The Cleveland Monsters, one of the lesser lights in the North Division this season, are huge outsiders to make the playoffs.

The affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets are rarely a pushover, however, and they worked harder and smarter than the Marlies on Saturday night. Toronto twice held the lead in this game, but both times it was undeserved, and they eventually folded in the final 20 minutes.

First Period

The deadlock was broken inside the opening three minutes. In his second game back after the Olympics, Josh Ho-Sang finished off a feed from Mikhail Abramov after Jack Kopacka wired a shot wide from the slot.

Cleveland was the first team to the power play in the game, but it was quickly negated by Alex Biega drawing a penalty. Neither team was able to capitalize with their abbreviated man advantage or during four-on-four action.

Toronto’s turnover habit in the defensive zone — a struggle to connect on breakout plays, in particular — allowed the Monsters to sustain offensive-zone time. Joseph Woll turned aside all 12 shots he faced, with his best save coming on Justin Scott during a 2-on-1 chance for Cleveland.

The Marlies recorded just five shots on target through the opening 20 minutes. Jet Greaves was only really tested by Zach O’Brien’s wrist shot, which the rookie goaltender did well to grab with his glove hand.

Second Period

The Monsters weren’t discouraged by their first period of near misses and struck early in the middle frame. Toronto continued to leave Woll out to dry; Woll turned aside Robbie Payne but couldn’t do anything about Jake Christiansen netting his seventh of the season to tie the game up at 1-1.

Seven of the next eight shots were from Cleveland, but Woll continued to hold the fort until two quick penalties led to more four-on-four action. The extra space was seized on by Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, who skated around the outside of two defenders and in on goal. The rookie, who had options to attempt a backhand shot or round the net looking for a wraparound, found the roof of the net with a highlight-reel between-the-legs finish.

That moment of magic failed to inspire the Marlies, who were dominated in all facets and zones. Woll turned aside another 12 shots in the middle frame — none better than a double save to stonewall Scott and Carson Meyer.

Against all the odds and the run of play, Toronto led 2-1 through 40 minutes.

Third Period

The final frame began with a great deal of controversy as Toronto was hugely let down by the officials. On a delayed penalty to Brett Seney, Antti Suomela touched the puck but play continued, Woll held a shot from Tyler Sikura, and an official’s whistle could clearly be heard to halt the play. Thomas Schemitsch pushed the puck through Woll, and it laid in the blue paint before Robbie Payne tapped it into the empty net with 77 seconds on the clock.

How on earth the goal was allowed to stand is something for the officials and the league to reflect on. In the circumstances, the Marlies felt hard done by, but their performance to that point had been far from good enough.

The Marlies almost regained the lead following a nice interchange of passes, but Kristians Rubins’ excellent backhand attempt flicked off the crossbar and away to safety.

The inevitable go-ahead goal for Cleveland arrived shortly after. Ho-Sang was not alert to the danger behind him — Dillon Simpson beat him to a loose puck — and the Monsters captain beat Woll put his team ahead 3-2 with 14 minutes remaining.

Toronto created almost nothing offensively barring one shot from Brennan Menell that hit the crossbar.

A second goal for Payne wrapped the game up for Cleveland as the Monsters showed more desire in the second and third battles all over the ice, including on rebound opportunities in the slot.

Woll was pulled for an extra attacker with three minutes remaining. A ton of pucks were thrown toward the Monsters net, but Greaves kept the door shut and secured Cleveland the 4-2 victory.

Post Game Notes

– Toronto was outshot 25-12 through 40 minutes and 37-27 overall.

– A two-point game for Josh Ho-Sang masks the fact that he was largely ineffective through this game. Normally so effectively in transition and in gaining the zone, he was most noticeable for poor decision-making and turnovers.

Joseph Woll was Toronto’s first star in making 33 saves; he was the only reason the game stayed within reach. He was again let down by those in front of him, and his statistics took another harsh beating.

“He played really well for us,” said Greg Moore. “We need to be way better in front of him. We were pretty fortunate for the score to be what it was going into the third period. We have to value more how we defend for our goalies.”

Zach O’Brien made his season debut on the fourth line. Pavel Gogolev has been reassigned to Newfoundland.

– Saturday’s lines:

Anderson – Suomela – Seney
McMann – Der-Arguchintsev – Steeves
Kopacka – Abramov – Ho-Sang
Clune – Douglas – O’Brien

Král – Biega
Rubins – Duszak
Kivihalme – Menell


Greg Moore Post Game: Monsters 4 vs. Marlies 2

Game Highlights: Monsters 4 vs. Marlies 2