Joey Anderson will rightly dominate the headlines from this victory thanks to his hat trick.
However, the star of the show for the Toronto Marlies was another returning player: Erik Kallgren showed few signs of rust despite missing three weeks of game action. It was another excellent performance from the Marlies goaltender from start to finish, one that included a number of big saves at critical moments.
Entering the game, Springfield was deprived of their top four scorers due to callups. Despite losing 24 goals and 71 points from their lineup, the Thunderbirds made the best of their situation with a dominant first-period showing.
It took Springfield 11 minutes to open the scoring on what was their 14th recorded shot. Tyler Tucker’s initial point shot was blocked, but the puck rebounded straight back to him and his second effort was redirected in front by Hugh McGing for the rookie’s fifth goal of the season.
It was a period that was generally bereft of quality hockey, with the crucial pass or final shot lacking a clinical edge. Erik Källgren kept the door locked, for the Marlies allowing very few rebounds and turning aside 16 shots to keep Toronto within reach.
The Marlies‘ best chance of the period fell to Joey Anderson with 80 seconds remaining when he wired an effort from the slot wide of the target. He made up for that and then some in the final 40 minutes of the game.
Looking to get themselves back into the game, the last thing the Marlies needed was another penalty. Curtis Douglas tripped up goaltender Joel Hofer for his eighth minor penalty infraction in 16 games, setting in motion a period that turned into a special teams battle that Toronto somehow came out on top of.
Missing their top offensive players, Springfield struggled to create chances with the extra man. Instead, the Marlies tied up the game with a nicely-worked shorthanded goal.
Anderson won possession on the right boards in the Toronto zone and wasted little time turning defense into attack, springing Brett Seney surging down the middle of the ice.
After splitting a pair of defenders, Seney dropped the puck back to Anderson in the slot, where the right winger patiently cut across the slot before delivering a perfect backhand finish.
The Marlies were still reliant on their goaltender at this point. During a spell of four-on-four action, Springfield orchestrated a 2-on-1 break that ended in Nikita Alexandrov alone in front, where he attempted to cut back against the grain with Källgren moving to his left. The Swedish netminder didn’t overcommit, manufacturing another outstanding save at a critical moment in the game.
At the midway point, Josh Ho-Sang almost put Toronto ahead with a solo effort after his individual rush ended with a wraparound attempt. The highly-skilled winger played his part in giving Toronto the lead on a power play shortly after, picking out Bobby McMann in the slot with a slap pass that McMann perfectly redirected past Hofer. The big celebration from McMann was indicative of his lack of opportunity this season despite a number of impactful performances.
Toronto almost struck again shortly after play restarted. A mistake by Hofer behind his net resulted in a gaping net for Jeremy McKenna, but the Alberta native has struggled offensively this season and somehow the opportunity went to waste, with scrambling Springfield players throwing themselves into the crease to deny a third Toronto goal.
Late in the middle frame, Källgren came up huge again. After a turnover by Matt Hellickson at the Toronto blue line handed the Thunderbirds a 2-on-1 break, rookie Drew Callin was all alone in front and attempted to make a move around the Swedish goaltender. An outstretched left pad from Källgren denied the rookie forward to Toronto’s lead intact.
A late power-play tally for Toronto gave them a 3-1 lead at the break. Joseph Duszak made his way into the middle of the ice with the puck and had his shot deftly redirected by Anderson, who was parked in front.
As I’ve noted on a few occasions this season, slow starts to periods have been a persistent problem for the Marlies. Holding a 3-1 lead, it was important for them to build on the momentum of their goal scored 21 seconds before the end of the second period.
The 4-1 goal began with a simple play — Anderson picked off a pass in the neutral zone, catching the puck before setting it down and driving into the Springfield zone. His initial shot was wide of the target, but the Marlies kept pressing and were diligent on the forecheck. From behind the net, Jack Kopacka found Antti Suomela alone in the slot, where the Finnish forward’s shot generated a rebound for Anderson to finish off.
With a three-goal lead, the Marlies did an excellent job of sucking the life out of the game. The Thunderbirds needed a moment of magic or a spark, and they thought one arrived with six minutes left on the clock when the puck took a weird deflection after a save from Källgren. The officials immediately waved off the tally due to a high stick, and a scoreboard replay showed it to be clearly the correct decision.
The Marlies nearly scored a fifth but McKenna’s shot ricocheted off the post and directly out — a real shame for a player who could use a little puck luck right now.
Robbed earlier when the game was still in the balance, Callin recorded his first AHL goal following a scramble in the crease, but a goal with 27 seconds was purely academic at that stage.
Post Game Notes
– Special teams have not been the Marlies’ forte this season, but they came up huge in this victory, killing five penalties, recording one shorthanded goal, and scoring twice on the power play.
– Joey Anderson could not have picked a better game to record his first professional hat trick. The right winger has accrued eight goals and 10 points in 14 games for the Marlies this year. In just 34 games for the Marlies, Anderson has scored three shorthanded goals (seems good?)
“He has really impressed the staff and organization with how he conducts himself,” said Greg Moore. “Whether he goes up or comes down, there is no lull in how he approaches what he does day to day. He is one of our best leaders in the locker room. To be as focused and dialed into how he approaches his own individual game but also how much he cares about the team — leading, saying the right things at the right time — he was phenomenal. It is not just the points, but his attention to detail defensively and finishing his hits. He is a tough person to play against.”
– Speaking of good, Erik Källgren, since getting shelled by Rochester on October 23, has been exceptional. In 289 minutes of action, he has given up just seven goals and recorded a .958 save percentage. What particularly impressed me, outside of the highlight-reel saves, was his rebound control and his general demeanor. He has been flustered on occasion in previous games, especially when playing the puck outside of his crease. This was a calm, cool, and calculated performance in which he turned aside 37 shots for the victory.
“He makes it look easy,” said Moore. “He is so technically sound. His balance, his ability to recover and get to secondary shots and rebounds around the net is really impressive. He made some really big, key saves for us when the game was within one goal early and in the middle of the game. He has found a lot of consistency and a lot of it is because of his habits and his details.”
– Josh Ho-Sang recorded a pair of power-play assists. He struggled a little at even strength, but you could lay some blame at the feet of Greg Moore for choosing Curtis Douglas to center that line — a baffling decision that ultimately did not cost the team.
– Comebacks! Joining Källgren and Anderson in their returns to the lineup were Antti Suomela and Mac Hollowell. The former has been rehabbing a long-term injury, while Hollowell missed some time due to a personal issue. Both were solid performers, with Suomela managing to grab himself an assist on the fourth goal.
– The Kurtis Gabriel trade will hopefully force Greg Moore into providing more ice time to some of the unheralded players on the Marlies roster. Bobby McMann is one of them, and he netted his third goal of the season in this game. The left winger now has three goals and as many assists in 11 outings and is deserving of an extended opportunity.
– Joseph Duszak recorded his fifth multi-assist haul this year. He is up to 16 assists in 15 games without a goal in sight. The offensive output is nice, but his tendency to take undisciplined penalties is yet again rearing its ugly head. He took two minor penalties on Friday night and is up to five in his last six games.
– Friday’s lines:
Seney – Abramov – Anderson
McMann – Douglas – Ho-Sang
Chyzowski – Der-Arguchintsev – McKenna
Kopacka – Suomela – Clune
Dahlström – Duszak
Král – Hollowell
Hellickson – Hoefenmayer