“One of the strengths of our team is our goaltending.”
The above quote from Marlies captain Rich Clune was said at a post-practice media availability earlier in the week, but it could have come after this 3-0 victory over Hershey on Thursday night as Toronto’s goaltending won them yet another game this season.
A defensive-zone giveaway should have led to the Bears opening the scoring with just 10 seconds on the clock. Alex Biega turned the puck over behind the net straight to Garret Pilon, who teed up Mike Sgarbossa alone in front, but Joseph Woll’s reaction save so early in the game was fantastic, setting the tone for the remainder of the game.
The Marlies were manhandled through the opening 20 minutes during 5v5 action and out-shot 14-8. Woll turned aside three more high-danger chances for the Marlies to ensure his team didn’t trail entering the intermission.
At the other end of the ice, it was a fairly easy period for Zach Fucale. The one key save Fucale made he knew little about as Brett Seney’s effort from the slot clipped his shoulder and went high over the cage.
The Marlies got out to an undeserved lead early in the period. Seney tied up his man during an offensive zone face-off as the puck squirted free into the slot, where Joseph Blandisi reacted quickest to beat Fucale, breaking the Hershey goaltender’s bid for a fourth consecutive shutout.
A passive shift in the defensive zone resulted in a slashing penalty for Jack Kopacka, sending Hershey on their first power play. Exactly a minute later, under no pressure, Matt Hellickson sent the puck out of play, handing the Bears 60 seconds of a two-man advantage.
The trio of Alex Biega, Teemu Kivihalme, and Curtis Douglas was terrific in a triangle formation that bent but didn’t break. Woll was only called on to make one save.
Scoring opportunities were few and far between for Toronto, but the next best chance fell to the Marlies. Bobby McMann managed to escape on a partial breakaway, but his low shot was turned aside by Fucale.
Then came what might have been the turning point of the game: Eddie Wittchow drove hard to the Toronto net, and, in my opinion, did not do enough to avoid contact with Joseph Woll. His left leg caught the netminder at full speed, knocking him off balance and leaving Woll on all fours and in obvious discomfort. Michael Hutchinson entered the game in relief.
Toronto’s resulting power play was terrible, but there were fireworks after Wittchow exited the box. Rich Clune was waiting for the Hershey winger, and the pair dropped the gloves.
If Hershey had been more opportunistic with the extra man, a big talking point after this game would have been how undisciplined the Marlies played. With Seney in the box for a lazy tripping infraction, Pilonbut fired his effort straight into the chest of Hutchinson from the bumper position.
It was the Marlies’ struggling powerplay that struck a killer blow with 78 seconds remaining in the middle frame. The second unit came up trumps thanks to a beautiful snipe into the far corner of the net by Semyon Der-Arguchintsev from the left circle.
Clinical finishing and top-notch goaltending had the Marlies up 2-0 through 40 minutes.
The Marlies handed Hershey two more power plays in the third period, but the Bears could only generate four high-danger scoring chances through the final 20 minutes of play.
This season, I’ve been a regular critic of Michael Hutchinson, who has played way below his standard in previous years, but there have been signs of late that he’s rebounding. At his best, he’s an All-Star at the AHL level.
After the veteran netminder made two huge saves inside the opening three minutes on Kody Clark and Lucas Johansen, you could feel the frustration from Hershey at this point.
The Marlies could have made life easier if they buried chances at the five and seven-minute mark. Clune and Mikhail Abramov were stopped by good saves by Fucale, who was keeping the Bears in the game as they pushed offensively.
With Hershey forced to shoot from distance, Toronto grew in confidence and created opportunities as the opposition took more risks. Kopacka and McMann both escaped on separate breakaways, but neither took advantage.
With the Hershey net vacant, Seney iced the game with 92 seconds remaining following a selfless play by Blandisi.
A 3-0 victory owed everything to Joseph Woll and Michael Hutchinson.
Post Game Notes
– Joseph Woll turned aside 21 shots before sustaining what is believed to be a shoulder injury. At the time of writing, there has been no official release on the nature or extent of the issue.
– Michael Hutchinson turned aside 20 shots in relief. Credit to him for responding perfectly the last few weeks. He found himself not playing (deservedly) behind Erik Källgren and Joseph Woll, but he has stepped in with great effect in Källgren’s absence.
– I don’t often pick out a player for a terrible performance, but Matt Hellickson was dreadful in this encounter. It was his first game in 11 days, but he hasn’t been effective on the blue line — defensively or otherwise — this season. If I were Greg Moore, I would not be averse to switching him with a deserving call-up from Newfoundland.
– It was fantastic to see Alex Steeves return to action so quickly following a concussion.
He was barely noticeable through 40 minutes, but I liked his play in the third period through all three zones.
– Another returning player (after illness) was Brett Seney, who recorded a multi-point game, including the assist on the game-winner and an empty-net goal. He’s at a point-per-game pace through 42 games, but he does have to rein in the penalties; he’s up to 27 minors this season.
– Have I mentioned Joseph Blandisi enough in the post-game notes this season? Probably not. This was another fantastic performance from him, and he was rewarded with the game-winner (fourth this season), breaking a seven-game pointless streak. The play to set up Seney for the ENG sums up his team-first mindset.
– A shoutout to Will Burns and Steph Klein of the Marlies’ off-ice personnel. The St. Patrick’s Day uniforms were fantastic down to the last detail, as were the helmets for the goaltenders.
One last mention for those in attendance. It was fantastic to hear a loud and boisterous crowd at the Coliseum. It lifted the team at moments through this game, especially during the 5-on-3 penalty kill.
– Thursday’s lines:
Seney – Blandisi – Anderson
Suomela – Der-Arguchintsev – Steeves
McMann – Abramov – Chyzowski
Clune – Douglas – Kopacka
Kivihalme – Biega
Rubins – Hollowell
Hellickson – Duszak