“It was a good response from our group. There was a real consistent effort from everyone. We managed things a lot better. I liked our process today.”
The Toronto Marlies head coach wasn’t aiming for a high bar by asking his team for a better effort than the last two disappointing performances. This 3-2 loss to Utica was close on the scoresheet, but in reality, the Comets should have won by a more decisive scoreline. It was mostly brilliance from Joseph Woll and a lack of clinical fishing from the Comets that kept the result in the balance.
This loss marked three straight defeats for the Marlies in which they’ve scored a combined three goals.
Utica certainly didn’t play with the intensity expected of a top team coming out of the gates. They meandered in second gear throughout, only occasionally flipping a switch to threaten offensively.
The Marlies probably would have fallen behind early if not for Alex Biega taking a penalty on an odd-man rush. Toronto killed the penalty, but they struggled to possess the puck at even strength, let alone sustain pressure in the offensive zone.
Joseph Woll turned aside five consecutive shots before Toronto finally tested Akira Schmid with 7:30 on the clock. Bobby McMann and a pair of efforts from Joey Anderson finally forced the Utica goaltender into action.
The Comets should have gone ahead by the 10-minute mark. A long outlet pass split Toronto’s defense, but Woll denied Rielly Walsh on a breakaway.
The Marlies‘ turnover habit in the defensive zone was prevalent in this game. Chad Krys cough up a puck down the middle of the ice straight to Graeme Clark, who Woll denied on the first and second effort.
Very much against the run of play, the Marlies opened the scoring on another drive to the net from Curtis Douglas that caused trouble for the Utica defense. Douglas opted to shoot and stayed with the play despite Schmid pushing the puck wide; Duszak recovered possession behind the goal line and sent the puck to his towering linemate, whose shot found a way past the Comets netminder. The Marlies’ 6’8 centerman continues to be rewarded for simple but effective plays in the offensive zone.
It could have been 2-0 Toronto almost immediately if Joseph Blandisi had finished on a breakaway orchestrated by Kristians Rubins. There were additional chances for Toronto to double their lead — Jack Kopacka was robbed on a shorthanded rush, while McMann was denied on an attempt to beat Schmid top shelf.
Woll kept a narrow lead intact through 20 minutes with a fantastic double save on Samuel Laberge and Alexander Holtz late in the period.
The middle frame saw both teams register just six shots apiece, but that didn’t tell the whole story. The Comets wasted a series of opportunities from high-danger scoring areas.
Woll was easily Toronto’s MVP through this game, stonewalling Tyler Weatherspoon just 90 seconds into the second frame. The most notable miss of the period came from Nolan Foote, who was left all alone in the slot and fired wide of the target.
A much-deserved tying goal arrived at the nine-minute mark when Nikita Okhotiuk found A.J Greer in the high slot, where he beat Woll, who was left hung out to dry one too many times.
The Marlies led through 40 minutes thanks to another goal against the run of play. Rich Clune appeared to have run out of room during a 2-on-1 break, but he delivered a perfect pass to Duszak to finish off at the far post.
Utica began the final frame on the power play, where Woll pulled off yet another outstanding save to deny Holts, but the Marlies goaltender couldn’t do anything about the Comets tying the game after the man advantage ended.
For the third time in the game, Foote was left wide open in the slot, and this time he made no mistake.
The Marlies created one chance of note to regain the lead. After an odd-man rush turned into a 2-on-0 thanks to a Utica defenseman losing his footing, Ryan Chyzowski opted to shoot, but Schmid made the save and gave up no rebound.
Special teams, a thorn in the Marlies’ side of late, continued to plague Toronto in this loss. A catalog of sloppy mistakes on a power play for the Marlies resulted in Frederik Gauthier scoring a game-winning shorthanded goal.
There was a little over eight minutes for the Marlies to find a tying goal, but a comeback never threatened to materialize. They mustered just four shots on net en route to a sixth defeat in seven games.
Post Game Notes
– Curtis Douglas has now scored four goals in the last six games. The forward also has four assists in that time frame. As nice as it is to see him enjoy success in a role more befitting of his skill set, it’s worrisome that Greg Moore has to lean so hard on his line for any offensive output.
– Joseph Duszak, who continues to be deployed as a forward, recorded his 11th multi-point haul (1-1-2) of the season. “He is just a really impressive hockey player,” said Moore. “He really understands the game, whether it is forward or D. He is able to execute a plan, read off of the puck, and make good plays. He is a very competitive person. His energy brings a lot for us.”
– Marc Johnstone was signed to a PTO from Newfoundland. In the winger’s AHL debut, he fared okay on the fourth line without standing out too much in either a positive or negative light.
– Friday’s lines:
McMann – Suomela – Anderson
Blandisi – Abramov – McKenna
Clune – Douglas – Duszak
Kopacka – Chyzowski – Johnstone
Král – Biega
Rubins – Hollowell
Kivihalme – Krys