This game should have been over after 20 minutes.

Even though they only had a one-goal lead to show for it, the Marlies dominated Belleville in the opening frame on Saturday night, generating seven high-danger scoring chances in the first period and out-shooting Belleville 15-5.

“It was definitely one of our better games,” said head coach Greg Moore. “We wanted to make sure we kept our shape and were consistent in that area. In Laval, we struggled to find that structure at times and spent a lot of time in our d-zone. In talking to the players and meeting with them, they knew it needed to be a better effort against a very good team. They found that structure again.”

First Period

It took the Senators seven minutes to record a shot on Keith Petruzzelli and a further seven minutes to record a second shot on goal as the Marlies maintained a stranglehold over the opening 15 minutes.

Max Ellis and Alex Steeves both should have scored before Toronto finally broke through at the nine-minute mark. A long-range effort from Logan Shaw produced a huge rebound off of the pads of Mads Sogaard, Jacob Laarson whiffed on his clearance attempt, and Nick Abruzzese didn’t require a second invitation before sniping the puck into the top far corner of the Belleville net.

The Marlies wasted three power-play opportunities before finally doubling their advantage inside the final four minutes. After Belleville allowed Adam Gaudette to slip down the left wing unmarked on a long stretch pass from Noel Hoefenmayer, the veteran forward drove the net and scored on his own rebound.

Petruzzelli made one save of note to deny Dillon Heatherington before he was pulling the puck out of his net inside the final 30 seconds of the period. A harmless-looking shot from Egor Sokolov was redirected in front by Angus Crookshank past a screened Petruzzelli.

Second Period

The opening three minutes of the middle frame was Belleville’s best sequence of play the entire night. Petruzzelli pulled off the two saves asked of him during this spell before the Marlies restored control over the game.

Toronto outshot the Senators 9-2 in the following four minutes, but they were kept at bay by Sogaard. Matteo Pietroniro thought he scored the third goal for the Marlies as the game approached the midway point, but it was waved off by the officials.

Not long after, Noel Hoefenmayer orchestrated the insurance marker with 10:31 left in the middle frame. After breaking up an intended pass in the neutral zone, the former Ottawa 67s defenseman’s fantastic extra effort poked the puck forward to set a 2-on-1 break in motion, and Abruzzese dished off to Gaudette for his second of the game.

Frustratingly, Toronto gifted Belleville the goal back within a few minutes. Under no pressure, Mac Hollowell misplayed the puck at the Marlies’ blue line on an attempted pass to Marshall Rifai behind the net, and Scott Sabourin had the easiest of tap-ins on a pass from Cole Reinhardt.

Petruzzelli came up with a key double save to turn aside Crookshank and ensure the Marlies’ lead remained intact through 40 minutes.

Third Period

The key turning point in the game from Belleville’s perspective arrived four minutes into the final frame when Ridley Greig escaped on a shorthanded breakaway and couldn’t solve Petruzzelli. Immediately after, Greig was called for a double-minor penalty for high-sticking Hollowell, sending Toronto to a two-man advantage.

The Senators killed off the 5-on-3, but they did not come away totally unscathed from their penalty troubles. A trademark one-time slap shot from the right circle off of the stick of Alex Steeves gave Toronto a 4-2 lead.

The Marlies got into a little penalty trouble of their own with consecutive minor infractions but came away no worse for wear. Cory Conacher appeared to pass up a great scoring chance with half the net at his mercy, and Petruzzelli came up with another fantastic double save.

A speculative long-range effort from former Marlie Kristians Rubins ringing off of the Toronto crossbar was as close as Belleville came to making a game of it.

The two points were wrapped up by Gaudette inside the final three minutes when he guided the puck into the empty net to record his first professional hat trick.

That capped a perfect 3-0-0 road trip for the Marlies, whose confidence is sky-high after six straight wins despite not always performing to the best of their abilities.

There is still another level to reach for this group.

Post Game Notes

– After the victory, the Toronto Marlies sat at the top of the AHL standings for one night prior to Providence’s win on Sunday. Without scouring the record books, I cannot be 100% sure, but I believe they haven’t sat in first place in the league standings this far into the season since the 2017-18 campaign.

– The power play registered for the 10th consecutive game, although it was disappointing that the Marlies connected only once on eight opportunities. The franchise record for consecutive games with a power-play goal is 11.

–  Adam Gaudette extended his point and goal streak to four games (6G/1A) with a hat trick. He has not been fazed by the reassignment to the AHL as we sometimes see with veteran players with significant NHL career histories.

“[Gaudette] has been great,” said Moore. “He’s your stereotypical power forward: wide drives, gets to the net, makes it hard on defenders. And then there are times when he can be slippery and make in-tight plays in a small space. He has a great shot.”

–  It’s been quite a week for Logan Shaw. Following on from a four-point haul (2G/2A) and a hat trick against Laval, he registered a pair of assists in this game. Signed to a three-year AHL contract, he’s becoming a fan favourite in Toronto very quickly.

–  This was the second multi-point haul in three games for rookie forward Nick Abruzzese. Three points (1G/2A) is a season-high for him, and the best compliment I can pay him is that he continues to improve with each passing game. If I had to level a criticism at this point, I wish he would be a little more greedy and shoot more often. It’s a confidence thing for many rookies, so I realize I’m nitpicking here.

–  A nice story that’s bubbling under the surface: the play of defenseman Noel Hoefenmayer. Admittedly, there is work to do on the defensive side (and with his discipline/taking fewer penalties), but he’s made several excellent reads in the past three games.

I’ve spoken about his heavy shot a few times this season, but his passing ability has surprised me in the best possible way. The stretch pass onto the tape of Gaudette’s stick for the second goal was excellent. He followed it up with a heads-up play on the third goal not only to break up an attack against but to set up an odd-man rush the other way. Hoefenmayer has four assists in his last three outings and nine points through as many games this season (1G/8A).

–  Talking about players who’ve had quite the week, how about Keith Petruzzelli? I know I continue to wax lyrical about the goaltender, but can you blame me at this point? This was his easiest workload of the week — turning aside 26 shots for the win — but it was no less impressive as he yet again came up with big saves at timely moments. No rookie goalie in franchise history has ever gone 6-0 to start the season, and he’s been one of Toronto’s best players this season even with the goal-scoring feats of others in the player group.

Some will say he was gifted an NHL contract with the injury situations above him on the depth chart. I disagree. He earned it, and it just came a little earlier than anyone imagined.

– Saturday’s lines:

Abruzzese – Shaw – Anderson
Steeves – Der-Arguchintsev – Gaudette
Slaggert – Abramov – Ellis
Chyzowski – Douglas – Johnstone

Král – Hoefenmayer
Rifai – Hollowell
Hellickson – Pietroniro


Game Highlights: Marlies 5 vs. Senators 2

Post-Game Media Availability: Greg Moore, Adam Gaudette, & Noel Hoefenmayer