“It just wasn’t good enough. The first period was fine, but that’s why it’s a 60-minute hockey game.”
If I were gifted a few Canadian dollars every time Greg Moore has rued an incomplete 60-minute effort, I would have more than a few bucks stashed away. I might be able to afford a first-class return flight to Canada — and possibly a Leafs’ playoff ticket, but I digress.
The Marlies were ahead 3-0 seven minutes into the game and led 4-1 inside 21 minutes, but the Griffins got the bit between their teeth after pulling their netminder and responding quickly.
A comeback seemed inevitable in the run of play, and the Marlies allowed six straight goals without reply. Despite a bottom five power play for the majority of the season, the Griffins scored four power-play goals on six opportunities.
On the other side of special teams, the Marlies couldn’t take advantage of the Griffins’ 75% penalty kill, which was ranked worst in the league heading into this game.
Where to even start with this one?
Grand Rapids began the game like a team low on confidence and currently occupying last place in the Central Division.
Toronto established a two-goal lead inside four minutes courtesy of Dmitry Ovchinnikov and Nick Robertson. Both were great finishes, although the velocity and accuracy behind Robertson’s wrist shot was particularly eye-catching.
The penalty trouble began with the Marlies taking back-to-back penalties. After killing the first, Toronto scored a short-handed goal on the second; Joseph Blandisi deked out Victor Brattstrom to score on his forehand on a breakaway chance.
The 3-0 lead was short-lived as the Griffins scored on the same power play through Dominik Shine.
The Marlies reestablished the three-goal advantage less than a minute into the middle frame when Teemu Kivihalme was left alone to score from between the hash marks on a feed from Josh Ho-Sang.
After Grand Rapids switched goaltenders following the fourth Toronto goal, the momentum of the game shifted very quickly. The Griffins were immediately given a helping hand back into the game by the Marlies, who allowed a 4-on-2 break in which Turner Elson netted his 20th goal of the season just 27 seconds after the 4-1 goal.
Mikhail Abramov rang a shot off the iron at the three-minute mark, but that’s as close as Toronto came to testing Kaden Fulcher between the pipes.
Grand Rapids’ power play got them within one at the midway point of the game when Riley Barber finished from close range after good work by Taro Hirose and Jonatan Berggren.
The Griffins built off the energy of the penalty kill and netted twice in 62 seconds.
There was little situational awareness from Toronto as a turnover coupled with a line change resulted in a 3-on-2 rush. Dan Renouf scored with a low shot that Michael Hutchinson could have done better with.
Barber then gave the Griffins the lead with his second power-play goal of the game. It was poor netminding again from Hutchinson, who was beaten at his near post from a bad angle.
It felt like the right time for Toronto to switch goaltenders to give the team a chance to reset, but that wasn’t in Greg Moore’s plans as the Marlies hung on for dear life in order to only trail 5-4 after 40 minutes.
Billy Christopoulos replaced Hutchinson to begin the third period, but the damage had been done by that point.
Barber struck for a third time on the power play to give Grand Rapids a 6-4 lead less than five minutes into the final frame. Mac Hollowell was stripped of the puck by Hirose in the neutral zone, resulting in a 3-on-2 for Griffins. It was another gift for Grand Rapids, who weren’t tested in the final 20 minutes as the Marlies recorded just six shots on goal.
That’s not to say Toronto didn’t have opportunities to make a comeback of their own. They had three power plays, including one late in the game where they went for broke by pulling Christopoulos.
Brian Lashoff iced the game with an empty-net shorthanded tally with exactly two minutes remaining.
Bobby McMann’s 20th goal was nothing more than a consolation prize in the dying seconds.
Post Game Notes
This was a disastrous night on special teams, with a struggling penalty kill that was made to work far too many times. Asked what can be done about the team’s lack of discipline, Moore replied curtly, “Keep delivering the message and it will sink in one day.”
In terms of some positive takeaways, Nick Robertson’s 11th goal was his 20th point of the season (in 20 games). One of the team’s most improved players this season, it was nice to see Bobby McMann record his 20th goal, albeit in forgettable circumstances. It marks the first occasion in franchise history that two rookies have scored 20 goals in a single season.
– Saturday’s lines:
Seney – Blandisi – Steeves
Robertson – Der-Arguchintsev – McMann
Suomela – Abramov – Ho-Sang
Ovchinnikov – Douglas
Kivihalme – Myers
Dahlström – Duszak
Král – Hollowell