While the rest of the North Division continued to do battle, the Toronto Marlies went on a 10-day break to recharge their batteries.

Due to the dismantling of the taxi squad, the Marlies were fielding a much-different lineup than where they left off before the break.

Wednesday’s return to action was a thoroughly deserved 6-2 win for Toronto in which they outclassed Utica for the opening 30 minutes. They have now set a new bar for the second half of the season after dismantling the league’s top team.

“I thought our puck play was really strong,” said Greg Moore. “The passing was crisp, the support off the puck was strong, and you could just tell the break had refreshed our guys in that way.”

First Period

Coming off a long layoff, you might have expected a slow start from the Marlies, but that was far from the case. Toronto should have taken the lead just 80 seconds into the game directly off of an offensive zone faceoff; Mac Hollowell was alone in front of goal, but he shoveled his effort wide of the target.

After the first penalties of the game led to four-on-four action, Toronto drove the play with the extra open ice, with Nick Robertson unable to capitalize on several good looks.

Beginning at the seven-minute mark, the first period turned into a special teams battle that the Marlies won comprehensively.

Toronto struck on their second power play, albeit with a dose of puck luck thrown in. Joey Anderson whiffed on an attempted shot from the hashmarks, but Utica failed to clear the danger before Nick Ritchie seized on the loose puck, spun, and fired a shot into the roof of the net in one move.

After Utica failed to capitalize on their first man advantage, Joseph Blandisi exited the box and drew a penalty in a matter of seconds. Alex Steeves made it back-to-back power-play goals for Toronto by wiring a shot off the far post and in for his 13th goal of the season.

Second Period

Toronto began the middle frame on the penalty kill, where they were afforded Fabian Zetterlund too much space in the left circle to rip a one-time shot that halved the deficit.

The Marlies responded in perfect fashion with two goals just 71 seconds apart less than two minutes after the Comets got on the board.

After a speculative shot from the left boards from Robertson was brilliantly redirected in by Blandisi, the follow-up goal was born out of a grinding sequence from the new-look fourth line. Bobby McMann created a turnover, showed great tenacity to force the puck past two defenders, and sent Kopacka on a breakaway.

Jack Kopacka rewarded McMann’s effort with a confident finish to give Toronto a 4-1 lead less than five minutes into the second period.

Some teams may have wilted after conceding two so quickly, but the Utica Comets are league leaders for a reason. After the visitors drew a penalty, Erik Källgren had to make two excellent stops on Chase DeLeo and Nikita Okhotiuk. Alexander Holtz rang the iron with a booming shot at the midway point as both teams continued to generate chances off of the rush.

With seven minutes remaining, Källgren was left hung out to dry against Utica forwards in tight, but he managed to stay with the play long enough to allow his defenders time to recover and throw themselves into the crease for a vital block.

Immediately after, the play switched to the other end of the ice, but Kopacka could not score on a partial breakaway.

Källgren kept Utica off the board for the remainder of the period, turning aside 13 shots in all including one notable stop that prevented Frederik Gauthier from scoring on his old team.

Third Period

The Marlies gave Utica some hope with some sloppy play in the third period. Their puck management was a little careless in the defensive zone and on the breakout, resulting in offensive-zone pressure for the Comets.

Källgren made two sharp saves inside the opening minute and then wasn’t truly tested until the second half of the frame. Guilty of looking for the perfect play instead of driving the net, the Comets were made to pay the price at the eight-minute mark.

A fantastic give-and-go play between Blandisi and Carl Dahlström saw the defenseman pull off a fantastic reverse, no-look pass that carved through the Utica defense. Blandisi netted his second goal of the game with a top-shelf finish on Toronto’s first shot of the period.

Speaking of doubling up, Ritchie should have scored his second goal when Anderson’s pass found him alone in front, but the debutant fired his effort high.

A player who never takes a shift off, Bobby McMann was rewarded for his hard work with five minutes remaining when he surged onto a pass from Hollowell and drove toward the net from the left wing. His initial shot was denied before the rebound came flying back out, bounced off his body, and beat a confused Schmid.

The Comets finally made Toronto play for a turnover with a late consolation goal. After a turnover led to a 3-on-2 break, Holtz netted his 17th goal of the season to put a dent in Källgren’s stat line.

Post Game Notes

– The Marlies have extended their point streak to six games (5-0-1), including five straight victories. Five of the next seven games will be played at Coca-Cola Coliseum, which has become something of a fortress in 2022. Toronto has won six straight on home ice, outscoring opponents 30-16 in the process.

The Marlies are not only clear in second place in the North Division, but they also hold that position in the Eastern Conference with a .635 points percentage.

– With a pair of goals, Joseph Blandisi hoisted himself back to a point-per-game pace through 15 outings. It’s incredible to think that he remains on a tryout contract. Credit is due to Marlies GM Ryan Hardy for acquiring Blandisi, who would be rewarded with a contract very soon if it were up to me.

“He is really, really competitive,” said Greg Moore. “He works really hard. He does a lot of little things well defensively. He makes it hard on other guys on the other team. He closes quickly, plays inside of contact, and finishes his hits. He brings a lot of energy — not only physically but verbally on our bench.”

Brett Seney registered three assists, including helpers on the opening two power-play goals. It is his third three-point haul in the last 10 games.

Erik Källgren turned aside 32 shots to record his fourth-straight victory and 13th of the season. A .915 save percentage ranks him 15th among all AHL goaltenders and fourth among active rookies.

– It’s an untenable situation for Nick Ritchie to be in the AHL. I imagine his stay with the Marlies will be short-lived, but I could not fault his effort or work rate on his debut, and he certainly took his goal well. He performed admirably in the circumstances without being overly dominant; if I were grading him, a B would be a fair reflection of his play.

“He played great,” said Moore. “His goal got us started. He was a presence for us on the power play. Good, strong wall plays on breakouts. For a big guy, he moves really well, sees the ice really well, and has subtle hands to make small-area plays that make his teammates better.”

– Wednesday’s lines:

Ritchie – Seney – Anderson
Blandisi – Der-Arguchintsev – Robertson
Clifford – Suomela – Steeves
McMann – Abramov – Kopacka

Dahlström – Duszak
Král – Biega
Rubins – Hollowell


Greg Moore Post Game: Marlies 6 vs. Comets 2

Game Highlights: Marlies 6 vs. Comets 2