The Toronto Marlies could not have banked on Cleveland sweeping Rochester in a pair of weekend games, but that’s exactly what transpired. However, the Marlies could not take advantage of their good fortune on Sunday versus Belleville.
After Toronto coughed up a third-period lead and fell in regulation in a winnable and frustrating game, the playoff situation is complicated. Let me boil it down to the bare facts.
Only one playoff berth remains, and it’s a one-on-one fight for it between Rochester and Toronto. Rochester has one game remaining against Utica on Friday.
If Rochester wins their final game, the Marlies will require four points from their three remaining games.
If Rochester takes a point, Toronto will need three points from their three remaining games.
If Rochester loses, Toronto only needs two points from their three remaining games.
There is a situation where the Marlies could claim the fourth spot in the standings, but they would need to finish the week with three victories, if my math is correct.
All three games are on the road — in Laval on Wednesday and Thursday before finishing the season in Belleville on Saturday.
Why Greg Moore continues to tinker with his lines so much at this stage of the season is a mystery to me. Josh Ho-Sang was demoted to the fourth line as one of many changes, although the addition of Bobby McMann was a welcome return.
The Marlies were in shambles for the opening 15 minutes, outshot 17-3 and fortunate to only be trailing by one goal.
Belleville struck on the opening power play at the five-minute mark when Michael Hutchinson was beaten cleanly by a wrist shot from the right faceoff dot by Logan Shaw.
Cole Reinhardt should have doubled the lead at the midway mark. With Hutchinson floundering in his crease, the Belleville forward had two opportunities to chip the puck up and over the goaltender but couldn’t find the finish.
Andrew Agozzino, Jonathan Aspirot, and Egor Solokov all failed to convert on additional high-danger scoring chances for the Senators, who were also unable to find the net on a second power-play opportunity.
A lone shot on goal from Bobby McMann was all Toronto mustered before they controlled the final five minutes of the period. The turning point was a power play for the Marlies, who fired seven shots without reply before the intermission buzzer sounded.
The closest Toronto came to tying the game was through Nick Robertson in the slot on a feed from Mikhail Abramov. With the pass slightly behind him, Robertson was unable to get as much on his shot as he would have liked, and Filip Gustavsson made the save.
Penalties taken by Belleville on either side of the intermission handed Toronto a 5-on-3 power play for 64 seconds early in the middle frame. The Marlies failed to connect with the two-man advantage, but they did score before the second penalty expired. A slap pass from Abramov was deflected into the net by newcomer Pontus Holmberg.
Toronto could not repeat the trick shortly afterward, but they did take the lead back at even strength at the seven-minute mark. A faceoff win in the left dot resulted in the puck switching to the right wing onto the stick of defenseman Philippe Myers, who was full of confidence after scoring his first goal the game before. He rounded the net uncontested, ignored the pass options, and beat Gustavsson with a top-shelf finish.
The 2-1 lead lasted less than three minutes. After an exchange of odd-man rushes on a power play for the Senators, Belleville struck just as the penalty expired. Mark Kastelic’s deft redirect while standing alone in front of the net tied the game at 2-2.
Holmberg was robbed of a second power-play tally by Gustavsson in tight, but a late tally gave Toronto a 3-2 lead through 40 minutes.
Following some excellent pressure down low and a relentless cycle, a blistering point shot from Chad Krys hit the leg of Bobby McMann and found a way past Gustavsson. It was a fortuitous goal, but one that McMann has earned this season with his willingness to crash the net and cause problems in the crease.
All the Marlies’ hard work in the middle frame was undone inside three minutes.
The tying goal for Belleville owed a helping hand to the officials. Holmberg was called for high-sticking when in fact Kastelic’s stick caught his own teammate. Viktor Lodin beat Hutchinson clean from the right circle on a one-time shot to level the score at 3-3.
The goal that stood up as the game-winner was inexcusable. A simple dump-in behind Hutchinson’s goal was chased down by three Toronto players, none of whom won the puck battle before Sokolov teed up Logan Shaw to score uncontested from the slot.
The Senators rarely looked likely to relinquish their 4-3 advantage. Toronto created three scoring chances of note in the final six minutes, the best of which was created by Ho-Sang, but Gustavsson pulled off his best save of the game to deny Abramov.
Greg Moore preached consistency and a praised good second-period effort during the post-game presser. With three games left in the season, more urgency is required than a good 20 minutes of play.
Post Game Notes
– Belleville netted twice on the power play, but for all intents and purposes, Toronto allowed three goals on the penalty kill. The Marlies may only have taken four penalties in this game, but two were inexcusable, and that’s been a consistent theme this season.
– Pontus Holmberg scored his second goal in as many games and has a point (2-1-3) in each of his three AHL games thus far.
“Consistency, competitiveness, defensive positioning, and ability to make plays through the middle of the rink on entries,” said Moore of Holmberg’s attributes as a player. “He’s a really smart player in all situations. He hasn’t been here that long, but on every shift we are getting to watch of him, he is consistently reliable in all areas.”
– The point streak is over for Nick Robertson. He led all skaters with seven shots, but this wasn’t his best game overall. That’s not a knock on him; he’s been so consistent, and the team needs other players to step up.
– Michael Hutchinson allowed four goals on 35 shots. You would have liked him to make a save on the first and/or third goals, but there’s little point debating the matter as Greg Moore is riding him the rest of the way.
– In what has been a truncated 2021-22 season for him, Marc Michaelis recorded his second multi-point haul with a pair of secondary assists to take him up to 11 points in 19 games.
– Sunday’s lines:
Seney – Holmberg – Anderson
Abramov – Michaelis – Robertson
McMann – Blandisi – Steeves
Clune – Douglas – Ho-Sang
Kivihalme – Myers
Rubins – Hollowell
Krys – Duszak