This was as complete of a 60-minute performance as we’ve seen from the Toronto Marlies in Greg Moore’s coaching tenure.

The Marlies were the dominant team for all but the second half of the middle frame and probably deserved a greater margin of victory than the 4-1 final over Grand Rapids on Saturday.

“All five guys on the ice did a good job of executing our structure,” said Moore. “We have talked about being connected in all three zones, and we executed that plan today.”

First Period

Pontus Holmberg, a threat from the opening puck drop, should have put the Marlies ahead inside two minutes. After the Swedish forward took possession from Joey Anderson just inside the Griffins’ blue line and danced around three defenders, Graham Slaggert would’ve had an empty net if he was able to corral Holmberg’s cross-crease pass.

The home crowd did not have to wait much longer to celebrate the opening goal. Marc Johnstone was the initiator, winning possession in the neutral zone, breaking the zone, and sending a pass back to Logan Shaw. The veteran forward set up defenseman Noel Hoefenmayer for a cannon of a one-timer against the grain from the top of the right circle.

The Marlies killed the first penalty of the game and scored on the other side of special teams in their first opportunity with the extra skater. The puck was moved around with speed and purpose, finding Alex Steeves in his second home inside the right circle, where he made no mistake with a quick release past Jussi Olkinuora.

There were several near misses on a second power play opportunity and back at 5v5. Adam Gaudette and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev were both left frustrated after failing to convert in tight.

The Marlies were more than full value for a 2-0 lead at the first intermission, and the 13-5 shot clock in their favour actually flattered the Griffins.

Second Period

The Marlies dominated the opening three minutes of the middle frame before handing Grand Rapids a way back into the game.

A turnover from Marshall Rifai wasn’t the end of the world — the Marlies had numbers back in the defensive zone — but a battle along the end boards resulted in the puck squirting free to Mac Hollowell, who should have cleared the danger. Instead, he turned it over to Joel L’Esperance, who teed up Cross Hanas for a tap-in.

The Marlies responded well and remained in control at 2-1. Nick Abruzzese was left wondering how he didn’t score on the power play, but his attempt appeared to graze the post.

At the midway mark of the game, a dominating 90-second shift from the Griffins changed the trajectory of the second period. The Marlies couldn’t clear their lines and were indebted to Keith Petruzzelli, who came up with two key saves.

As the momentum shifted, Toronto was guilty of sloppy and disjointed play, turning the puck over in all three zones. The Griffins struggled to create many clear-cut scoring chances despite dominating possession, though. Their best opportunity went to Givani Smith in the slot, but Petruzzelli made yet another important stop in a game in which he wasn’t heavily tested.

Grand Rapids, unable to make use of a second power play, finished the period on the man advantage. With a handful of seconds remaining, Matt Luff escaped on a breakaway and Hollowell had little choice but to take a hooking penalty on the play.

Third Period

Toronto’s penalty killing remained steadfast with a critical kill to prevent the Griffins from tying the game to begin the final frame. Anderson almost doubled the lead immediately back at 5v5, but his backhand effort was denied on a solo rush.

The Marlies found their rhythm afterward and began to dominate again at even strength. The line of Slaggert – Holmberg – Steeves, in particular, was a threat to Grand Rapids every time they touched the ice.

An insurance marker almost arrived at the six-minute mark when a fantastic diving play from Bobby McMann allowed Matt Hellickson to break up the ice with speed through the neutral zone. Hellickson combined with Gaudette to tee up Der-Arguchintsev from the slot, but Olkinuora came up with a big save.

The important third goal eventually arrived with a little over six minutes remaining. The Marlies lost possession following an offensive-zone faceoff, but Anderson outmuscled his opponent to win back the puck. Shaw then found Abruzzese at the high slot, where the rookie made no mistake with an emphatic one-time finish.

Steeves made sure of the two points with an empty-net tally, and it could have been 5-1 if Holmberg’s wicked shot from the left circle found the twine instead of the far post.

This was a statement even-strength performance from the Toronto Marlies, the type we haven’t seen from them in a long while. Whether they can repeat the feat or come close to matching it in the rematch on Sunday is going to be the next test for this group.

Post Game Notes

– Pointless through his first three games, it wouldn’t be fair to suggest Nick Abruzzese was struggling or fighting the puck to start his rookie season; he had done everything but score up until finally breaking through late in this game. The first goal is a nice confidence boost for him, and I hope it encourages him to shoot a little more often rather than deferring to experienced linemates.

– He’s never been a razzle-dazzle type of player, but what you see is what you get with Logan Shaw. He does the simple things well and plays the percentages through all three zones. All three points in this outing were assists. I foresee a big season for him offensively as he begins to settle into his new team.

Joey Anderson, always heavily leaned on by Greg Moore, delivered an empty-net goal and two assists. His role in puck recovery on the Abruzzese goal is the type of play you want to see more of from him.

– It was not a heavy workload for Keith Petruzzelli, but in some ways, it makes his performance all the more commendable; a game flow with big gaps in between saves presents its own mental challenge for goaltenders. He made 16 saves for the victory, but just as he did last weekend, Petruzzelli came up with the key timely stops. The American netminder has given up just a single goal in both starts thus far.

– A quick note on Pontus Holmberg: He was simply outstanding in this game, and it isn’t hyperbole to suggest he caused problems for the Griffins’ defense every time he took possession in the offensive zone. With better luck, he finishes with a handful of points (instead of zero). Coming off of a strong training camp and with the Leafs enjoying some roster flexibility through LTIR at the moment, he looks really hungry for the next call-up.

“[Slaggert – Holmberg – Steeves] is a good line that can put up offense,” said Moore. “It is a line that is competitive and hard to play against. Whenever you have a couple of lines in your lineup that can play against top pairs and top lines, it makes it easier as a coach to find a rotation that works.”

– Veteran defenseman Danny DeKeyser, signed to a PTO this week after striking out on NHL interest this past offseason, made his debut on the Marlies blue line. He had never appeared in an AHL regular season game before; only six AHL playoff games back when he left college in 2012-13, proceeded by his graduation to the NHL full-time (547 games for the Red Wings).

“Great energy, great demeanour, and he defended really hard,” said Moore. “He was a stabilizing force for us back there. It was really good to see.”

– Defenseman Axel Rindell was added to the Marlies roster during the week and should feature shortly. The other injury updates: F Ryan Chyzowski (lower body) and F Max Ellis (lower body) are considered day-to-day.

– Saturday’s lines:

Abruzzese – Shaw – Anderson
McMann – Der-Arguchintsev – Gaudette
Slaggert – Holmberg – Steeves
Blandisi – Douglas – Johnstone

Rifai – Hollowell
DeKeyser – Hoefenmayer
Hellickson – Villeneuve


Post-Game Media Availability: Joey Anderson, Noel Hoefenmayer, Greg Moore