“We truly felt our team was and is good enough to make the playoffs and be part of the post-season.”
That’s a mystifying quote from Toronto’s head coach following a season-ending defeat in Belleville that ended the Marlies‘ hopes of playoff qualification.
The standings don’t lie.
Toronto took just 11 points from their last 13 games, giving up four or more goals in nine of those outings.
In the most important game of the season, Greg Moore opted to healthy scratch Joseph Duszak, citing that the matchups weren’t right.
“With Duszak, we just felt that the lineup, given the matchup and the lineup of the Belleville, was the best one for us to compete,” said Moore.
The second-highest scoring defenseman in the American Hockey League was left sitting in the stands, suited and booted. Duszak, Toronto’s leading point producer on the power play, had to watch on as his teammates failed to score on five opportunities with the man advantage in this loss.
One point was all that was required to make the postseason, but the Marlies never looked likely to take anything from a game in which they were second-best for over 40 minutes.
Toronto has been a mess defensively all season long, so it was no surprise when a defensive lapse led to Belleville scoring inside six minutes. Logan Shaw beat Nick Robertson to a loose puck in the neutral zone, but there shouldn’t have been anything too dangerous about the developing 2-on-2 situation.
That was until Chad Krys misread it by taking a stab at the puck on the play, Shaw walked around him before shooting on goal, and Hutchinson made a pad save with a huge rebound into the slot that ended in a tap-in for Cole Reinhardt.
The Marlies killed the first penalty of the game before earning two power plays in a chippy first period. They recorded just four shots with the man advantage and should have fallen further behind with 1:30 remaining when a turnover resulted in a 3-on-1 break for Senators, but Reinhardt whiffed on his shot with the net at his mercy.
Toronto began the middle frame on the penalty kill following some aggressive negotiations at the first intermission buzzer.
Belleville capitalized just 40 seconds in, punishing Joey Anderson for a turnover at the defensive blue line. With two passing options to his right, Viktor Lodin picked out Logan Shaw, who roofed the puck past Hutchinson from the hashmarks.
The Senators then went ahead 3-0 with a little over 25 minutes played. It was another frustrating and easily-avoidable goal to concede for the Marlies as Clark Bishop chased down a loose pass from Matthew Wedman in the neutral zone, Teemu Kivihalme took a terrible angle, and Bishop simply skated between him and the back-checking Nick Robertson. In on goal alone, Bishop scored with a nonchalant top-shelf backhand shot past Hutchinson’s blocker.
The Marlies gave themselves a glimmer of hope with a late-period goal. A speculative shot by Kivihalme from the left point was redirected by Josh Ho-Sang in the slot past a bewildered Filip Gustavsson.
I am not entirely sure if Ho-Sang knew much about it, but Gustavson would have been disappointed to allow a relatively weak goal against late in the period.
In a surprising twist, the Senators sat back and invited pressure from Toronto to start the third period. The Marlies fired 11 shots in the opening 12 minutes but could not put a dent in the 3-1 deficit.
Robertson struck the iron from a tight angle less than two minutes in. 60 seconds later, Bobby McMann sent a fantastic backdoor feed to Phillippe Myers, but the defenseman was unable to find the finishing touch.
The Marlies’ big opportunity to salvage the season arrived at the midway mark when consecutive penalties gave them an extended power play and 56 seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage.
There were several near misses during scrambles in the crease, and Alex Steeves hit the crossbar with a one-time shot. To give Gustavsson credit, he made some good saves, but a lack of clinical finishing was the reason Toronto did not draw within striking distance.
An empty-net goal for Bishop sealed Toronto’s fate with 3:18 remaining to make it 4-1 for Belleville. A goal for Robertson inside the final two minutes was canceled out by a second empty-net goal, this time off of the stick of Andrew Agozzino.
A 5-2 defeat handed the Marlies the fifth spot in the North Division and a playoff berth to the Rochester Americans.
Post Game Notes
– This marks the first occasion since 2011 that Toronto has failed to qualify for the playoffs. The 37 victories are the lowest accumulated in a complete season since 2010-11.
– Josh Ho-Sang recorded a two-point game (1G, 1A) in what might have been his last appearance in a Marlies uniform.
– Nick Robertson signed off with a goal to finish his AHL campaign with 28 points (16G, 12A) in as many games. I thought he benefited from the greater ice-time afforded him at this level and he will be an excellent black ace for the Leafs to add to their playoff roster.
– I plan to write some kind of recap for this season and I have ideas for other articles down the line. Until then, I would like to thank you for reading and following along this season.
If I haven’t responded to a comment and you have questions about this year or players, please add a comment below. I promise to respond!
– My thanks also to everyone at MLHS, especially Alec and Dec. It continues to be an honour to be a part of this site. These guys will have the best Leafs coverage through the playoffs, so please keep supporting them in the upcoming weeks.
Until next time.
– Saturday’s lines:
Seney – Holmberg – Anderson
Robertson – Michaelis – Ho-Sang
McMann – Blandisi – Steeves
Clune – Douglas – Kopacka
Kivihalme – Myers
Král – Rubins
Krys – Hollowell