In a season of fluctuating fortunes and performances for the Toronto Marlies, this victory goes down as one of their most impressive to date.
The Marlies were responsible for just the 11th regulation loss Chicago has suffered this season and their first since February 15.
“This would probably be up there with the top three to five [performances] of the season,” said head coach Greg Moore.
The opening 20 minutes featured plenty of intensity and hitting from both teams, but there was a distinct lack of high-quality scoring chances.
Chicago dominated possession and offensive zone time, but Toronto largely kept them to the perimeter. The Marlies were content to contain Chicago and stay patient offensively, recording just one shot on goal through the first 10 minutes.
Toronto did, however, create two high-danger chances in a 60-second span: Brett Seney escaped on a breakaway, but he was denied by an excellent save from Jack LaFontaine, who had barely touched the puck up until that point. An excellent forecheck from the fourth line ended with Curtis Douglas teeing up Bobby McMann in tight, but LaFontaine was again in position.
Making just his second-ever AHL start for the Marlies, Keith Petruzzelli pulled off a fantastic stop to deny CJ Smith with two seconds remaining in the period, ensuring the two sides were deadlocked heading into the first intermission.
The second period was the complete opposite of the first. Chances were exchanged off the rush, and the Marlies needed their rookie netminder to come up huge for them.
After Wolves transitioned quickly inside the first minute and created a 3-on-2 break, Petruzelli denied the first attempt and pulled off a flying stop on the rebound effort by Spencer Smallman.
The Marlies were then forced to kill a penalty before finally generating some offense of their own. It was the fourth line yet again, as McMann’s shot from the high slot glanced enough of LaFonatinae’s arm to send the puck floating over the top of the net.
Petruzzelli continued to stand on his head in the Marlies’ net, pulling off another great save before the six-minute mark on another odd-man rush for the Wolves.
Chicago had a goal waved off for interference before finally breaking the deadlock with seven minutes played. Standing by the side of the net unmarked, David Cotton had three attempts at banking the puck in off Petruzzelli before finally succeeding.
How did Toronto respond after falling behind? By taking a 3-1 inside the next five minutes.
The Marlies power play looked far more dangerous in this game, striking on its one and only opportunity. Joseph Duszak’s point shot produced a rebound that Joey Anderson battled hard for in the crease, Anderson shifted the puck to his right, and McMann was on hand to apply the finishing touch.
Toronto’s next two goals came off of a dogged forecheck. Clune and Douglas applied incessant pressure behind the Chicago net, resulting in a turnover to Antti Suomela, who made a sublime move around the goalie to put the Marlies ahead.
McMann — a persistent thorn in the side of the opposition with his refusal to give up on a play — seized on a turnover from Joey Keane before getting off a quick backhand shot that caught LaFontaine unaware, beating him at his near post.
Chicago attempted to pour on the pressure after falling behind 3-1. They fired nine shots on target in the final eight minutes, but Toronto’s rookie netminder was rock solid. Petruzzelli turned aside 18 of 19 shots in the middle frame to maintain Toronto’s two-goal advantage through 40 minutes.
The final frame resembled the first more than the second as the Marlies attempted to hold onto their lead.
Chicago wasn’t able to capitalize on an early power play, and the Wolves didn’t enjoy much puck luck through the opening five minutes. Max Lajoie was a frustrated figure after watching his effort ring off the crossbar and high into the netting.
The next goal was always going to be important, and Toronto claimed it with a little under nine minutes remaining. After extra efforts from Alex Steeves and Joseph Blandisi allowed Toronto to exit the defensive zone and transition through the neutral zone, Blandisi then outbattled Lajoie to win possession. The Toronto forward could have chosen to shoot, but instead, he teed up the trailer on the play in Nick Robertson, who produced a snipe over the shoulder of LaFontaine.
Toronto appeared relatively comfortable until Seney took a needless penalty. Chicago found the net thanks to a double deflection on a shot from Josh Leivo, with the final touch credited to Stefan Noesen.
With 2:05 remaining, the Wolves opted for an extra attacker, but they registered just one more shot on target.
This was a hugely important victory for the Marlies, who have another busy week of action upcoming with four games in five days, including a cross-border visit to their divisional rivals, the Rochester Americans.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto was a perfect 1-1 on the power play while holding the dangerous Chicago power play to one goal on three attempts.
– After almost a four-month wait, Keith Petruzzelli suited up for his second AHL start.
He utilizes his size to good effect and has a good economy of movement in the net. There were a couple of scrambly highlight-reel stops required, but otherwise, he was calm and composed in making 32 saves for the win.
“He battled, he had that toe save on the rebound that was a big one for us, he was positioned, calm, and comfortable,” said Moore. “He gave our team confidence to be calm and comfortable in front of him.”
Depending on the extent of Joseph Woll’s injury and the goaltending situation in Toronto, I would like to see the promising young prospect afforded some more starts at the AHL level.
– For the AHL debut for Dmitri Ovchinnikov, it was interesting that the coaching staff chose this game against a high-end opponent. His tenacity and work rate stood out. He wasn’t overwhelmed by the experience, and while he flashed some glimpses of skill, he opted to make the simple but effective plays. It’s going to be a long transition with his grasp of English still a struggle at this point, but there was a lot to be encouraged about in his North American debut.
“He was great,” said Moore. “He worked very hard and was very responsible with and without the puck. You can see his skill when he gets touches in tight spaces. He seems really calm in those moments of the game. For his first game, he should feel very good about the effort he put in.”
– Bobby McMann has been snakebitten of late. Without a point in six games and no luck in front of goal, he hasn’t let that affect his performances. The winger led the way for the Marlies with a team-leading six shots, two goals, and could have had a hat-trick with a little more puck luck. McMann is now up to 15 goals in 44 games this season, just a pair behind fellow rookie Alex Steeves.
“[McMann]’s puck play has really, really improved and his awareness of what is around him,” said Moore. “He has a great shot. He relied on that early on as the period at the end of the sentence, but now he has a comma. He is constructing some good sequences in between some of the plays with his linemates.”
– Sunday’s lines:
Seney – Der-Arguchintsev – Anderson
Robertson – Blandisi – Steeves
Ovchinnikov – Abramov – Suomela
Clune – Douglas – McMann
Kivihalme – Biega
Rubins – Duszak
Král – Menell