Without Joey Anderson (call-up) and Adam Gaudette (suspension), the Toronto Marlies were still able to generate enough offense to take down a very talented Syracuse team on Friday night.
The two points came in large part thanks to goaltender Keith Petruzzelli, who was (rightfully) awarded the first star for keeping Toronto in the game through the first 40 minutes.
The Marlies came out the gate with purpose, controlling the opening minutes and drawing the game’s first penalty.
However, that’s where it began to unfold for Toronto. Not only was the power play unsuccessful, but the Crunch struck 10 seconds after the penalty expired.
As Alex Barré-Boulet exited the box, Darren Raddysh sent the Syracuse forward away with a stretch pass. Barré-Boulet, a high-end goal scorer at the AHL level, outwaited everybody — including Petruzzelli — and tucked it in beautifully on the near post.
The ice was now tilted, and Shawn Element could and probably should have made it 2-0 just a minute later. Petruzzelli robbed him from the doorstep, the first of a series of fantastic saves in the first frame.
Gabriel Fortier, Simon Ryfors (twice), and Daniel Walcott (thrice) will all feel they should have gotten on the scoresheet, but Toronto’s goaltender was standing on his head.
The Marlies responded to the inspiration from their netminder by tying the game against the run of play. A harmless-looking dump-and-chase play instigated by Tommy Miller was kept alive by Logan Shaw in the far left corner, where Toronto’s captain won possession and immediately dished the puck off to Alex Steeves in the left circle. Steeves delivered a perfect backhand finish to tie the game at 1-1.
The following sentence is not an error: Toronto took a 2-1 lead with their 28th power-play goal this season. Joseph Blandisi batted home a mid-air rebound after Hugo Alnefelt initially saved Steeves’ shot from the right circle.
Toronto’s penalty kill went to work late in the period, keeping the one-goal lead intact heading into the intermission.
It was another bright start to a period for the Marlies, who killed the remainder of the penalty and set about their search for an insurance marker. Nice interplay from Max Ellis and Mikhail Abramov deserved a better fate than a deflected shot high into the netting.
The power play was unable to connect for a second time, but at even strength, Toronto continued to hold the edge. Alex Steeves was twice denied by Hugo Alnefelt, who was keeping his team within striking distance. The Crunch netminder also pulled off a sharp save on Mikko Kokkonen as the game approached the midway mark.
That was Toronto’s last shot on goal for over eight minutes as Syracuse took command of the middle frame in the second half. The Crunch were unable to capitalize on consecutive power plays as Toronto’s penalty kill and Petruzzelli remained resolute.
Fortier, Ryfors, and Felix Robert were all frustrated by the Toronto netminder, who faced 27 shots by the end of 40 minutes.
A late chance for Semyon Der-Arguchintsev after excellent work from Nick Abruzzese and Blandisi was as close as the Marlies came to padding their lead in the middle 20.
In stark contrast to the first two periods, the Marlies were asleep to start the third period, conceding an odd-man break off of the opening faceoff and taking a penalty 12 seconds in.
The Marlies’ PK again responded admirably to the task at hand. Syracuse failed to record a shot on goal and then found themselves trailing 3-1 inside three minutes.
It’s been a rough go of late for Abruzzese, so it was great to see him contribute to the Marlies’ insurance marker. After his intended pass was blocked, he picked up the loose puck and sent it into the wheelhouse of Der-Arguchintsev positioned at the top of the right circle.
Maybe he was inspired by Mitch Marner’s recent goal against the LA Kings; Arguchintsev smashed a one-time shot past Alnefelt.
Toronto’s penalty killing remained perfect, denying Syracuse for a fifth and final time to keep the two-goal advantage intact. At the other end, a Marlies power play provided opportunities for both teams.
While Bobby McMann couldn’t solve Alnefelt on the doorstep, Toronto became a little sloppy in possession. Darren Raddysh looked likely to draw his team within one, but Petruzzelli pulled off another 10-bell save to bail out his team.
Back at five-on-five, the Marlies were on a more even keel and did a good job of limiting possession and zone time for the Crunch.
The Crunch pulled Alnefelt with five minutes left, a desperation move that didn’t pay off. Selfless work from McMann and Steeves resulted in an empty net tap-in for the latter.
Syracuse left their goaltender on the bench and struck through Gemel Smith with a little under three minutes left on the clock. It was rough justice for Petruzzelli, who was amazing in this game, but he was unsighted on the Crunch’s second goal.
There was no miraculous comeback, though, and after some missed chances to score a second into the empty net, the Marlies found their fifth goal through Blandisi with one second remaining.
Post Game Notes
– Despite a rotating cast of personnel, the Marlies power play continues to score at a high rate. 28 in 22 games is an incredible pace, and it got me looking at the record books. Toronto’s single-season high for power-play goals is 101, set in their inaugural season. That was when the league played an 80-game schedule. The Marlies’ current pace is 91.
– After his five-game point streak (2G/3A) ended in the last outing, Alex Steeves stepped up with a three-point haul (2G/1A). With the team missing Joey Anderson and Adam Gaudette, it’s a great sign that Steeves stepped up to the plate.
“It was a big night for Steeves,” said Greg Moore. “He is a player that we really relied on last year. He is coming into his second season now, and I think he has been a little bit frustrated with how things have been going for him. He still has points and is doing well, but for himself, last game was really good, and this game was a big one to help our team win.”
– Joseph Blandisi made a huge impact after joining Toronto last season on a PTO — not just with point production, but also with leadership, general attitude, and a consistent performance level. Like Steeves, Blandisi really stepped up in this game. The empty net goal didn’t matter, but the power-play tally was critical to the win.
– His statistics have suffered in recent starts due to lacking team performances, but Keith Petruzzelli has not let it affect him. Once again he brought his A-game and was the key reason the Marlies left Syracuse with two points.
“There had been a stretch of games where [Petruzzelli] hadn’t played, and then when he did get in, he lost a little bit of the momentum he had built early in the season,” said Moore. “This game was impressive. It looked more like the start of the year with the game he gave us.”
– Tommy Miller recorded his first AHL points with a pair of assists. The rookie defenseman has adjusted well to the rigours of the AHL considering he was slated to spend the season in Newfoundland and now finds himself with significant responsibilities in the AHL.
“[Miller]’s been impressive,” said Moore. “He didn’t start the season with us, and when he came up at a time when there were a lot of injuries in our organization, he was thrown into the top pairing against top lines in a league he hadn’t played in yet. He has had a lot of consistency. He identifies with being a shutdown defenseman, moves the puck, makes sound decisions, and always finds a 10-foot pass. We’ve leaned on him a lot, and he’s done a great job.”
– Back in the AHL and back on the scoresheet, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev scored the game-winner and assisted on the fourth goal to take him to the 20-point mark this season (7G/13A).
– Lineup notes: Adam Gaudette was handed a three-game suspension for the hit on Viktor Lodin. Noel Hoefenmayer returned to the line-up after an illness. Zach O’Brien has been reassigned to Newfoundland. Joseph Woll missed the game due to an illness and is considered day-to-day.
– Friday’s lines:
McMann – Shaw – Steeves
Abruzzese – Der-Arguchintsev – Blandisi
Chyzowski – Abramov – Ellis
Centazzo – Slaggert – Johnstone
Kokkonen – Miller
Rifai – Hoefenmayer
Pietroniro – Villeneuve