The Syracuse Crunch have been a high-octane, high-event team this season with 77 goals for and 77 against through 20 contests (an average of nearly eight goals per game).
After losing 6-4 in Belleville on Friday evening, Crunch head coach Ben Groulx demanded a response from his team, and he got one. Syracuse dominated possession and offensive-zone time for long stretches of their 3-1 win over the Marlies on Saturday.
The opening frame was a low-event 20 minutes as neither team asserted dominance over the game. Syracuse struck iron on the game’s first power play, but there we just five shots on goal between the teams through 13 minutes played (4-1 in favour of the Crunch).
The Marlies generated three opportunities of note, only one of which was a legitimate scoring chance. On separate shifts, Joey Anderson and Joseph Blandisi teed up Marshall Rifai and Graham Slaggert, respectively, on backdoor plays. Neither player could provide a telling touch to test Max Legace between the pipes.
The goaltender was only really tested on Toronto’s first power-play opportunity. Blandisi looked odds-on to score from the crease, but Legace fully stretched out his right pad to make the save.
The Marlies mustered a pair of non-threatening shot attempts inside the opening 60 seconds, but they should have fallen behind in the same time frame after they were caught gambling offensively, leading to an odd-man rush for Syracuse. Cole Koepke combined with Gemel Smith, who was stonewalled by a good left-pad save from Erik Källgren.
The Crunch finally broke the deadlock on their second power play of the game. Alex-Barre Boulet made Toronto pay for the space afforded to him in front as he lifted the puck over Källgren’s pads.
The Marlies responded in kind at the midway point when Alex Steeves — usually positioned in the right circle during the power play — snuck into the slot. Logan Shaw delivered the perfect slap pass for Steeves to tie the game at 1-1.
Syracuse was still very much in control of the game and began to spend large chunks of time in the offensive zone, with Toronto limited to clearing pucks. At times, it looked like an offense vs. defense practice drill, but for the most part, Syracuse was kept to the perimeter.
With six minutes remaining, a pair of outstanding defensive interventions kept Syracuse at bay. Mikko Kokkonen robbed Smith with a fantastic stick play when it appeared as if the Syracuse forward was in alone on Källgren. A giveaway from Nick Abruzzese to Gabriel Dumont led to a serious scare as the Crunch captain rounded Källgren, but Matteo Pietroniro made a tremendous last-ditch diving effort to break up the scoring chance.
The Marlies tested Legace just once after leveling the game. A hard-working shift from Anderson and Blandisi resulted in a broken play and a chance in the high slot, where Blandisi mustered a backhand shot that the Syracuse netminder comfortably saved.
Toronto should have taken a point from this game off of the back of an outstanding third-period performance from Källgren. The Swedish netminder made three excellent saves in the opening nine minutes on Trevor Carrick, Daniel Walcott, and Ilya Usua.
Carrick and Gage Concavles also rang shots off the crossbar as the Marlies rode their luck. That’s not to say Toronto couldn’t have taken the lead and won the game themselves if they took their chances.
Max Ellis created a breakaway for himself by intercepting a pass, but he was denied by a left-pad save as the Marlies struggled to elevate the puck over Legace. Abruzzese made a nice play to send Steeves on a partial breakaway, but he ran out of real estate before attempting a weak five-hole finish.
The home fans were not amused by an egregious piece of officiating at the six-minute mark when Zach Solow looked set to score and was hauled down in the process of getting his shot off. No call was forthcoming, and seconds later, Kokkonen was tabbed for hooking.
There was no controversy, in the end, as Syracuse didn’t convert with the man advantage. However, as the period wore on, the Crunch were the greater threat to win it in regulation.
Syracuse built on the momentum of a penalty kill by scoring 77 seconds later. A speculative shot from Declan Carlile hit Shawn Element in front, where the puck rebounded straight to the unattended Felix Robert to finish off.
There was little in the way of a rally from Toronto in the final six minutes. Even with a late power play and an extra attacker, Legace wasn’t tested as the Marlies appeared tentative and short on ideas.
An empty-net strike from Koepke put the Marlies out of their misery as Toronto slipped to their fourth home loss this season and a third in a row at Coca-Cola Coliseum.
Post Game Notes
– After an impressive start to the campaign, the Marlies’ home record is now 4-4-0.
In three straight defeats at Coca-Cola Coliseum, Toronto has scored a combined four goals.
– Erik Källgren turned aside 26 of 28 shots on his return to the AHL. His outstanding performance is nothing less than we expect from him now at this level. It’ll be interesting to see how the goaltending shakes out with the Marlies from this point. Joseph Woll, Keith Petruzzelli, and Dylan Ferguson (PTO) are all on the books along with Källgren.
“[Källgren] was great and gave us a great chance to win,” said Greg Moore. “He made some big saves and looked really composed and calm. There were a couple of tough ones on the backdoor where his athleticism and his skating allowed him to get there. You can’t say enough about the work he has put in and where he’s at in his career.”
– With the lone Marlies goal, Alex Steeves extended his point streak (2G/2A) to four games. Logan Shaw also extended his point streak to four games (1G/3A) with the primary assist on the power-play marker.
– Saturday’s lines:
Blandisi – Shaw – Anderson
Abruzzese – Der-Arguchintsev – Steeves
Slaggert – Abramov – Ellis
Chyzowski – Johnstone – Solow
Rifai – Miller
Kokkonen – Hoefenmayer
Pietroniro – Villeneueve