An excellent 40-minute performance from the Toronto Marlies nearly ended in disaster on Friday night.
Syracuse recovered from a two-goal deficit in the final frame before nearly snatching the regulation winner. It would have been rough justice for the Marlies not to take anything from this game, but it was a valuable lesson on the need for a 60-minute effort to put teams away in the North Division.
From the opening puck drop, the Marlies dictated the pace of play through the first frame and dominated every facet of play.
It was nearly a dream start inside 60 seconds, but Timothy Liljegren’s rasping shot hit the post. The defenseman was at it again five minutes later when he activated into the play and drove the net from the left wing.
The Marlies continued to find no puck luck on the game’s first power play. Adam Gaudette flicked a rebound onto the post with Max Lagace beaten before the Crunch goaltender pulled off an outstanding save on Semyon Der-Arguchintsev on a backdoor feed from Pontus Holmberg.
Two more chances went begging as Nick Abruzzese saw his goal-bound shot blocked from close range, and Alex Steeves was unable to corral a pass with the net at his mercy.
Keith Petruzzelli’s workload was light, but he still made two saves of note — one denied Simon Ryfors after a wicked bounce off the end boards presented him with a rebound opportunity, and the second save was even better. After Gemel Smith cut inside Graham Slaggert and was in alone on the netminder, Petruzzelli snagged the puck with no chance of a rebound.
The deadlock was broken inside the final four minutes with a power-play marker via Joey Anderson, who finished off a rebound from Holmberg’s initial shot.
The lead was doubled with 54 seconds remaining in the opening frame. There was no let-off from the Marlies following an unsuccessful power play as Der-Arguchinstev battled hard to win possession, allowing Mikhail Abramov time to weigh up his options from the goal line. Abramov sent the puck back to Jordie Benn, who rifled home a one-time shot to open his Marlies account.
P.C. Labrie and Curtis Douglas dropped the mitts before the puck was dropped for the restart, although it wasn’t much of a fight. Douglas took Labrie down with two blows, spelling the end of the night for both players. Fighting off of the puck drop is a game misconduct in the AHL, and the Syracuse forward received an extra two minutes for removing his helmet.
The Marlies were unable to capitalize on the man advantage before their lead was halved at the two-minute mark.
It was a moment Petruzzelli will want to forget in a hurry. Trevor Carrick lobbed the puck toward the net from the Marlies’ blue line to gain the zone, and the puck took a wicked bounce on its edge and skewed past Petruzzelli into the net (yes, shades of the infamous Vesa Toskala goal there).
Toronto responded well with consecutive shifts spent in the Crunch zone without breaking through to re-establish their two-goal advantage. When called on next, Petruzzelli shook off the goal with three consecutive sharp saves to keep the one-goal lead intact.
Toronto’s goaltender made another two hugely-important stops before the period ended, denying Ryfors from the hashmarks as well as Gabriel Fortier, who looked odds-on to score from a backdoor cross-crease feed.
That last save denied Syracuse a power-play tally, and the Marlies fed off of the energy and momentum the kill provided back at even strength.
The Marlies skated rings around Syracuse as they hemmed the Crunch in their defensive zone, completing a change on the fly while inside the offensive third. A goal finally arrived on a weak, acute-angle shot from Anderson that crept through Lagace.
Adam Gaudette, in another luckless game in front of the goal, had two fantastic scoring chances late in the period — one deflected over the bar on a partial breakaway, and his second opportunity from the blue paint refused to find its way over the goal line.
Syracuse wiped out Toronto’s lead in a little over six minutes. The Marlies would’ve been disappointed in the way they capitulated after playing so well for 40 minutes.
Alex Barré-Boulet was allowed to skate untouched down the middle of the Marlies’ zone and rifle home a perfect bar-down shot. He then struck for a second time, this time on a feed from Sean Day as the Marlies imploded defensively.
There was an initial pushback from Toronto — the luckless Gaudette came close again, and Shaw redirected a slap pass from Mikko Kokkonen onto the post with Legace beaten.
The Marlies were outshot 7-1 through the final 11 minutes of regulation, but for the most part, it was low-event hockey as Petruzzelli made just one save of note.
For the first time this season, overtime was required to determine the destination of the second point.
One-way traffic is an apt description of the three-on-three play as the Marlies drew a penalty inside the first minute of the extra frame. They did everything but score with the man advantage — Shaw smashed a shot off the crossbar, and Legace performed larceny to deny Steeves.
In the end, it was an excellent defensive play and persistence at the other end that resulted in the game-winner. Faced with an odd-man rush situation, Abramov wouldn’t be the first player you’d choose to break it up, but he defended it well and wasted no time setting William Villeneuve free the other way.
The defenseman deferred to Abruzzese on his right with just one Crunch player back defending. Abruzzese’s short-side shot was stopped, but the rookie forward stayed with the play and threw the puck toward the net on the second opportunity. Lagace’s exasperated look to the sky told the story as Abruzzese’s shot snuck in from an acute angle to seal a 4-3 victory.
Post Game Notes
– For the third straight game, Joey Anderson bagged a pair of goals. This performance was built on the foundation the organization wants to see him build his success off of: He was a pain to play against, constantly won battles along the boards, and his puck retrieval was a big part of his line’s success.
“When you are watching video after and clipping our structure and things you are asking of the player, there is probably nobody better on the team [than Anderson] at executing everything that we ask,” said Greg Moore. “He knows his role and responsibility in every situation, whether he is F1, F2, or F3. He leads by example in everything that he does.”
– A two-point game for Mikhail Abramov comes in just his second outing of the season. For a player who needs to stay healthy this season more than anything, this was an encouraging performance considering his lack of camp time and game action.
– Jordie Benn has been nothing but the consummate professional for the Marlies this week. He was again laying his body on the line in this game, blocking shots and doing everything in his power to help the team win. The goal was his first in the AHL since 2013, and an assist on Anderson’s second goal gave the veteran defenseman a multi-point game.
– This was another two-assist game for Noel Hoefenmayer, who is quietly going about his business. What I enjoyed most about his performance was his decision-making. An offensively-minded blue-liner, on several occasions, he made the correct decision not to activate when danger was in the air. Hoefenmayer has a goal and four assists through five games this season.
– The Marlies hit the post on four occasions throughout this game, and nobody was more unlucky than Adam Gaudette. I still don’t think he would have scored had the game continued until midnight. He led all skaters with eight shots, but if he continues to make the right plays and sticks with it, the tide will turn for him.
– Keith Petruzzelli turned aside 37 shots for the victory. Yes, he gave up a horrible goal, but more importantly, he bounced back and refused to let it faze him. It’s no accident that he’s won all four starts this season and posted a .925 save percentage in the process.
“Really proud of [Petruzzelli] and how he played,” said Moore. “He made some huge saves in the second period. For a tough bouncer like that to go in and not lose his composure, stay in the game, and make the next big save, it shows how mentally tough he is as a goaltender.”
– The OT winner was the first professional game-winning goal for Nick Abruzzese. It’s hard not to be impressed by his start to the season. What stood out to me in this performance was his engagement physically and how he hung tough against an aggressive opponent.
“[Abruzzesse] is really good with the puck,” said Moore. “He is probably one of our more intelligent players on the team. He can think a step or two ahead. He is always really mindful of the space and pressure, manipulating those variables to open up things for other teammates. I was really happy to see he had the confidence to shoot the puck there [in OT] when he is a pass-first thinker. To be a good passer, you still have to be able to shoot and threaten the net as well.”
– Injury update: Danny DeKeyser (lower body) is day-to-day.
– Friday’s lines:
Abruzzese – Shaw – Anderson
Steeves – Holmberg – Gaudette
Slaggert – Abramov – Der-Arguchintsev
Blandisi – Douglas – Ellis
Kokkonen – Liljegren
Hoefenmayer – Benn
Hellickson – Villeneuve