There will be no AHL All-Star festivities this season, but the Toronto Marlies will head into a 10-day break riding the confidence of a four-game winning streak.
Saturday’s 5-2 victory over Rochester hoisted Toronto above their cross-border rivals in the standings to second place in the North Division. The game also marked the midway point of the season for the Marlies, whose record sits at 21-12-3 through 36 games. Despite playing fewer games than all but Laval in the North Division, the Marlies will now break for 10 days while the majority of other teams continue on in their schedules.
The Marlies were out-shot 16-5 in the opening frame, but it far from told the story of a competitive opening period in which both teams generated a bunch of scoring chances.
Toronto could easily have been up by two goals inside the first three minutes. Joseph Blandisi just failed to connect on a flipped backhand feed from Joey Anderson before Bobby McMann was denied in tight by Amerks goaltender Mat Robson.
The Marlies couldn’t take advantage of the game’s first power play, but they took the lead eight seconds after the penalty expired. Alex Biega opened the scoring with a highlight-reel snipe into the far top corner of the net following a coast-to-coast rush — a remarkable goal from the unlikeliest of sources.
Rochester responded by tying the game up at the 10-minute mark with a power-play tally. A point shot from Ethan Prow received a slight redirect from Brett Murray and beat Michael Hutchinson, who arguably could have done better on the play.
The Marlies thought they had regained the lead three minutes later when excellent work from Anderson and Joseph Duszak teed up Blandisi in-tight; the puck hit the underside of the bar, but the on-ice call appeared to be a good goal. Following a lengthy review, it was determined the puck hadn’t crossed the line, keeping the score at 1-1 through 20 minutes.
The Marlies got off to a fast start to the middle frame, almost scoring an early go-ahead goal. Nick Robertson stole possession behind the Amerks’ net and threaded a perfect pass to Duszak, who was denied by yet another good save from Robson.
Rochester failed to sustain the number of shots and chances they created in the first frame, but they did take the lead for the first time in the game. It was a soft goal to concede; Peter Tischke’s floated pass toward the blue paint took an almost slow-motion redirect off a skate and found the net through Hutchinson’s pads.
The Marlies responded by scoring less than 60 seconds later with a team goal that began with a strong play from Robertson to retain possession in the offensive zone. After several good looks, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev found Mac Hollowell at the top of the right circle, where the defenseman had time to measure a perfectly-placed shot off of the post and in.
Toronto’s breakout, far more efficient in the middle frame than the first period, led directly to a third goal. Following a defensive-zone draw win, Mac Hollowell sent Antti Suomela on his way through the neutral zone before the Finnish forward linked up with Der-Arguchintsev driving down the middle of the ice. Robertson found some space for himself, drove toward the net from his off-wing, and ripped home his first goal of the season.
Toronto played a near-perfect period in terms of protecting the lead. They were unable to capitalize on a power-play that carried over from the second frame, but the Marlies killed a man advantage for Rochester shortly afterward and never looked back.
Toronto should have ensured victory earlier than they did. Hollowell attempted a deke instead of shooting, and the opportunity evaporated after good work from Alex Steeves and Der-Arguchintsev in the buildup.
The effervescent Robertson continued to hound Rochester and yet again created a scoring chance after recovering possession. Bigea’s one-time shot from the high slot brought another good save out of Robson, who continued to keep the Amerks in the game.
The insurance marker finally arrived on the power play after two near misses. Anderson scooped home a rebound to give the Marlies a 4-2 lead with a little over six minutes remaining.
There was little fightback from Rochester after Jimmy Schuldt’s shot from the high slot whistled wide. Robertson made certain of the Marlies’ victory after yet again recovering a puck in the offensive zone. His empty-netter capped off a brilliant individual performance.
The last action of the game arrived in the form of a fight between Hollowell and Matej Pekar, which had an unusual ending. The Toronto defenseman comprehensively won the tilt, skated off before any official could catch him, and went sprinting down the tunnel as if he had somewhere else to be.
Post Game Notes
– This was a hugely impressive performance from Nick Robertson in just his second game back from injury. The break probably does him no favours at this point. It is noticeable how much stronger he is in possession; on another day, he could have added on a couple of assists to go with the two goals.
“To return and be able to have such an impact so quickly is because of how hard he works off the ice and on the ice,” said Greg Moore. “He took his return to play very seriously. He was ready when the challenge came to return. We are seeing the fruits of that labour.”
– Semyon Der-Arguchintsev is enjoying having his Peterborough Petes buddy back in the lineup. The two continue to enjoy obvious chemistry at the professional level. By his own admission, SDA is trying to be more of a shot threat to create himself more space; it worked in this game. Three assists, all primary, is a career-high single-game point haul for the forward.
“They have a good friendship and a good connection,” said Moore. “On the bench, they are always talking about different plays and working through things that they see and read on the ice together. They complement each other very well. SDA is very crafty, good east-west game, and passes really well. Robertson has a deadly shot.”
– This was an odd performance from Michael Hutchinson, who allowed a couple of soft goals but did make some important saves in the opening frame. I would like to see the organization lean more heavily on Erik Källgren, but that might depend on the fitness of Joseph Woll and Ian Scott.
– With the second helper on the power-play goal, Joseph Duszak has 25 assists this season. That’s good for seventh in the AHL and second amongst all defensemen.
– Saturday’s lines:
Blandisi – Seney – Anderson
Suomela – Der-Arguchintsev – Robertson
McMann – Abramov – Steeves
Clune – Douglas – Gogolev
Dahlström – Duszak
Král – Biega
Rubins – Hollowell