“[Belleville’s] calling card since I’ve been playing against them is just an extremely hardworking, well-coached team that comes at you from the get-go. They threw a lot at us, and I thought that we managed it well. Blandisi had a really good period for us, and then we started to play our game.”
Playing in his 700th professional game, Marlies captain Rich Clune hit the nail on the head with his synopsis of his team’s 5-1 win over the Belleville Senators on Friday night.
With back-to-back victories, Toronto has moved to within four points of second place in the North Division with two games in hand on Rochester.
A combination of excellent goaltending from the Marlies and opportunistic finishing at the other end proved the difference between the two teams in the opening frame. Erik Källgren turned aside Roby Jarventie and Chris Wilkie inside the opening three minutes as Belleville established their customary lunchpail brand of hockey to start the game.
The Senators created three high-danger scoring chances, the first of which came on the game’s first power play, where Källgren shut the door on Rourke Chartier before frustrating the former Marlies forward and Jake Lucchini back at 5v5 play.
Brett Seney’s penalty was offset by Parker Kelly’s, leading to an abbreviated man advantage for the Marlies that led to Toronto’s first scoring chances at the 11-minute mark. Mikhail Abramov couldn’t solve Mads Sogaard before Seney, seconds after exiting the box, saw his rebound attempt blocked by a Belleville defenseman.
15 seconds after killing their second penalty of the game, Toronto opened the scoring. Joseph Blandisi stripped the puck from Matthew Wedman in the neutral zone, created a breakaway for himself, and delivered a perfect backhand finish to give Toronto a 1-0 lead.
If the first tally was all about a solo effort, the second was a true team goal. A quick transition led to a 4-on-2 break toward the Belleville net, with Blandisi again at the center of it as he won possession back and delivered the puck to Jack Kopacka. A tic-tac-toe play involving Alex Steeves and Mac Hollowell set up the trailing Blandisi for his second of the game.
The Marlies got themselves off to a perfect start in the middle frame by scoring less than two minutes in. A cycle in the Belleville zone appeared to be dead as Cole Reinhardt attempted to clear the puck, but a fantastic back-checking effort from Bobby McMann recovered possession before Abramov dished the puck to McMann, who made it a 3-0 game.
That was the end of the scoring in the period despite Toronto creating a handful of high-danger scoring chances. The Marlies did everything but score during a two-man advantage for 39 seconds, with Sogaard doing his best to keep the game within reach, including fantastic saves on Blandisi, Abramov, Steeves, and Joey Anderson.
The Senators were generating very little offensively when they were gifted a shorthanded breakaway at the midway point of the period, but Alex Steeves was bailed out by Källgren, who stonewalled Logan Shaw.
There were early opportunities for Belleville to chip away at the three-goal deficit. A turnover by Joseph Duszak presented Andrew Agozzino with a gilt-edge chance just 37 seconds into the final frame, but Källgren came up with yet another good save to start a period in which he was the busier netminder.
A learning moment for Steeves came at the four-minute mark when he was called for interference and picked up an extra two minutes in the process for running his mouth at the officials. The Marlies allowed just four shots against during the double-minor penalty, and Källgren continued to be their best player.
The Marlies’ fourth goal with 11 minutes remaining put any Senators’ comeback hopes to bed. On a set play, Chad Krys rifled a breakout pass to Seney speeding through the neutral zone. Toronto’s leading scorer weaved his way past Maxenca Guenette to create a 2-on-2 break, made the correct choice to shoot, and Antti Suomela finished off the rebound.
The question now was whether or not the Marlies could stay focused and disciplined enough to earn a first shutout of the season for Källgren. Unfortunately, the answer was no.
After another 10-bell save to deny Reinhardt on a breakaway, the Senators broke their duck egg inside the final five minutes. Wedman scored his sixth of the season amid a frantic spell of action around the Toronto goal.
That prompted Troy Mann to opt for an extra attacker with the small window of opportunity available to apply some pressure on the Marlies. The Senators almost immediately took a penalty, halting any momentum they were looking to build.
Ryan Chyzowksi rounded off the scoring by scoring into the empty net to make it 5-1 with 74 seconds remaining. Notably, Blandisi deferred to his teammate for a tap-in rather than attempting to complete his hat trick.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto’s power play failed to connect on six opportunities, but the penalty kill went a perfect 5-for-5.
– Erik Källgren turned aside 31 shots for his 11th victory on the season. His .913 save percentage this season fails to tell the story of how consistently well he’s performed this season.
“We are starting to see a lot of compete and passion in how he plays,” said Greg Moore. “He is very vocal in the net now talking to our D and calling plays out or on TV timeouts talking to the guys. It is good to see him come out of his shell and get comfortable with the group.”
– In my last recap, I noted how PTO signing Joseph Blandisi fully deserves an AHL contract. He continues to keep making the case for that, recording his first three-point haul (2-1-3) for Toronto and extending his point streak to four games (2-4-6). The centerman has racked up 11 points (4-7-11) in 12 games with little fanfare.
“It is not easy to come back from injuries, not having played for a while, get back into game shape,” said Moore. “We knew it was going to be a little bit of time until he found his normal, and now we are starting to see it. He is contributing in a lot of ways — not only on the point sheet, but his veteran leadership, experience, and his voice.”
– It was another all-action performance from Bobby McMann, who led all skaters with six shots, the second time this year the winger has recorded six shots in a game. His 10th goal in his 25th game of the season makes him the fifth Marlies skater to reach double figures.
– With an assist on the fourth goal, Brett Seney became the first Marlies player to record 30 points this season in 29 games. He’s on a three-game point streak (1-4-5) and is tied in 20th for league scoring.
– Friday’s lines:
Suomela – Seney – Anderson
Kopacka – Blandisi – Steeves
McMann – Abramov – Chyzowski
Clune – Douglas – Gogolev
Hellickson – Duszak
Král – Hollowell
Krys – Menell