The Toronto Marlies successfully kicked off their second three-in-three weekend of the season with a gutsy win in Utica.

It was yet another revolving-door lineup: some key offensive contributors (Adam Gaudette & Joey Anderson) were missing from the lineup, two players were returning from injury (Bobby McMann and Filip Kràl), and one made his Marlies debut (Zach Solow).

First Period

The Marlies‘ clinical finishing in the opening frame was the clear difference between the two teams. On the balance of possession, offensive time, and power-play opportunities, Utica held the advantage.

Joseph Woll needed to be sharp early inside the opening four minutes, turning aside efforts from Dylan Blujus, Tye Thompson, and Ryan Schmelzer as Utica began brightly.

The Marlies registered one shot in the opening eight minutes, and it almost provided the breakthrough. Mikhail Abramov worked his way to the slot from the right side of the net but couldn’t solve Nico Daw.

Toronto killed off the first penalty of the game, with Woll making just one save of note on Nick Hutchinson.

It was disappointing to give up a goal 30 seconds later, especially in the manner in which they conceded. Nick Abruzzese’s errant pass into the slot was picked up by Hutchinson, who gave Woll no chance with an emphatic finish.

Despite a lot of lineup changes, the Marlies have remained pretty resilient so far this season, and they took just 26 seconds to respond with a 1-1 goal.

Noel Hoefenmayer’s seeing-eye shot found its way through a ton of traffic from the point and beat Daws, with the defenseman crediting Joseph Blandisi after the game for providing the screen.

The Marlies killed a second straight penalty and almost scored immediately afterward. Max Ellis exited the box and combined with Slaggert, but the latter ripped his effort wide of the far post.

The returning Filip Král contributed to the go-ahead goal with a stretch pass that found Hoefenmayer just outside the Comets’ blue line. The big defenseman played a give-and-go with Ryan Chyzowski before beating Daws with a deft five-hole finish — a fantastically worked team goal and a credit to Hoefenmayer’s decent hands and awareness in offensive situations.

The Marlies took a third consecutive penalty before the end of the period, but Utica again failed to convert with the man advantage. Reilly Walsh was left frustrated after a robbery by Woll kept Toronto’s lead intact.

Hoefenmayer wrapped up a fantastic period for him individually by assisting on the third goal. The defenseman delivered a big hit on Brian Pinho at the Marlies’ blue line to halt a Utica zone entry before sending Ellis clear with a perfectly-weighted stretch pass. The rookie forward bumped the monkey off his back with a delightful backhand finish, lifting the puck up and over Daws to give Toronto a 3-1 lead at the intermission.

Second Period

The middle frame has been the Marlies’ nemesis this season, but they were able to escape with their lead intact, even if it was halved to 3-2. There was a lack of shots on target from both teams, although grade-A scoring chances were three apiece.

Playing in just his fourth game this season, it’s understandable that Bobby McMann might be a little rusty. Leading a 2-on-1 break with Blandisi, he would’ve been disappointed with his weak shot that didn’t stress Daws.

The Marlies didn’t capitalize on their first power-play opportunity of the game and conceded at the other end, where Utica finally connected on their fourth opportunity with the extra man. Jack Dugan’s slap pass into the crease was redirected by Nolan Stevens to cut Toronto’s lead to 3-2.

The Marlies couldn’t re-establish their two-goal cushion before the period ended despite fantastic scoring chances for Abramov and Steeves, and Toronto wasted a second power play.

The Marlies were thankful to make it to the second intermission with their lead still intact. A mistake from Tommy Miller allowed Nolan Foote to escape down the left wing, but the latter’s intended backdoor feed to tee up Pinho narrowly missed the tape of his teammate’s stick.

Third Period

Utica came out of the gates with purpose as Toronto spent the first two minutes almost exclusively inside their zone. Woll made the two saves required of him, settling the Marlies down before Toronto found their groove again.

It was Daws’ turn to keep his team in the game. The New Jersey Devils prospect turned aside excellent chances for debutant Zach Solow and Logan Shaw on consecutive shifts.

Steeves then combined with Abruzzese, but Daws was equal to the former’s low shot before the netminder made a good save on Abramov following a tremendous individual effort from the diminutive Marlies forward.

Abramov drew a penalty on the play, and while Toronto created some better looks, the power play remained goalless.

Woll didn’t have much work to do at the other end, but he continued to make key saves when called on. Tyce Thompson and Joe Gambardella both couldn’t solve the Marlies netminder as Utica grew frustrated with their finishing and the superb play of Woll.

Utica recorded just two shots in the final 10 minutes of regulation, although Walsh had the game on his stick for the Comets on two occasions. Gifted possession in the heart of the slot, the Comets forward whistled his shot wide following a defensive breakdown. During a messy broken play, Walsh could not beat Woll amid a scramble in the Toronto crease.

The Marlies’ victory appeared to be sealed with 58 seconds remaining when Logan Shaw won a pair of battles behind his net and sent McMann clear in the neutral zone. He could have shot himself, but McMann made the right play to set up Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, who completed the easy finish into the empty net.

That should have put the game away, but the Marlies were incredibly sloppy after the restart and paid the price. Ryan Chyzowski turned the puck over straight to Tyler Wotherspoon, who delivered a backhand finish to bring Utica within one with 10 seconds remaining.

Utica created one final scramble in front of the Toronto net before the final buzzer, but the Marlies held on to claim the two points.

Post Game Notes

– The Marlies gave up just 22 shots, but approximately half of those were from high-danger areas.

– The power play went 0/3. It’s only the third time this season Toronto has failed to score with the man advantage.

– This was the first professional three-point haul (2G/1A) for Noel Hoefenmayer, who continues to go from strength to strength offensively. His decision-making has been the most impressive facet; teams respect his big shot now, and Hoefenmayer has been forced to find other ways to create offense. Now at a point-per-game pace through 17 games, he ranks fourth among AHL defensemen in points per game (min. 10 GP).

“[Hoefenmayer] is fun to watch,” said Greg Moore. “He is a guy who really cares a lot about his craft. He loves the game of hockey. He plays with a ton of passion and energy. He is a fun guy to be around in the room. It is good to see him get some points and make a big impact in the hockey game.”

– It was a promising return to action for Bobby McMann, who has been out of action since incurring an injury on October 22. This is only his fourth game this season. I would expect him to be somewhat eased back into action this weekend.

– Two starts and two wins for Joseph Woll since returning from a long-term injury absence. The numbers (19 saves on 22 shots) understate his performance given the high number of grade-A chances for Utica.

“[Woll] looks strong,” said Moore. “Two looks now where he has gone in and made some big saves for us to win the game. He looks calm. He looks steady. He looks confident. I can’t say enough about the early impressions o his return.”

Max Ellis is a very likable player with his work ethic ever-present in his performances. A first professional goal was a nice reward for his efforts this season as he continues to try to establish himself in a role in the Marlies’ middle six.

“Every game, [Ellis] is getting better and better,” said Moore. “He certainly has a lot of speed, whether he is pressing out of the defensive zone, taking pucks up wide on the entries, or forechecking. He does a really good job of taking away the opponents’ time nad space. When he gets the puck on his stick over the blue line, he is a threat to score any time.”

Filip Král suited up for just his seventh game this season. His return from injury is a welcome addition to a young and inexperienced Marlies blue line.

Zach Solow made his Toronto Marlies debut and slotted in nicely on the fourth line. He earned the call-up after putting up 19 points (7G/12A) in 17 games for Newfoundland. The 24-year-old has previous AHL experience with Chicago and Milwaukee.

– A huge injury loss for Toronto is veteran forward Adam Gaudette. As per Toronto, he has a lower-body issue and is considered week-to-week. Joey Anderson missed the game due to the birth of his first child.

Game Highlights: Marlies 4 vs. Comets 3

Post-Game Media Availability: Hoefenmayer, Ellis & Moore