“This was probably one of our more complete games in terms of effort and energy for 60 minutes… This is the time of year that we need to start seeing that consistency, and we saw that today.”
I don’t always agree with Greg Moore’s post-game assessments, but his comments after his team’s 6-4 win over Utica on Wednesday evening were spot on.
This level of performance, a couple of defensive miscues aside, should be the benchmark from this point on. The Marlies generated plenty of offense against the best defensive team in the AHL this season while keeping their structure defensively.
The opening frame was evenly played with chances few and far between in the early going. Efforts from Ryan Chyzowski and Nate Schnarr were shut down by good saves from each goaltender.
Utica should have broken the deadlock at the 13-minute mark after Toronto turned the puck over at the Utica blue line. The aforementioned Schnarr led a 2-on-1 rush toward the Marlies‘ net, but Erik Källgren produced an outstanding save on Chase DeLeo.
Two minutes later, the opening goal was the perfect demonstration of hard work paying off. Relentless puck pursuit by the Marlies in the Utica zone hemmed the Comets in before Mac Hollowell fired a shot from the point with a plethora of traffic in front, including Curtis Douglas. The towering forward made a nuisance of himself, forcing the puck free for Alex Steeves to finish off from close range.
The game entered the first intermission tied, however, after the Comets responded with 77 seconds remaining. The Marlies will be disappointed with the nature of a goal that came late in the period off of a defensive zone faceoff.
Rielly Walsh’s attempted shot from the point was blocked before he sent an easy seam pass to the wide-open Fabian Zetterlund in the left circle, where the centerman had tons of time and space to score his ninth of the season from just below the dot.
Toronto began the middle frame with just four skaters on the ice after Joseph Blandisi was assessed a high-sticking penalty in the final second of the first period. The Marlies‘ penalty kill has been good of late, but it fell apart just 66 seconds into the second period when DeLeo was left alone in front for a tap-in on a cross-crease feed by A.J. Greer.
Two avoidable goals-against meant the Marlies were now trailing 2-1 to the league leaders, but they weren’t disheartened and impressively struck back 43 seconds later thanks to a pair of rookies.
Mikhail Abramov led a zone entry down the left wing, and with little passing options to his right, swung around the net and sent a pass back up to the point, where Chad Krys sent the puck to his left to Matthew Hellickson with some space to roam. With Joey Anderson parked in front, the rookie defenseman chose to shoot from just above the left faceoff dot. The rookie’s shot had eyes as the puck found its way through traffic for his first professional goal.
After two goals inside two minutes, another two followed before the seven-minute mark of the middle frame. Brett Seney was short on luck around the net in the previous two games, but he was finally rewarded for his efforts in this game. After he was turned aside on a dangerous wraparound effort, Seney received the puck back from Flip Král on the left wing and found a hole in Mareks Mitens.
The tying goal for Utica — coming just a minute and a half later — is one that Källgren would like back. Somehow an odd-angle shot from Comets defenseman Colton White snuck past the Swedish goaltender (having reviewed the goal a few times, I am still unsure how the puck crossed the goal line).
Neither team generated a scoring chance of note before Toronto scored the fifth and final goal of the period. It was a real team goal, with all five skaters on the ice making a contribution.
A lofted breakout pass from Mac Hollowell was settled down by Anderson at the blue line before Abramov took possession and dropped the puck back to the blue line to Hellickson, who sent a pass in behind the net to Seney. Utica missed an assignment defensively as Anderson was left unmarked in the slot to rip home a perfect feed from Seney to give Toronto a 4-3 lead.
The Marlies probably felt hard done by not to be heading into the second intermission with a more substantial advantage on the scoreboard. Antti Suomela, Der-Arguchintsev, and Král were all stonewalled by Mitens inside the final four minutes of the second period.
Through the opening nine minutes of the final frame, Toronto did an outstanding job of giving Utica nothing offensively while grabbing themselves an insurance marker at the other end. After more relentless puck pursuit, Anderson forced Comets defenseman Colton White into a turnover before Seney took control of the situation and found Abramov alone in the slot. The rookie forward, bursting with newfound confidence offensively, produced a clinical finish.
The two-goal advantage lasted only 78 seconds, but there was a deal of good fortune to Utica’s fourth goal of the game. Brian Flynn threw the puck in front of the net from behind the goal line, and the puck took a wicked deflection off of Carl Dahlström and past Källgren.
The Comets were now coming to life, registering 10 consecutive shots without reply. Ryan Schmelzer had the best scoring opportunity, but Källgren pulled off a great right-pad save to preserve the lead. Zetterlund should have done better after evading two Toronto defenders, but he placed his effort on the wrong side of the far post.
The Comets pulled their goaltender for the extra attacker with three minutes remaining in pursuit of a tying marker, a cause that was aided by a tripping penalty on Josh Ho-Sang — a curious call after the way the game was officiated to that point.
Even while down by two skaters, the Marlies stood firm and found a way to ice the game. Hellickson and Blandisi both won their battles along the wall, allowing the latter to flip the puck clear into the neutral zone. Anderson was alert to the situation and beat White in a footrace to the loose puck to score the insurance marker.
Post Game Notes
– For the second time this season, Toronto did not have a power-play opportunity. It was a strangely-officiated game in which two of the three infractions called against the Marlies were debatable, to say the least.
– Not only did Matthew Hellickson record his first professional goal, but he also finished the game with three points. Paired with Mac Hollowell, the rookie defers more to his more experienced partner, but this was a breakout outing for him in just his 17th professional game. Speaking of Hollowell, he continues to lead the breakout and exhibition excellent decision-making. His assist extends his point streak (1-5-6) to five games.
“Hollowell is a really, really likeable guy,” said Moore. “He is a fun guy to have on the bench and in the room. He has played some really good hockey since the break. His feet are elite. The way he skates and the way he positions himself around the rink allows him to escape and find plays in transition, whether it is the breakout or the neutral-zone regroups. Even at the offensive blue line, he is starting to be more of a threat. He is adding a lot to his game, and it is good to see.”
– This was easily Joey Anderson’s best performance in his last half-a-dozen games. He’s at his best when activating his “Zach Hyman mode” with his puck pursuit. He was a continual thorn in the side of Utica’s defense and was rewarded with a three-point (2-1-3) night.
– Brett Seney also recorded three points (1-2-3) and now leads Toronto in scoring with 22 points (12-10-22) in 23 games. His 19.4% shooting percentage is likely unsustainable, but he continually gets himself into high-danger scoring positions. I would be surprised if he doesn’t finish the season with 20+ goals to his name.
– Mikhail Abramov has found offense tough to come by as a rookie, but he’s starting to heat up of late. He has two goals and a pair of assists in his last three outings and seven points in as many games. He benefited from his time with Seney and Anderson, but he has been far from a passenger or a bit-part player on that line.
“They’ve played well together,” said Moore. “Good to see them have success on the scoresheet. As a year builds and you start putting lines back together that have been together before, usually, they’ll start to build more chemistry the more time they have with one another. They’re talking to each other a lot on the bench about the details and ironing things out in different zones. It paid off tonight.”
– Wednesday’s lines:
Seney – Abramov – Anderson
McMann – Blandisi – Ho-Sang
Suomela – Der-Arguchintsev – Steeves
Chyzowski – Blandisi – Gogolev
Král – Dahlström
Krys – Rubins
Hellickson – Hollowell