The Toronto Marlies entered this game with an inexperienced blue line that included the debuting Tommy Miller.
The Marlies dressed six defensemen aged 21-24 with a combined 97 games of AHL experience between them. Even still, they dominated the first period, roared back from a two-goal deficit in the middle frame, and should have earned at least a point in this game.
The method of defeat — gifting the Crunch too many goals — made for an incredibly frustrating loss. This was the first time this season that the Marlies have suffered consecutive defeats.
The Marlies survived a flurry inside the opening minute thanks to Keith Petruzzelli turning aside three consecutive shots. Alex Steeves proceeded to set the tone for Toronto by cutting to the net following a strong drive along the right boards, but he was met by a good blocker save by Hugo Alnefelt.
The Marlies took the lead within five minutes courtesy of a complete breakdown by Syracuse. Kyle Clifford picked up possession in the Marlies zone, split three Crunch defenders with a nice move, and produced an excellent forehand finish.
Against the run of play, Syracuse tied the game at 1-1 before the nine-minute mark. The Marlies failed to deal with a dump-in properly behind the net, where Keith Petruzzelli turned it over below the goal line before Darren Raddysh capitalized from the slot.
The Marlies then rode their luck after a turnover by Matthew Hellickson. Gabriel Dumont stripped the Toronto defenseman of the puck at the Marlies’ blue line before the Syracuse captain’s blistering shot thudded off the crossbar.
Barring that one Syracuse scoring opportunity, Toronto dominated possession and should have held a lead through 20 minutes. They generated seven high-danger scoring chances and recorded a total of 17 shots on goal in the opening frame.
There were also chances for Logan Shaw, Ryan Chyzowski, and Clifford, but all three failed to hit the net.
Syracuse switched their goaltenders following a fantastic shift from the Marlies top line to hem the Crunch in their zone for 45 seconds. The result was an injury to Alnefelt on an uncomfortable-looking save, with Max Legace taking his place.
The middle frame couldn’t have started any worse for the Marlies. They were down to five defensemen with Mikko Kokkonen ruled out for the remainder of the game, and Syracuse scored twice in three minutes.
First, Max Ellis failed to control the puck off the wall in the defensive zone, spitting a puck out to Gemel Smith, who handcuffed Petruzzelli with a one-time finish from the left circle.
The second Crunch goal was a complete breakdown from Toronto’s point of view. With four Marlies on the left side of the zone, Clifford lost a battle at the blue line before Gage Goncalves and Ilya Usau combined to tee up Daniel Walcott for a tap-in.
The Marlies easily could have packed it in at this point, but they showed some resilience to push back. Ellis led an odd-man rush and delivered a perfect pass to the trailing Joseph Blandisi, but Legace turned him aside and then denied Nick Abruzzese from the slot after the rookie forward split the Syracuse defense.
At the other end, Keith Petruzzelli was doing his part to keep Toronto afloat. After stonewalling Felxi Robert in tight early in the period, he denied the Syracuse forward again, this time on a breakaway attempt.
The Marlies drew the first penalty of the game, but they were unable to capitalize on some good looks.
They finally found their breakthrough and finished the period tied at 3-3 thanks to a quick pair of goals. First, an excellent puck retrieval from Marc Johnstone resulted in Graham Slaggert connecting with Adam Gaudette for his 11th of the season.
Two minutes later, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, who has shown himself to be a much-improved player without the puck this season, turned a good defensive play into offense. As the trailer on the play after breaking up a Syracuse attack, SDA sniped from the top of the hash marks to level the score after 40 minutes.
The final frame proved to be a huge disappointment from a Toronto perspective. Whether it was the busy schedule or the bodies missing from the lineup, the Marlies appeared to run out of juice.
They nearly killed an early penalty thanks to a fantastic double save from Petruzzelli, but they fell behind in the final seconds of the Crunch’s first power play. Steeves came up with a big shot block, but he ended up in the dressing room afterward and did not return.
Der-Arguchintsev created the only chance of note for the Marlies. His slap pass toward the blue paint resulted in a scramble in front, but neither Abruzzese nor Gaudette could direct the puck goalward.
Syracuse made sure of victory with a pair of goals just 42 seconds apart. Toronto was unable to cope with yet another dump-and-chase play. A missed assignment allowed Simon Ryfors to walk out alone in front before Goncalves scored on a rebound.
The Marlies were coming apart at this point. Ryan Jones was left unmarked in the left circle for his first goal of the season, putting the game to bed. The Marlies recorded only two shots on goal through the final 13 minutes of regulation.
Post Game Notes
– Adam Gaudette is now tied for the AHL lead with his 11th goal of the season. He’s scored in three straight games.
– Third in Marlies scoring at the moment, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev has 16 points in as many games. He scored his fifth goal of the season to extend his current point streak to three games. As mentioned in the recap, the defensive side of his game is showing clear signs of improvement. Despite a lack of size, SDA is beginning to win his fair share of puck battles along the boards.
– A note on Keith Petruzzelli, who has been lit up for 11 goals against in his last two starts: Goals aside, Syracuse generated 12 high-danger scoring chances that Petruzzelli turned away in this game.
– Mikko Kokkonen’s injury was confirmed by Greg Moore as a lower-body ailment. The same diagnosis applies to Alex Steeves.
– On the inexperienced Marlies blue line, Noel Hoefenmayer stepped up with one of his best performances this season. On the flip side, Matthew Hellickson appeared out of his depth in this outing, frequently making bad decisions in the defensive zone.
– Wednesday’s lines:
Clifford – Shaw – Anderson
Abruzzese – Der-Arguchintsev – Gaudette
Steeves – Blandisi – Ellis
Chyzowski – Slaggert – Johnstone
Rifai – Hoefenmayer
Kokkonen – Miller
Hellickson – Pietroniro