Several improvements helped the Toronto Marlies record their first win of the season in their home opener: A much better penalty-killing effort, Keith Petruzelli providing stability between the pipes, and the Marlies finding some confidence offensively.
“The team was really accepting of the changes and executed really well on the penalty kill,” said Greg Moore. “Both the power play and penalty kill were really big for us in winning this game. In the third, special teams really got us going, and you could feel the energy get stronger. Hopefully, that’s going to be something we can lean on throughout the year: our calm confidence when things get tough, knowing we can still find a way to win.”
The expectation of a fast start in response to a lacklustre performance the night before in Rochester didn’t exactly materialize as Toronto generated some chances but not enough sustained pressure in the opening frame.
Making his Toronto debut, Adam Gaudette fed a pass into the crease from behind the goal line, but Semyon Der-Arguchintsev was unable to stab the puck past Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen on two attempts.
That early chance at the two-minute mark was nearly followed by the opening goal at the other end 60 seconds later when Brett Murray coasted between the Toronto defense and in alone on Keith Petruzelli, who stood tall with a critical early save.
A speculative shot from Filip Král rang off the iron at the five-minute mark before Rochester broke the deadlock. After outworking the Marlies below the goal line, Filip Cederqvist set up Lukas Rousek alone in the slot.
Everything positive about the Marlies offensively thereafter was almost exclusively the creation of Nick Robertson, who generated a pair of quality scoring chances. At the other end, Toronto killed two penalties to avoid falling further behind and trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes.
The middle frame didn’t get off to the start the Marlies were looking for while down 1-0 as Petruzzelli made another big save inside the opening minute, this time on Isak Rosen. The Amerks also went to the power play inside three minutes, but another aggressive penalty kill from the Marlies kept them at bay.
From the five-minute mark on, Toronto began to grow into the game. Nick Abruzzese, Logan Shaw, and Der-Arguchintsev all tested Luukkonen as the Marlies took over the run of play. Pontus Holmberg and Alex Steeves should have done better with efforts from the slot that whistled wide with Luukkonen scrambling and out of position.
The Marlies wasted consecutive power plays, including a two-man advantage for 23 seconds, and almost paid dearly for it late in the period. Aleksandr Kisakov drifted around a flailing Kyle Clifford with a smooth curl and drag move, but Petruzzelli shut down the Amerks forward with a good save from the top of his crease.
Toronto found another gear in the third period, but they needed more saves from Petruzelli in the early exchanges. The goaltender made three critical stops to ensure the deficit remained at one.
The Marlies then drew two penalties in 10 minutes and capitalized on consecutive power plays. Robertson and Steeves both scored from the right circle to give Toronto a 2-1 lead with eight minutes remaining.
The Marlies remained in control at 5v5, but they were unable to find an insurance goal. That gave the Amerks some hope, especially in the final two minutes when they pulled their goalie.
Despite a few nervous moments, Toronto stood firm defensively with Petruzelli called on to make just one save of note. Adam Gaudette calmed the nerves of the fans at Coca-Cola Coliseum with an empty-net goal in the dying seconds to secure the first Marlies victory of the 2022-23 season.
Post Game Notes
– A pair of primary power play assists for Semyon Der-Arguchintsev were the reward for an impressive performance. He was responsible defensively, created a number of nice o-zone entries, and recorded a team-high seven shots on goal. Nobody is quite sure what kind of player SDA is going to develop into or whether he’s truly a legitimate NHL prospect yet, but this was a very mature game from him.
“It was a great weekend for him,” said Moore. “He is a young pro, and it has been the consistency in his play that has plagued him a little bit, but you can see the special things he does on the ice, especially with the puck. He got to prove tonight defensively how hard he can compete and battle.”
– I have been a big advocate of Keith Petruzzelli for a little while now, so I could be accused of showing bias here. A 25-save performance earned him the first star — and rightly so as he came up with a number of key saves that set the stage for Toronto to take over in the third period. This was just his sixth outing at the AHL level, and with Erik Källgren’s promotion to the NHL for at least a month, it presents a fantastic opportunity for the American netminder to prove his mettle.
– Adam Gaudette made his Marlies debut and performed as advertised. With a good offensive skill set and 200+ games of NHL experience, I believe he’s the perfect linemate for SDA, who at times last season could have used a little more of a (talented) established veteran player alongside him.
– Unsurprisingly, Alex Steeves has a goal in each of the first two games this season. He has a knack for scoring even when he’s not at his best. He flitted in and out of this game, but he still found a way to produce two points. There is so much more to come from him in his sophomore season. Over his AHL career to date, he’s up to 25 goals and 49 points in just 60 games.
– Defensemen William Villeneuve and Marshall Rifai each recorded their first AHL points with an assist apiece. They played in both games against Rochester, appeared to grow in confidence over the weekend, and were at ease in possession. A relatively mistake-free game from the rookie blue-liners is a positive sign. These are two less-heralded defense prospects to keep a keen eye on.
– Saturday’s lines:
Robertson – Shaw – Abruzzese
Steeves – Holmberg – Anderson
McMann – Der-Arguchintsev – Gaudette
Clifford – Blandisi – Ellis
Král – Mete
Rifai – Hollowell
Hoefenmayer – Villeneuve