24 hours is a long time in hockey, and this performance from the Toronto Marlies against Grand Rapids on Sunday was a major departure from Saturday’s victory.

“I thought our start was flat. When a team is pushing against you and you’re flat, it’s hard to chase the game. We weren’t moving our feet or as physical as they were.

“We started taking penalties because we’re reaching from behind or we’re not in position. Ultimately, for us, the start kind of got in our way.

“Early in the season, we’re going have to learn this lesson quickly to make sure that we don’t let it happen again and we can have success this season.”

The “slow start” line has been the peg Greg Moore has hung his jacket on after defeats for almost the entirety of his coaching tenure. Frankly, it’s becoming a little tiresome to hear it thrown out again just four games into a new campaign.

First Period

The Marlies fell behind less than two minutes in after controlling the first couple of shifts. It was a messy play with a couple of broken sticks involved, but a hungrier Grand Rapids team won the battles and earned an odd-man break. A superb bar-down finish from Donovan Sebranga gave Dylan Ferguson no chance on the first shot he faced.

Ferguson kept his composure and made some solid stops to ensure the hole wasn’t deeper for the Marlies. At the other end, Toronto went to three power plays in the first frame and should have scored on the first attempt.

A brilliant individual play from Nick Abruzzese set up Logan Shaw, but the veteran forward could not bury his grade-A chance. Some top-notch goaltending and near misses prevented the Marlies from leveling the scoreline.

Unfortunately for goaltender Victor Brattstrom, he left the game due to injury at the 10-minute mark and was replaced by Jussi Olkinuora.

The third time on the man advantage was the charm as the Marlies tied the game late in the opening stanza thanks to another smart play from Abruzzese, whose slap pass into the crease was redirected home by Joey Anderson.

Second Period

Before the game got away from them, the Marlies created two early chances to take a 2-1 lead. Alex Steeves and Pontus Holmberg combined off the rush, but the latter’s shot was held onto by Olkinuora. A strong drive to the net from Adam Gaudette nearly resulted in a go-ahead tally, but the chance went begging.

Grand Rapids promptly went down to the other end of the ice and converted on an odd-man rush. Ferguson had no chance as Dominik Shine finished a feed from Kirill Tyutyayev.

The Marlies fell behind by a pair inside nine minutes. On a power play for the Griffins, Matt Luff’s powerful top-shelf finish again left Ferguson helpless.

Grand Rapids should have put the game out of doubt but were unable to capitalize on a plethora of scoring opportunities while up 3-1.

Third Period

The home fans were given a glimmer of hope 94 seconds into the final frame when Anderson scored with a low short-side shot that the Griffins netminder would want back, bringing the Marlies within one.

Ferguson continued to give Toronto a chance by pulling off several saves of note, the best of which was daylight robbery on Pontus Andreasson with a right-pad save after the Griffins forward drifted through the Marlies’ defense.

After Abruzzese and Anderson failed to capitalize on two chances on the same breakaway, Toronto’s window to take anything from this game had passed.

Following a flurry of chances off the rush for both teams, Kyle Criscuolo scored the important next goal and sealed the two points for the Griffins.

A ridiculous slap shot from close range into the empty net from Cross Hanas didn’t amuse the Toronto bench, rounding out a 5-2 final.

Post Game Notes

– He’s not recording the points or receiving many plaudits, but Pontus Holmberg was again the Marlies’ best skater. Perhaps his best play in this game came on the penalty kill. He delivered a poke check to recover possession and held off an opponent, drawing a penalty through sheer determination. If only his work rate had been matched by his teammates.

– A team-high seven shots for Joey Anderson included both of Toronto’s goals. He was fortunate with the second one and the first came courtesy of a great pass from Nick Abruzzese. His performance level dipped from the day before, and while we can aim that criticism at many Marlies skaters, Anderson has to be better if he’s serious about playing in the NHL.

– Regardless of results, Nick Abruzzese is improving game-by-game early in his professional career. This was another step forward.

– A pair of secondary assists for Mac Hollowell takes him to 51 career AHL points. I’m still yet to be convinced by his defensive play, which doesn’t seem to have improved at this tentative stage of the season.

Bobby McMann (lower body) did not dress and is considered week-to-week.

– Sunday’s lines:

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

Dekeyser – Král
Rifai – Hollowell
Hoefenmayer – Villeneuve


Game Highlights: Griffins 5 vs. Marlies 2