The return of Teemu Kivihalme and Joseph Woll to the lineup is a welcome boost as the Toronto Marlies head down into the stretch drive of their season.
Unfortunately, the defensive frailties of the team came back with a vengeance in this game versus Laval. The combination of defensive breakdowns and opportunistic finishing from the Rocket was Toronto’s downfall in this 6-4 loss on Wednesday.
The Marlies got off to a bright start, dominating possession time through the opening three minutes, but they were unable to fully test Cayden Primeau.
60 seconds later, Toronto fell behind, and they could feel a little hard done by on the goal. Woll turned aside a shot from Sami Niku but was bundled over by Rafaël Harvey-Pinard in the process. With no call on the play, Tory Dello snuck one through Woll with a partial screen.
The Rocket sensed blood in the water and came close to doubling their lead with three excellent scoring chances. Woll turned aside Joël Teasdale, Shawn St. Amant, and Xavier Ouellet to prevent the Marlies from falling in a big early hole.
St. Amant had another opportunity on a wraparound, but in the process, Laval committed too many players forward and were caught out by the Marlies the other way as Alex Steeves sent Kyle Clifford away on goal.
Coming off of a goal in the previous game, Clifford didn’t look short on confidence, finishing with aplomb to tie the game at 1-1.
Laval regained the lead less than two minutes later thanks to some shoddy neutral-zone defense from the Marlies. With Carl Dahlstrom caught out of position, a pass through the neutral zone created a 2-on-1 break, and Mac Hollowell compounded the error by not taking the pass away as Harvey-Pinard connected on Jean-Sébastien Dea’s feed.
From the restart of play, Toronto immediately responded. A sloppy pass from Sami Niku was picked off by Alex Biega, who drove across the blue before dropping the puck off to Curtis Douglas on his left. The shot from Douglas produced a huge rebound that Jack Kopacka fired home.
Laval restored their lead through 20 minutes thanks to a late strike just as a power play expired. Off of a Marlies turnover in the defensive zone, Xavier Ouellet fired from the point, and Woll did well to save a redirect from Danick Martel parked out in front. In a battle with Martel in front, Hollowell ended up deflecting the loose puck into the net.
There wasn’t any scoring to note in the middle frame thanks to some fantastic goaltending, especially from Woll. Toronto’s netminder turned aside five high-danger chances and 13 shots in total.
Primeau made four saves of note to keep the Marlies at bay and keep the Rocket’s one-goal lead intact through 40 minutes.
Whatever was said in the second intermission had the desired effect early in the period for the Marlies, who recorded eights shots without replay inside the opening three minutes of the final frame.
Joseph Blandisi was frustrated after Primeau robbed him with a fantastic diving save after 39 seconds, but Toronto tied the game on the power play shortly after. Alex Steeves beat Primeau with a one-time shot from the right circle on a feed from Brett Seney.
It took Laval until 8:46 of the third period to record a shot on goal — and they scored on that shot after another defensive breakdown from the Marlies.
The returning Teemu Kivihalme made a bad read at the offensive blue line attempting to close the gap on St. Amant, who banked the puck off the boards and skated around him. The last man back, Mac Hollowell, lost a foot race to the puck he shouldn’t have attempted and left Alexandre Fortin wide open down the middle off the ice, where the left-winger took the pass from St. Amant and made no mistake with his finish.
Toronto tied the game up with a bit of a flukey goal. Hollowell threw the puck toward the net from the right half-boards looking for a re-direct in front, which somehow caught Primeau unaware and found the back of the net, to the surprise of Hollowell himself.
However, the Marlies could not get through the final seven minutes of the game without further defensive breakdowns that hurt them throughout the night. After surviving another odd-man rush, Toronto failed to clear the zone on several opportunities, allowing Laval to sustain offensive-zone time. It eventually resulted in Teasdale jumping off the bench into the play and connecting on a pass from Harvey-Pinard to put the Rocket ahead 5-4.
There was still a window of opportunity for a comeback when the Marlies were handed a power play with 2:21 remaining. Primeau was tested by Steeves and Seney before Laval sealed the deal with an empty-net goal after Joseph Duszak’s shot was blocked in the offensive zone.
Post Game Notes
– Teemu Kivihalme returned to action after sustaining an ankle injury on October 27, 2021. It’s going to be a process for him to get up to speed after missing half a season. There were understandably signs of rust in this outing.
– This was Joseph Woll’s first action in over five weeks due to injury in what’s been a truncated campaign for him so far. It’s tough to assess his performance when Woll was left hung out to dry. He did keep Toronto in the game for long stretches, which is a positive to build on.
“They made it really hard on him today, but he fought through a lot and made some good saves,” said Moore.
– Alex Steeves recorded his first three-point haul as a professional in this game. He’s up to six points in the last three games (2-4-6). With 30 appearances games to his name, he is now scoring at a point-per-game pace.
“Sometimes it is not easy to be a first-year pro, especially out of college, where you are playing two games on the weekend,” said Moore. “He is feeling the length of a pro season with the number of games that we play. Just the day-to-day management your routine, habits, and recovery process, he has handled it well.”
– Wednesday’s lines:
Seney – Suomela – Anderson
McMann – Der-Arguchintsev – Robertson
Clifford – Blandisi – Steeves
Douglas – Abramov – Kopacka
Dahlström – Hollowell
Král – Biega
Kivihalme – Duszak