There were a few driving forces behind the Toronto Marlies’ rebound victory after their 7-5 loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins the day prior.
The Marlies received a personnel boost from debutants Max Ellis and Graham Slaggert plus the return of Marc Michaelis following a long-term injury.
In net, Michael Hutchinson cut out the weak goals that have marred his recent performances.
The Marlies also competed for the full 60 minutes and took just two penalties while finding a breakthrough on their struggling power play in the first period.
“A good response from yesterday,” said Greg Moore. “We were able to sustain the good start. Special teams were improved. Our power play got us a couple early to build the momentum for us. I was especially happy with how the team finished in the third period by keeping our foot on the pedal and playing down in their end.”
Grand Rapids started quickly and arguably held a slight edge in the early stages until Patrick Curry was sent to the box for high-sticking. The Marlies capitalized 20 seconds into the game’s first power play.
Goaltender Victor Brattstrom was out of position following a shot by Joseph Duszak that bounced back off the end boards and toward the crease, where Bobby McMann was alert around the net to finish off the loose puck.
Toronto made it a perfect two-for-two on the power play at the 10-minute mark when McMann’s shot clanged off the post and the rebound was finished off by Joseph Blandisi following a one-time effort by Nick Robertson.
Grand Rapids should have halved the deficit with eight minutes remaining when an ill-advised pinch by Duszak led to a 2-on-1 break. After Turner Elson shot high on Hutchinson at his near post, Toronto’s goaltender did a good job of staying in position and turning the shot away with no rebound opportunity.
Between the pipes at the other end, Brattstrom was having a game to forget for Grand Rapids. A bad angle shot from the left circle off the stick of Curtis Douglas eluded the Griffins netminder at his near post, giving Toronto the 3-0 lead inside 14 minutes.
Despite power plays for both teams to finish the period, there was no further scoring. The question on everyone’s mind was whether the Marlies could manage the game better with the lead than they did on Saturday.
The first seven minutes of the middle frame was the best spell of the game for Grand Rapids. The Griffins put Toronto under pressure, drawing a penalty and capitalizing on it to reduce the deficit to two.
Unsurprisingly, it was Riley Barber again after he netted a power-play hat-trick on Saturday. Barber ripped home a seam pass from Jonatan Berggren to get the Griffins on the board.
Three consecutive penalties ruined the flow of the game from there. Josh Dickinson was assessed a double minor for high sticking and was followed into the box by Mac Hollowell less than two minutes later. Berggren was then handed a holding infraction as the officials clamped down.
Neither team dominated back at 5v5 play, although the debuting Max Ellis had the best chance for Toronto from the high slot.
It was obvious the importance of the next goal wasn’t lost on either team as the third period began tentatively.
The first chance didn’t arrive until the four-minute mark when Butrus Ghafari’s stick exploded as he attempted to shoot from the point, allowing Alex Steeves to escape on a breakaway. Brattstrom stayed in the fight with a good save on a five-hole attempt.
The Griffins were limited to 10 shots through the final 20 minutes, but they could have made Toronto sweat had they scored during four-on-four action. Dan Renouf had time to measure a shot from the hashmarks, but he buried his effort into Hutchinson’s chest.
Grand Rapids were made to pay for not taking their chances after Toronto iced the game with a little over three minutes remaining. Marc Michaelis won the battle for possession at the Toronto blue line and carried the puck into the neutral zone before scoring into the empty net.
Post Game Notes
– A 4-1 victory means Toronto is in fourth place with eight games remaining. Such are the margins in the North Division that had Toronto taken just a point from this game they would now be in fifth place. A regulation loss would have placed them in sixth and out of the playoffs.
Hartford is the Marlies‘ next opponent, an Atlantic Division team in the heat of the playoff race themselves. Toronto then faces off against divisional rivals Syracuse (once), Laval, and Belleville, with six of the seven games on the road. It does not get any easier for Toronto, although they have four days to practice this week.
– It was a 29-save performance by Michael Hutchinson, who only needed to be steady to claim the victory, which he was. Much tougher tests from stronger opponents lie ahead.
“He made some big saves for us that allowed our team to play comfortable and play the way we need to,” said Moore.
– An assist on the second goal extends Nick Robertson’s point streak (3-1-4) to four games. The helper was his 10th of the season, and he remains at a point-per-game pace through 21 appearances.
– A pair of secondary assists for Mac Hollowell takes him to 20 on the season. He has holes to patch up in his defensive play and with his discipline this season. The defenseman has been called for nine minor penalties in his last 13 games.
– Marc Michaelis returned to the lineup for the first time since early October following a leg injury. His empty-net goal was a big boost for him, and you could see what it meant to the team by their reaction on the bench. The forward tallied eight points (3-5-8) in 13 games before his injury; his addition down the middle for Toronto at this time of the year is a nice shot in the arm for the group.
“I am sure it was an emotional return for him,” said Moore. “Any time a player is out for that extended time, there is the amount of work one puts in to get back, at times feeling isolated from the group and missing the team environment. To come in and play as well as he did in game one [is great].
“With the help of our medical and development teams, there are a lot of people who do a really good job in this organization of preparing players when they come back from these lengthy injuries. It shows how well they are able to play in the first game. To get that goal at the end — really happy for him.”
– Both Max Ellis and Graham Slaggert handled themselves well in their debuts.
Ellis is a little more offensively gifted at first glance and wasn’t fazed by being thrown into different spots, playing on three different lines throughout the game. The winger wasn’t short of confidence either, playing with a little swagger while recording a team-high five shots.
“You can see the craftiness and playmaking ability of Ellis,” said Moore. “He is a pretty smart player.”
Slaggert was handed fourth-line duties and played a simple but effective game. He made no notable mistakes defensively and his work rate was noticeable.
“Slaggert’s 200-foot game and responsibility in all areas of our structure, and even his breakout play off the wall — it takes a lot of skill to be able to get off the wall under pressure and sprung Cluner and Dougie up ice for their goal.”
– Sunday’s lines:
Robertson – Der-Arguchintsev – Steeves
Seney – Blandisi – Ho-Sang
McMann – Michaelis – Ellis
Slaggert – Douglas – Clune
Kivihalme – Dahlström
Rubins – Hollowell
Krys – Duszak