“It was a weird, weird game. It lacked a lot of flow and there were weird bounces all over the rink.”
Greg Moore was accurate in his assessment of the Toronto Marlies‘ 6-5 win over Milwaukee on Saturday. The first period — which could easily have its own article dedicated to it — was unlike anything I’ve witnessed before in the American Hockey League.
Just as they did on Friday night, the Marlies gave up an early goal. Milwaukee pulled them apart with a swift passing movement that ended with a tap-in for Phil Tomasino.
The Admirals then earned the first power play of the game, but instead of surging to an early 2-0 lead, Toronto tied the game at 1-1. Logan Shaw seized on a misplay just outside the Marlies‘ blue line and made good on the breakaway with a tidy backhand finish.
The Marlies then struck twice in 22 seconds to give them a 3-1 lead inside nine minutes.
A fantastic forecheck from the fourth line resulted in a puck recovery deep in the Milwaukee zone. The puck was switched back up to the point, where Noel Hoefenmayer’s point shot found a way through traffic.
Immediately afterward, Joseph Blandisi — who I’ve waxed lyrically about for the past few games — came up trumps again. Spencer Stastny attempted to catch William Villeneuve’s flipped pass and failed before Blandisi seized on the loose puck. In one seamless move, he kicked the puck to his stick and sent a perfectly-weighted pass to his right for Semyon Der-Arguchintsev to finish off from the slot.
The Marlies seemed to be in complete control until a sudden implosion at the 12-minute mark, conceding two goals in 17 seconds.
A turnover behind the goal line from Marshall Rifai proved costly as Milwaukee swiftly moved the puck to Stastny in the high slot, where his shot was deflected in front by Keifer Sherwood.
From low on the right wall, Zach Sanford crashed the net unimpeded before Tim Schaller netted on the rebound.
It was now a tied game after six goals in just 12 minutes and 27 seconds.
What hadn’t happened at this point? A big hit or fight. We got both inside the final five minutes.
After Navin Mutter crushed Mikhail Abramov in the neutral zone with a clean hit, Hoefenmayer wasn’t impressed and took off after the Milwaukee forward. The Toronto defenseman earned two, five, and 10 for his troubles and had to watch on as the Marlies’ penalty kill went back to work.
For the second time in the period, Toronto struck while shorthanded. Blandisi crossed the offensive blue line and scored with a low long-range effort that crept inside the post.
That spelled the end of the night for goaltender Yaroslav Askarov, who was yanked in favour of Devin Cooley.
The Marlies headed into the intermission holding a 4-3 lead after one of the wildest first periods in franchise history. Four goals on six shots, two shorthanded goals, and a pair of goals inside 22 seconds.
The Marlies killed the remainder of a penalty to begin the middle frame, but they needed to withstand a lot of pressure as Milwaukee searched for a tying goal.
Erik Källgren was resilient after a tricky first period, stringing together six saves in four minutes, the best of which was a right-pad stop on John Leonard following a bad line change. The Marlies dodged a bullet shortly afterward as Markus Nurmi whistled a shot wide when alone in the slot.
From out of the blue, the Marlies increased their advantage. Toronto quickly transitioned the puck after winning possession in the defensive zone, but there didn’t appear to be much danger in the air with numbers back for the Admirals. Blandisi and Der-Arguchintsev combined before Abruzzese found the net with a deftly-tipped one-handed finish.
That was now five goals scored on eight shots for the Marlies.
Källgren continued to keep Milwaukee at bay at the other end as the Admirals attempted to rally. A frustrated Cole Schneider was robbed twice in as many seconds by the Toronto netminder as the Admirals continued to dominate five-on-five play.
The Admirals did finally get on the board in the middle frame with a power-play tally. Toronto’s penalty kill wasn’t at its best for once, and Leonard scored his third goal of the season to bring Milwaukee within one.
The Marlies exercised some excellent game management in the final frame. Milwaukee was limited to eight shots on goal and just two high-danger scoring chances.
There was, however, one moment of fortune for Källgren at the three-minute mark. An ugly misplay behind his goal line presented Tommy Novak with an open goal, and he placed the puck into the empty net — or at least that’s what the officials first thought. After a video review, it was clear that the puck struck the crossbar flush and bounced back into play.
After that close call, the Marlies rarely threatened to add an insurance marker. The closest they came was on a power play, but Abruzzese and Shaw were both denied by last-ditch shot blocks.
Toronto appeared to make sure of victory with an empty-net goal from Graham Slaggert with 78 seconds remaining, but Milwaukee refused to lie down, striking through Jimmy Huntingdown to again draw within one.
The Marlies stood firm during the final 19 seconds to record a 6-5 victory and complete a weekend sweep of Central Division opposition.
Post Game Notes
– This is the first time in December that Toronto has won consecutive games. The Marlies are now 4-0-0 on the road through December, and they’ve found a scoring touch away from home with a combined 19 goals in those victories.
“The guys have done a good job of having a kind of warrior’s mentality when they go into other team’s buildings,” said Greg Moore.
– Two shorthanded goals doubled Toronto’s total for the season.
– The Joseph Blandisi train is racing down the tracks. A three-point haul (1G/2A) extends his point streak to four games (4G/4A). To think he was a free agent last season, and no team wanted to acquire him until an injury crisis led to Toronto adding him on a PTO.
– Speaking of four-game point streaks, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev (2G/4A) scored a goal and an assist, moving him back up to a point-per-game pace through 24 games (8G/16A).
– Noel Hoefenmayer scored for the second time over the weekend, giving the defenseman five goals in his last seven outings.
– It was a confidence-boosting weekend for Nick Abruzzese — and not just because he scored in consecutive games. The rookie was far tidier defensively and dynamic offensively on a line with SDA and Blandisi. Greg Moore should keep that trio together whenever possible.
– Adam Gaudette has now fully served his suspension, but he missed this game due to an illness.
– Saturday’s lines:
McMann – Shaw – Steeves
Abruzzese – Der-Arguchintsev – Blandisi
Chyzowski – Abramov – Ellis
Centazzo – Slaggert – Johnstone
Kokkonen – Miller
Rifai – Hoefenmayer
Pietroniro – Villeneuve