It’s no mean feat to win three games in four nights in the American Hockey League, especially at the beginning of a season when chemistry has been difficult to build.
The Marlies, who have already used 39 skaters and three goaltenders, were without the services of Jordie Benn and Timothy Liljegren, whose six-day LTIR conditioning stint has come to an end.
The Marlies dressed a defense sorely lacking in professional experience. With fewer than 100 games between the six of them, it was key for the Marlies to play committed team defense and work a little bit harder for one another.
For the most part, it was a job accomplished in a fast-paced opening frame that was notable for the lack of play stoppages.
The first five minutes were frantic, with both teams attempting to utilize their speed through the neutral zone. Michael Vukojevic ringing a speculative shot off the iron was as close as Utica came to breaking the deadlock.
Mikko Kokkonen made a fantastic defensive play late in the period to break up a 2-on-1.
The Finnish blue liner stretched his long frame to block an intended pass and avert the danger.
The Marlies were kept to the perimeter for the most part and only threatened the Utica net on one occasion. Joseph Blandisi initiated a partial breakaway on a broken play, but he was unable to beat Nico Daws from an acute angle.
The middle frame opened up a little more, with both teams generating scoring chances.
Adam Gaudette surged down the left wing inside the opening minute, but Alex Steeves was unable to get enough on his effort from the resulting pass to really test Daws. Less than 15 seconds later, Marlies goaltender Dylan Ferguson robbed Nolan Foote.
Toronto earned the first power play and came close to opening their account, but Daws was again outstanding, denying Pontus Holmberg after a set-up play from Semyon Der-Arguchintsev.
A rare defensive mistake from the Marlies resulted in a breakaway for Nick Hutchinson, but
Ferguson was assertive with his positioning, coming out to the top of the blue paint to make the save and hold onto the shot.
The crucial opening goal of the game was scored by Toronto. Curtis Douglas won an offensive zone faceoff back to rookie defenseman Marshall Rifai, who let fly with Douglas providing the screen. With Daws unsighted, the puck found its way into the far side of the net. The Marlies now had a lead to hold onto.
Toronto generated three chances to increase their lead. Ryan Chyzowski, Matt Hellickson, and Adam Gaudette were all turned aside by Daws, who kept his team within one.
At the other end, Ferguson made another excellent save to turn aside Zach Senshyn and then rode his luck as the puck clanged off the crossbar and rebounded to safety.
The Marlies killed the remainder of a penalty carrying over from the middle frame and then set about trying to build on their one-goal advantage.
Joey Anderson (twice) and Steeves were both denied by Daws before Nick Abruzzese was stopped in tight by a piece of last-ditch defending.
Holmberg drew a penalty with a little over eight minutes remaining, and Utica’s Riley Walsh was so upset with the decision that he earned himself a game misconduct.
The Marlies capitalized via Gaudette, who swept home a rebound off of William Villeneuve’s shot.
Utica huffed and puffed offensively, but they failed to threaten until they earned a power play. Almost immediately, Daws was pulled for a two-man advantage, and it paid dividends. Ferguson was finally beaten by a fantastic bar-down finish from Tyce Thompson.
In the 4:41 remaining on the clock, the Marlies put together a tremendous team effort defensively. The Comets were limited to just one shot on goal as Toronto extended their win streak to three games.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies now sit atop the North Division with a record of 5-2-0. They have scored a power-play goal in each game so far this season; the man advantage is clicking at 31%, with both units looking threatening at the moment. Nine power-play goals rank second-best in the Eastern Conference.
– Adam Gaudette’s third goal of the season stood up as the game-winner. As mentioned in previous recaps, he has been incredibly unlucky in front of the net and could easily have doubled this total thus far. Do not be surprised if he goes on a tear shortly.
– Dylan Ferguson recorded his first-ever win for the Marlies. He turned aside 24 shots and looked extremely composed. The goaltender remains on a PTO for the time being, but if he impresses during this road trip and beyond, an AHL contract could be in the cards for him.
“He was unbelievable,” said Greg Moore. “He made some huge saves for us. It wasn’t an easy building to play in or a team to play against today. Through training camp and this [early] part of the season, he hasn’t had a lot of minutes in net to get comfortable for his start of the year. It was a really good job by him, solidifying himself and having a good game.”
– I’ve been underwhelmed by his performances so far this season, but Curtis Douglas played an instrumental role and recorded his first point of the season on the Marshall Riai goal.
– Saturday’s lines:
Abruzzese – Shaw – Anderson
Steeves – Holmberg – Gaudette
Blandisi – Abramov – Der-Arguchintsev
Chyzowski – Douglas – Johnstone
Hellickson – Hoefenmayer
Rifai – Kokkonen
Pietroniro – Villeneuve