed five or more goals in a single game. One bright spot was Toronto’s power play breaking a five-game slump by converting twice on three opportunities.
“Those were big points for them,” said Moore. “Early in the season, you could say they were at times unlucky. This last recent stretch has been more clinching the sticks tight with the pressure of it not going. Today was a good momentum builder for them.”
– Marc Michaelis was injured in the first period and did not return to the game. There is no official word on his injury, but Jeremy McKenna has been recalled from Newfoundland.
– The decision to play Michael Hutchinson in back-to-back games and not start Keith Petruzzelli is a puzzling one. The latter has been rolling in the ECHL and is signed to an AHL contract. Make of it what will you will, but it will be interesting to see if Petruzzelli receives a start next weekend.
– Brett Seney extended his multi-point streak to three games with a goal and an assist in this outing. He’s going to cool down soon with a 22% shooting percentage buoying his production, but for now, he’s one of the Marlies’ most consistent offensive players.
– Joseph Duszak also continued his point streak. Now at five games (seven assists), Duszak added another two assists in this game.
“His superpower is being able to threaten the net regardless of whether or not he is going to shoot or pass,” said Moore. “He presents body language like he is going to the net with the puck. He is able to do a lot from there and create a lot of space for himself.”
A worrying trend for the defenseman is that his propensity for taking penalties has reared its ugly head again of late (four minors in the last six games).
– Alex Steeves filed one of his better performances of late and it showed up on the scoresheet. After an electric start to his campaign, the rookie had registered just one assist in the last three appearances before this game. A goal and an assist gives him nine points (6-3-9) in as many games.
– Sunday’s lines:
Seney – Michaelis – Ho-Sang
Gogolev – Abramov – Steeves
Clifford – SDA – Kopacka
McMann – Douglas – Clune
Král – Biega
Rubins – Duszak
Dahlström – Menell