“Our penalty kill was probably the difference between us being down a few goals early. I don’t think the score was indicative of the game. I thought Laval was in the game the whole time.”
Rich Clune, always honest and reliably on the money with his post-game comments, accurately summarized the Marlies‘ 5-1 victory over Laval on Friday. The scoreline flattered Toronto, and Greg Moore would have been lambasting his team for all of the penalties taken had Laval been able to convert with the extra man.
The Marlies were able to count on a six-for-six penalty kill as well as their secondary scoring, but more importantly, they seized on their chances in the middle frame to secure a critical two points.
Toronto was dealt an early body blow when Filip Král was forced to leave the game with a leg laceration. Out of an abundance of caution, Král did not return. Joseph Duszak was switched from his fourth-line role on the wing to defense and a variety of players — including Josh Ho-Sang and Nick Robertson — took shifts on the bottom line to compensate.
The Marlies were the first team on the first power play, but Laval threatened to score while down a man. The Rocket took that momentum into their first power play and created several near misses, with Michael Hutchinson scrambling in the crease.
It was no surprise when Laval opened the scoring at the 11-minute mark. After a shot was blocked off of the faceoff, Joël Teasdale attempted a shot from a bad angle that wasn’t even on target, but Hutchinson deflected it behind himself and into the net.
Forced to kill a second penalty, the Marlies were under heavy pressure, but they again survived the onslaught and created one excellent scoring chance before the intermission buzzer.
After Brett Seney corralled a pass from Joey Anderson in the slot, with Kevin Poulin down and out, Seney only had to lift the puck over the sprawling netminder, but he sent his shot way over the net.
Toronto’s top line began the period by immediately putting the Marlies on the front foot. Pontus Holmberg, in particular, was impressive early in the middle frame as Toronto hemmed the Rocket in the defensive zone for the opening two minutes.
Robertson led a 2-on-1 break shortly after, and with the scoring form he’s in, you almost expect him to score on every opportunity. On this occasion, his shot was deflected high and away by Poulin.
The deserved tying goal arrived just before the midway point of the game. A giveaway from Gabriel Borque behind the Laval net ended up on the stick of Seney, who found good friend Joey Anderson in the slot, where #28 finished confidently to level the score at 1-1.
Laval came up short on their third power play of the game as they looked for the perfect play and didn’t direct many pucks on net. The Rocket remained frustrated back at even strength as they missed out on two scrambles in front and the Marlies rode their luck with last-ditch blocks and clearances.
The game ultimately turned during the final six minutes of the period when Toronto struck twice from unlikely sources. When Ho-Sang led a 2-on-1 with captain Rich Clune to his left, the expectation was that the skilled winger would shoot, but he passed to the veteran forward, who made a nice move around Poulin before finishing on his backhand.
Defenseman Philippe Myers then scored the goal of the game after taking a pass from Robertson. He looked likely to shoot, but the defenseman made a toe-drag move around Borque instead before finishing from the hashmarks. Myers has been reliable for Toronto on the blue line, but he showed his NHL class with that move and finish.
A 3-1 lead flattered Toronto after 40 minutes as clinical finishing proved the difference between the two teams.
Toronto could have sealed the victory with a power-play to begin the final frame, but the Marlies failed to register a shot with the man advantage.
After Jean-Sébastien Dea, a standout performer for Laval this season, couldn’t capitalize on a pair of excellent scoring chances inside four minutes, it was clear Laval’s comeback effort was getting away from them.
Shortly before Toronto headed on the penalty kill for the fourth time, Clune almost doubled his tally after he was found in front by Marc Michaelis. This time Poulin was equal to the captain’s effort when he tried to make another shifty move around the goaltender.
Laval’s power-play huffed and puffed, but it simply could not blow down the door of Toronto’s aggressive penalty kill. As the final seconds wound down, Robertson stripped Sami Niku of the puck at the red line to create a breakaway for himself. The winger wasn’t going to be denied a second time, beating Poulin five-hole just as the penalty expired.
The Marlies didn’t make life easy for themselves by taking another two penalties before the game ended. In-between times, Pontus Holmberg sealed the victory with an empty-net goal after an unselfish play from Seney.
The 5-1 win keeps Toronto’s playoff hopes alive with four games remaining.
Post Game Notes
– With other teams faltering, Toronto’s playoff ambitions now rest in their own hands. A victory against Belleville on Sunday could put them within striking distance of fifth spot or better.
– It was a 35-save performance by Michael Hutchinson, who was floundering on too many occasions for comfort and should have stopped the one goal he allowed. We know what he is by this point, and at this stage of the season, the result is more important than anything else.
– He keeps on streaking. Nick Robertson extended his run of point production to eight games (7-3-10) with an assist and his 15th goal. I’ve been especially impressed by his growing maturity and defensive responsibility to go along with the offensive numbers.
“He hunts pucks down, he tracks hard, and he presses hard,” said Greg Moore. “He doesn’t give the opponent a lot of time with the puck. His ability to strip and take off in the other direction, separate, and get out into open ice for those breakaways is really big with his finishing touch.”
– Speaking of players staying hot, Brett Seney has been bringing it offensively in the last five games (1-8-9). He’s reached 40 assists with two helpers in this game and the set-up for Pontus Holmberg was not only a nice gesture but also indicative of the ‘team first’ mentality he brings.
– Phillipe Myers‘ goal was his first as a Marlie, and what a beauty it was. The reaction of his teammates told you everything you need to know about the veteran blueliner. He’s already a well-loved member of the team despite his short time in Toronto.
– If Joey Anderson sticks around in the AHL (could be called up following Michael Bunting‘s injury), the Marlies’ playoff race will hugely benefit. It was a two-point haul (1-1-2) for the winger in just his second game back from a three-week layoff due to injury.
– Friday’s lines:
Seney – Holmberg – Anderson
Robertson – Abramov – Ho-Sang
Michaelis – Blandisi – Steeves
Clune – Douglas – Duszak
Dahlström – Myers
Král – Kivihalme
Krys – Rubins