Games between these two divisional rivals are rarely boring encounters. The first meeting of the 2022-23 season was no exception.
After just one goal between the two teams through 40 minutes, the offense took over in the final frame, with the Marlies coming out on top by a score of 5-3, proving more opportunistic than Syracuse when it mattered.
Despite the lack of goals, the first half of the opening frame was the antithesis of low-event hockey. There was plenty of physicality between the divisional rivals, and to Toronto’s credit, they matched up well in that regard against a team noted for its aggressive style.
The first real chance for the Marlies came off of a turnover at the 11-minute mark. Syracuse transitioned quickly with danger in the air, but Adam Gaudette picked off a pass at the hash marks and created an odd-man rush the other way.
On the following shift, Syracuse threatened again. Daniel Walcott was found all alone at the blue paint by Ryan Jones, but Keith Petruzzelli came to Toronto’s rescue with a fantastic double save.
The Marlies edged the remainder of the period, coming close to scoring during a pair of scrambles in the crease.
A nice interchange between Steeves and Holmberg then led to the latter being hooked on a partial breakaway. The Marlies didn’t strike with the man advantage, keeping the teams tied through 20 minutes.
The middle frame mirrored the first to some degree.
With a little over six minutes played, a turnover resulted in an odd-man break, where Nick Abruzzese teed up Logan Shaw. The more experienced forward wired his shot wide before Syracuse transitioned the puck quickly to create a chance of their own.
Alex Barre-Boulet led the rush and combined with Jaydon Dureau to set up Gage Concalves for a blast from the slot. Marshall Rifai produced a wonderful shot block that was followed up by a top-notch left pad save by Petruzzelli to rob Barre-Boulet on the same play.
The Crunch then earned their first power play, which Toronto survived with ease and began to take control at 5v5 without finding the tying goal.
Syracuse generated the next best scoring chance through Felix Robert, who escaped on a breakaway. Petruzzelli pulled off yet another fantastic save, made even more impressive by the alertness shown despite his lack of action to that point.
The period finished with a power play for each team, and Syracuse capitalized on the man advantage. The Crunch power play toyed with Toronto before Simon Ryfors scored the game’s opening goal with 25 seconds remaining in the second period.
The floodgates opened in the final frame with three goals inside three minutes and an additional two before the midway point.
Toronto got their power play going courtesy of Gaudette. Semyon Der-Arguchintsev worked the zone entry before the puck eventually found its way to Gaudette, who beat Max Legace with a pinpoint shot into the far top corner of the net.
Toronto’s go-ahead marker was created and finished by defensemen. Timothy Liljegren decided his best option was to switch from the right half-wall, around the net, and out the other side on the opposite wall. With Syracuse out of sorts and collapsed too low, Lilegren handed off to Danny DeKeyser patrolling the point on his lonesome. The former Detroit blue-liner isn’t known for his offensive prowess, but after taking two strides toward the goal, he unleased a thunderbolt into the top corner of the net to give Toronto a 2-1 lead.
It took Syracuse all of 29 seconds to respond after a loss of concentration from Toronto.
Within a few seconds of losing an offensive zone faceoff, the Marlies conceded an odd-man rush against and Ryfors set up Smith to tie the game at 2-2.
The Marlies’ power play connected for a second time to put them back ahead. Noel Hoefenmayer’s shot from the point — a weapon that should be utilized more often, as I’ve been advocating since last season — produced a rebound that Joseph Blandisi attempted to scoop home. In the melee that followed, Der-Arguchintsev showed impressive composure to drag the puck out of the scramble and deliver a perfect finish from a tight angle.
The backbreaker for Syracuse arrived with 10:03 remaining. With the Crunch searching for a tying goal on the power play, Joey Anderson picked off a cross-ice pass, surged past two Syracuse defenders, and broke in alone on Lagace. It wasn’t one of his most emphatic finishes, but Anderson’s shot scrambled over the line despite the Syracuse netminder getting a piece of the shot.
To their credit, the Crunch were resolute and produced a spell of pressure that had Toronto reeling with five minutes remaining. With an extra attacker on, Felix Robert brought the Crunch within one, slotting home a rebound as Syracuse finally got the puck behind Petruzzelli.
The Marlies did not allow themselves to be hemmed inside their zone afterward, sealing victory with an empty-net goal. Logan Shaw won the battle for possession at his blue line before sending Gaudette away. Gaudette could have skated the puck into the vacant cage but instead gave the honour to Anderson, who doubled his tally for the game.
This was an important confidence-boosting victory for the Marlies (3-2-0), who now face an eight-game stretch on the road with the Boat Show in town.
Post Game Notes
– My first star of the game would have been Timothy Liljegren. He was immense in all three zones with his play for the goal, solid breakout passes, and zone entries. On the other side of the puck, he dug teammates out of trouble with recovery plays following turnovers, his positioning was fantastic, and he laid one booming hit that the home crowd enjoyed.
“He looked really good,” said Greg Moore. “He is coming off of injury and hadn’t played in a while. He looked very comfortable, very calm, and was skating really well. His defense through the middle of the rink is one of the best I have ever seen.”
– This was Jordie Benn’s first foray at the AHL level since the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs. He was solid defensively, laid his body on the line on multiple occasions, and formed a nice relationship with his inexperienced partner.
“What is even more impressive: you see these guys who have NHL experience coming down, fitting in, being a part of the team, sacrificing and blocking shots, and doing a lot of the little things to win a game,” said Moore. “They weren’t here just coasting by and wanting to get through it. They were part of the group and did some really special stuff.”
– That is now two consecutive two-goal games for Joey Anderson. He scored five short-handed markers last season and continues to be very effective in a penalty-killing role.
– Adam Gaudette deserved his goal and assist in another consistent performance from him and his line with Alex Steeves and Pontus Holmberg.
“They played really well,” said Moore. “The majority of the time they were on the ice, they found their way out of the defensive zone pretty quickly, drove the puck down the rink, and were able to set up the offensive zone. They have done a really good job at getting on the inside, getting off the wall, and finding opportunities in the slot.”
– Semyon Der-Arguchintsev tallied his first goal of the season and recorded his second multi-point haul. After a slow beginning to his rookie campaign, four points (1G/3A) in five games is a bright start to a pivotal development year in 2022-23.
– In a game where he recorded a season-high four shots, Noel Hoefenmayer ended up with a pair of assists. That’s no coincidence, either, and the coaching staff has to encourage him to start shooting a little more consistently as it’s an effective weapon in his arsenal.
– I wouldn’t normally comment on a goaltender who allowed three goals, but Keith Petruzzelli produced yet another good performance. He faced a combined 11 shots through 40 minutes, 12 in the final frame, and turned aside seven high-danger scoring chances, including a breakaway.
– Mikhail Abramov suited up for his first game of the season after an injury stemming from last season. Other injury updates: F Pavel Gogolev (lower body, week-to-week) and D Mac Hollowell (lower body, day-to-day).
– Wednesday’s lines:
Abruzzee – Shaw – Anderson
Steeves – Holmberg – Gaudette
Slaggert – Abramov – Der-Arguchintsev
Blandisi – Douglas – Johnstone
DeKeyser – Liljegren
Rifai – Benn
Hellickson – Hoefenmayer