This was a tale of two teams bereft of talent due to an injury crisis with their parent club.
While the Marlies are shorn of defensive players, the Cleveland Monsters entered this game without many of their top offensive producers.
The Marlies played almost a perfect road period in the opening frame. They quieted the 12,500+ fans in attendance and were good value for more than a one-goal advantage through 20 minutes.
There are few players in better form in the AHL right now than Adam Gaudette, who almost converted inside four minutes. The Marlies quickly transitioned possession, with Nick Abruzzese’s pinpoint pass leading to a breakaway for Gaudette.
Pavel Cajan denied the backhand attempt, but Gaudette was impeded on the play, leading to a penalty shot. Cajan came up with another save to deny Toronto’s leading scorer, but a warning shot was fired.
The Monsters struggled to generate much offensively, with Joseph Woll forced into only a couple of saves of note. On the game’s first power play, the Monsters didn’t register a single shot on goal. Emil Bemstrom’s shot from the right circle clanged off the crossbar, but Woll may have had it covered if the puck’s trajectory was lower.
The Marlies broke the deadlock at the 11-minute mark with a power-play tally. Mikhail Abramov played a key role following a mishap by William Villeneuve at the Cleveland blue line, making an excellent defensive play, settling down the play, and taking the Cleveland penalty kill by surprise with a defense-splitting pass. Gaudette applied the top-shelf finish, although he had to wait for a video review to confirm the goal.
The Marlies had no puck luck during a pair of scrambles in the Cleveland crease. They were also guilty of a lack of quality when it came to the final pass during promising attacking movements.
It was more of the same in the middle frame. Efforts from Kyle Clifford, Alex Steeves, Joey Anderson, and Axel Rindell tested Cajun inside the opening five minutes.
The tide turned after another spell of huge pressure at the eight-minute mark, resulting in a Cleveland penalty. The Monsters killed it off with ease and took control back at five-on-five.
The Marlies were their own worst enemy, failing to clear their lines and allowing the Monsters to sustain offensive-zone pressure. Woll pulled off three excellent saves to deny Tyler Angle, Owen Sillinger, and Bemstrom to ensure the Marlies weathered the storm.
Toronto recorded just four shots through the second half of the frame, but their best opportunity fell to Abruzzese. The rookie was sent clear on a breakaway by a clever lofted pass from Gaudette, but he flubbed his backhand effort wide of the net.
Cleveland almost tied the game late in the period when they engineered a shorthanded odd-man rush, but Woll kept the Marlies’ 1-0 lead intact.
The final frame turned into a special-teams battle starting inside the first minute. Joseph Blanidis was furious with the official after a slashing penalty, and his mood wasn’t improved when Cleveland toyed with the Marlies’ penalty kill before Bemstrom scored with a backdoor finish.
The Marlies were back on the power play just two minutes later and dodged a bullet when the very impressive but unfortunate Bemstrom struck the crossbar for a second time.
With the game in the balance and little to choose from between the teams, it felt like the next goal was huge. Toronto’s power play has been a crutch for the team to rely on this season, and it came through when it mattered again in this game.
Noel Hoefenmayer opted for a wrist shot over a booming drive, and it paid dividends after Abruzzese applied a redirect to beat Cajan.
From that point onward, the Marlies seemed content to hold onto a 2-1 lead. Woll stepped up to the mark on four occasions, with his best save coming on Angle from the slot.
The victory was secured thanks to a pair of empty-net tallies, the first of which came from a smart play by Logan Shaw off the left boards, allowing Steeves to win a footrace.
A stretch pass from Matteo Pietroniro set up Blandisi to slide another puck into the empty net to secure a hard-fought two points for the Marlies.
Post Game Notes
– Joseph Woll turned aside 20 shots for the victory. He looked sharp and was over-ready for his return after a frustrating time on the sidelines with another injury.
“He was impressive and made some big saves,” said Moore. “He had one in the second period where he had to push hard to get to the far post to stop the wraparound. He made a couple of glove saves. He is an impressive goaltender. To have been out as long as he has with his injuries throughout the summer and in training camp and then do what he did in this game is impressive.”
– Adam Gaudette extended his goal streak to four games and is currently second in AHL scoring with 12 goals through 16 games.
– A pair of assists for Noel Hoefenmayer gives him 14 points (2G/12A) through 15 games. He’s yet to go more than one game without recording a point this season and is currently tied for fifth in scoring among AHL defensemen.
– Kyle Clifford left the game in the third period due to concussion protocol after taking a fall and hitting his head.
– Toronto’s power play netted twice on four opportunities.
– Friday’s lines:
Clifford – Shaw – Anderson
Abruzzese – Der-Arguchintsev – Gaudette
Blandisi – Abramov – Steeves
Chyzowski – Slaggert – Johnstone
Rifai – Miller
Pietroniro – Villeneuve
Hoefenmayer – Rindell