The Toronto Marlies extended their winning streak to three games by taking down the Atlantic Division leaders on Wednesday night.
If there was a bone to pick with this performance, it’s that it should have been a more comfortable margin of victory than the Marlies made it on themselves in the third period. Springfield almost added to the list of big comebacks against Toronto this season despite a four-goal deficit with 23 minutes left in the game.
A dream start: The Marlies were in total control of the game and led 3-0 after five minutes. Springfield recorded the first shot of the game 79 seconds in and didn’t register a second until the nine-minute mark.
There was a degree of luck to the Marlies‘ opening goal inside two minutes. After Carl Dahlström attempted to throw the puck on the net from the top of the right circle, his effort was partially blocked and the puck found its way to the far post. Antti Suomela was alert to the opportunity, beating Sam Anas to the loose puck and placing his shot past the sprawling Charlie Lindgren.
The second goal was almost a carbon copy. Mikhail Abramov shot from the right circle, but this time, the shot found its way through. Lindgren stopped the first shot but could do nothing to prevent Alex Steeves from finishing off the rebound.
Toronto completed their trio of quick goals to start the game with a power-play tally via Bobby McMann, who parked himself in front of Lindgren and applied a slight redirect on a bullet shot from the point from the returning Joseph Duszak, who was immediately back on the scoresheet after a four-week absence due to injury.
The goal spelled the end of the game for Lindgren, who was replaced by Joel Hofer after allowing three goals on four shots.
Springfield got themselves on the board at the midway mark of the period when Will Bitten scored on a rebound opportunity on their first power play.
That tally really should have been Springfield’s second goal at that point, but Joseph Woll pulled off a fantastic save to deny Anas after the Springfield forward got in behind the Marlies goaltender. On the follow-up play, Michael Peca somehow missed an empty net.
The Marlies seemingly put the game out of reach with another two strikes before the first-period horn sounded. Suomela has unfortunately suffered multiple injuries during his short time in Toronto, but he’s proven to be an integral part of this team and a very versatile player when healthy.
He’s also not short on vision or scoring ability, as the Marlies’ fourth goal showcased. With passing options in front, Suomela drove down the left side of the ice toward the goal line, noticed Hofer was cheating off of his post, and beat him with a pinpoint top-shelf shot that left the Springfield goaltender furious with himself.
With time running out in the period, Filip Král opted to put the puck toward the net in hopes of creating a second or third opportunity with bodies crashing the crease. That is exactly what happened, and Joseph Blandisi showed why he was once a highly-touted AHL forward with a poised skate-to-backhand finish during a scramble in front of Hofer.
The Marlies led 5-1 after 20 minutes of play.
Toronto weathered an early storm from the Thunderbirds, who came out with the intensity you would expect of a team that was embarrassed in the first period. The Marlies failed to find the same level to their play in the middle frame and were unable to create a single high-danger scoring chance. Only solo efforts from McMann and Abramov tested Hofer to any degree.
Despite killing a pair of penalties, Toronto allowed Springfield a ray of hope by allowing the Thunderbirds to grab a late-period goal. Mackenzie MacEachern’s point shot produced a rebound that floated into the crease, where Dakota Joshua reacted before anyone else for a tap-in.
After getting outshot and out-chanced in the middle frame, the last thing Toronto needed to do early in the third period was gift Springfield a goal, but that’s exactly what happened.
It might have been a different story had Duszak’s blistering shot not hit the iron and stayed out during the power play, but with the seconds running down on the man advantage, Joseph Woll sprung out of his crease to play the puck. The goaltender had three options open to him and opted for a blind backhand pass that evaded Mac Hollowell before Keean Washkurak finished on his second opportunity.
There was no panic from the Marlies, even with their lead now cut to two. They carried the majority of the play and drew two penalties while dominating possession.
Unable to make hay with the man advantage for the second time in the game, the best chance to kill the game arrived at 5v5. Suomela escaped the Springfield defense, but his breakaway attempt found the glove hand of Hofer.
With 3:21 remaining, Springfield went for broke as coincidental minor penalties resulted in four-on-four action. Hofer headed for the bench and Springfield dominated zone time with the extra skater. They drew within one thanks to Hugh McGing, who beat Woll clean with a shot from the top of the left circle.
The Marlies still had to hang on for 87 seconds to avoid a humiliating collapse and the prospect of overtime to decide the second point. Woll turned aside efforts from Alexey Toropchenko and Calle Rosen to preserve a valuable two points and a third straight Toronto victory.
Post Game Notes
– Antti Suomela appears to be back to somewhere near his best in what was his ninth game of the season. He recorded a season-high five shots in his first two-goal game for the Toronto Marlies.
– Recording three assists in a whole game is a noteworthy achievement, but three assists in a period by Filip Král set a new franchise record (most assists in a period by a single player) as per the Toronto Marlies. The points were a deserved reward for the defenseman’s excellent play in the offensive zone of late. Král has 11 points (all assists) in 24 games this season, with nine of those accrued in the last seven games.
“[Kral’s] overall game has been strong,” said Greg Moore. “He is starting to gain a lot more confidence after the break. A lot of first-year young pros are learning the schedule and the routine. It can get tough sometimes especially for guys from overseas who are coming over and living over here. [The Christmas break] was a good refresher for him to have that time off and kind of get his feet underneath him. He has been trending in the right direction all of these games since the break. The pairing with Dahlstrom has been steady and consistent, and Kral has some really good puck plays and reads in the offensive zone.”
– A lone power-play goal by Bobby McMann was his 10th point of the season. Seven of his points are goals, and he’s hit the twine in five of his last nine games.
– Joseph Duszak celebrated his return to the lineup by registering an assist to give him 20 points on the season. The defenseman has just one goal on the season and a shooting percentage of 3.3%. I believe Duszak is a better shooter than that, so I would not be surprised to see him benefit from some regression to the mean with his goal production.
– Alex Steeves recorded his sixth multi-point game (1-1-2) to bring him back up to point per game pace through 17 games.
– Rich Clune appeared in his first game since December 12, 2021. I am unsure as to whether that was injury or Covid related, but Toronto’s captain didn’t appear to miss a beat.
– This was a mixed performance between the pipes from Joseph Woll. He was brilliant at times, but he was directly at fault for the third goal and could have done better on the fourth. Hopefully, it’s just a blip for a goaltender who has been excellent of late.
– Wednesday’s lines:
Suomela – Abramov – Steeves
McMann – Der-Arguchintsev – Ho-Sang
Kopacka – Blandisi – Gogolev
Chyzowski – Douglas – Clune
Král – Dahlström
Rubins – Duszak
Hellickson – Hollowell