The Toronto Marlies could not have been facing a tougher challenge to kick off their six-game, 10-day road trip.
The Atlantic Division leader Hershey Bears, vociferously cheered on by over 9000 patrons at every home game, are a hard nut to crack at the Giant Center.
The difference between the two teams in this Saturday night tilt was clearly goaltending as Toronto’s two netminders greatly outmatched Hershey’s Zach Fucale’s performance between the pipes.
Hershey dominated the opening frame in every facet but didn’t turn their control over the game into much of an advantage on the scoreboard.
The Marlies created three chances of note: Mikhail Abramov escaped on a breakaway at the three-minute mark but failed to lift the puck high enough over Zach Fucale’s blocker. Consecutive efforts from Jeremy McKenna and Alex Steeves at the 11-minute mark were turned aside by Fucale, who only faced six shots in the first period.
At the other end of the ice, Joseph Woll was standing on his head. The Bears recorded 22 shots, generated nine high-danger scoring chances, and were consistently frustrated by the Marlies goaltender.
His best stops came on Tobias Geisser and Drake Rymsha on the resulting rebound as Woll showed great athleticism to recover in the crease and turn aside the second opportunity.
The deadlock was broken with 3:21 remaining on a Toronto power play. A turnover behind the net created a 3-on-2 break the other way, where a well-worked move by the Bears ended in Axel Jonsson-Fjallby firing the puck past Woll for his first shorthanded tally of the season.
The Marlies continued to struggle to create scoring chances, but they were far more competitive in the run of play in the middle frame after surviving a heavily one-sided opening 20 minutes.
A tying goal from the Marlies arrived out of the blue at the five-minute mark. Abramov won an offensive-zone draw cleanly back to Filip Král, who beat Fucale clean with a shot into the top corner of the net.
The deadlock lasted less than two minutes. Hershey reestablished their lead on the man advantage as the Marlies‘ inability to get the puck in deep on three occasions came back to bite them.
After Carl Dahlström couldn’t cut out a pass from Jonsson-Fjallby and Matthew Hellickson was caught on the wrong side of Garrett Pilon, the Hershey forward drove across the crease and tucked the puck past Woll.
The Marlies headed into the intermission tied at two thanks to a juicy rebound from Zucale. After sustained pressure in the offensive zone off of a solid forecheck, the puck was worked back to Chad Krys at the left point, where the defenseman threw a shot toward the goal without any traffic in front. Alex Steeves tucked in the rebound in under pressure from Lucas Johansen.
After the tying marker, Erik Källgren entered the game in relief of Woll, who was hurt on a play in which Pilon shoved Hellickson into the goaltender. Woll immediately reached for his left leg and was unable to put much weight on it. After the game, Greg Moore confirmed it was an issue with Woll’s left knee.
The Marlies got themselves off to the perfect start after 50 seconds. On a power play that carried over from the middle frame, Josh Ho-Sang’s initial attempt was turned aside, but after another Fucale rebound, Abramov’s tenacity in a battle in front of the net allowed Ho-Sang to score on the third effort.
The Marlies killed the lone penalty of the period, but their resistance gave out seven minutes into the final frame. Another goal directly off of a faceoff, Tobias Geisser wired a shot through a plethora of traffic in front of Källgren, who couldn’t see the puck.
Král attempted to double his tally for the game as he found himself with time in the left circle. His shot wasn’t as accurate this time around and Fucale made the save required.
It proved to be Toronto’s final scoring chance in a period in which they registered only six shots on goal.
Hershey finished the period as the team firmly on top and most likely to snatch victory in regulation. They dominated zone time and the shot clock as they did in the first period.
Despite coming in cold, Källgren was perfect on the 14 shots he faced through the final frame.
Hershey was surprisingly non-competitive in the sudden-death period. Antti Suomela made an excellent defensive read to deny Pilon on what would have been a tap-in. From that moment, the Bears did not touch the puck again.
Abramov used Alex Alexeyev as a screen and shot from the top of the left circle. Fucale gave up yet another rebound, with Steeves on hand to score the simplest of goals to extend the Marlies’ winning streak to five games.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies were outshot 44-22 and relied heavily on both goaltenders to snatch the victory. Joseph Woll stopped 26 of 28 before Erik Källgren turned aside 15 shots in what was a really good effort from the Swedish netminder despite coming in cold.
– Alex Steeves recorded his third multi-goal game this season. He has two overtime winners and took his season goal tally up to 11. The rookie forward registered a team-high five shots on goal in this game.
– All three assists were primary helpers for Mikhail Abramov. The rookie is heating up offensively after a slow start with 11 (2-9-11) of his 16 points coming in the past 10 games.
– Bobby McMann missed out with an injury, which is a shame amid his recent good form. The coaching staff is managing Joseph Duszak‘s minutes over the road trip and is expected to feature on Sunday afternoon against Lehigh.
– Saturday’s lines:
Suomela – Abramov – Steeves
Gogolev – Blandisi – Ho-Sang
Kopacka – Douglas – McKenna
Clune – Chyzowski – Green
Král – Dahlström
Krys – Rubins
Hellickson – Hollowell