For the third time this season, the Toronto Marlies recorded a 5-2 win over their 401 rivals in Belleville.
In their first game action since December 15, the Marlies‘ victory came on the back of a highly-impressive display from Joseph Woll, who significantly outperformed his goaltending counterpart in Tyler Parks.
As expected with two teams coming off a long break in competitive action, the players struggled with timing and the sloppy mistakes were plentiful. The game wasn’t without a good pace, though, and the lack of whistles in the opening 10 minutes made up for the lack of technical quality at times.
The first real scoring chance fell to Toronto at the five-minute mark when a broken play resulted in a loose puck falling to Jack Kopacka in the slot, but the Marlies forward wired his effort wide of the target.
Belleville earned the first power play of the game thanks to a reckless boarding offense from Curtis Douglas. Joseph Woll was Toronto’s best penalty killer, making four excellent stops to keep the game level. He followed that up with four more sharp saves at 5v5 as Belleville took control of the game, recording 10 shots without reply.
Against the run of play, the Marlies netted first. A misjudgment from Jake Lucchini at the defensive half wall saw him send a no-look pass straight into the slot to Brett Seney, who fired a hard wrist shot past Parks from just inside the right circle.
The difference in goaltending showed itself just 60 seconds later. After a miscommunication between Filip Král and Kristians Rubins resulted in a fantastic scoring chance for Logan Shaw, Woll denied the shot and held on to the rebound to afford his team a much-needed breather.
The Marlies held a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes despite a 14-5 deficit on the shot clock.
The middle frame wasn’t short on drama, scoring opportunities, or penalties, and the Marlies were thankful for another stellar period from their goaltender.
Starting on a power-play that carried over from the opening frame, Toronto made good use of the extra man. Bobby McMann, Joey Anderson, and Alex Steeves were involved in a group battle to regain possession against three Belleville players before the latter freed the puck back to Filip Král at the point. Josh Ho-Sang was left all alone in front of goal, where he provided a deft redirection on Král’s slap pass to double Toronto’s lead.
The 2-0 lead lasted just 32 seconds. Matt Hellickson misread the play with a failed attempt to cut out a stretch pass by Michael del Zotto, allowing Scott Sabourin to escape unattended on a breakaway for his fourth goal of the season.
There really should have been a third goal inside the opening two minutes as the teams exchanged chances off the rush. McMann showed a burst of speed to beat out a Belleville defenseman and chipped the puck across to his right, where Ho-Sang — in alone on goal again — wasn’t as clinical this time, allowing Parks to make a comfortable blocker save.
Seconds later, Ho-Sang turned the puck over at the Senators’ blue line, sending Andrew Agozzino off to the races. Woll’s right pad bailed out Ho-Sang to keep the 2-1 Toronto lead intact.
There was no more scoring in the period despite a procession to the penalty box. The Marlies wasted three power-play opportunities and created very little in the final five minutes. Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Steeves, and Král were all stopped by the underworked Parks, who only faced nine shots in the second period despite three power-play opportunities.
Meanwhile, Woll continued to stand on his head at the other end. Arguably, his two best saves of the second frame came on shorthanded chances for Belleville as the netminder stopped 18 shots in total in the middle frame.
With Belleville chasing the game, the third period was Toronto’s best through the 60 minutes. The next goal was always going to have a huge bearing on the result, and the Marlies looked the likeliest to score it, outshooting the Senators 13-4 through the opening 10 minutes en route to a 4-1 lead.
At the five-minute mark, following excellent work from Steeves, Kyle Clifford was unable to shovel the puck past Parks on back-to-back scoring chances.
It fell to a man who is simply happy to be playing to score what would turn out to be the game-winner. On an innocent-looking rush, Seney’s shot from an acute angle should have been dealt with better by Parks, who allowed a big rebound into the slot area. Pouncing on the loose puck was Antti Suomela, whose quick release beat the goaltender before he had a chance to reset.
A fourth tally 23 seconds later put the Marlies three goals ahead. Off of an offensive-zone draw, Král sent the puck around the back of the net to Douglas, who tried to find McMann crashing the net but the puck hit off a Belleville skate and somehow sneaked behind Parks.
To the Senators’ credit, they almost replied right after the restart of play. Parker Kelly split three Marlies players and create a one-on-one with Woll, but the Toronto goaltender again came out on top, turning the five-hole attempt aside and quelling any serious thoughts of a Belleville comeback.
The Senators’ decision to pull their netminder with five minutes remaining got them one goal closer. With the Marlies twice guilty of not clearing the zone, former Marlie Rourke Chartier made them pay with a rebound finish following Woll’s initial save on Cedric Pare.
It mattered little after Clifford made sure of victory with an empty-net goal following more excellent work from Alex Steeves.
The win moves the Marlies up to third place in a North Division that is tightly contested behind the top two teams.
Post Game Notes
– Joseph Woll was the star of the show with a 45-save performance. There will be stiffer tests ahead, although he played with a level of confidence I haven’t seen from him so far. It is just one game, but I wonder if the time spent in the NHL has befitted him mentally as much as anything else. If Woll and Erik Källgren remain healthy, the Marlies have one of the best goaltending tandems in the league right now.
– Alex Steeves registered a pair of assists, the first time he has accomplished the feat this season. Points notwithstanding, the rookie played an outstanding game in all three zones. Similar to Woll, the time spent up with the Leafs’ has left its mark on Steeves in a positive way. His 14 points in 13 AHL games this year are equally split between goals and assists, placing him second in the league in goals per game among rookies and sixth in points (minimum 10 GP).
– Also returning from a brief stint in the NHL, Brett Seney scored his 11th goal and recorded a seventh multi-point haul with an assist. Seney leads Marlies forwards with 18 points in 20 games.
– In Joseph Duszak’s injury absence, other defensemen needed to step up offensively. Carl Dahlström and Filip Král both recorded two assists and were excellent defensively. I hope that Greg Moore keeps the partnership intact where possible.
– Kyle Clifford led Toronto with five shots and certainly befitted from playing on a line with Alex Steeves. He also provided a tough veteran complement to the diminutive Semyon Der-Arguchintsev. The empty-net goal was a nice reward for a solid performance back in the AHL.
– Thursday’s lines:
Seney – Suomela – Anderson
McMann – Douglas – Ho-Sang
Clifford – Der-Arguchintsev – Steeves
Kopacka – Abramov – Gogolev
Král – Dahlström
Rubins – Kapcheck
Hellickson – Hollowell