The Toronto Marlies are heading into a mini-holiday break on a three-game winning streak after producing one of their best performances on home ice this season.
Against a Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins team with an excellent defensive record this year, the Marlies were clinical in front of goal and all but made sure of their W through the first 40 minutes.
The Marlies were unable to capitalize upon an early power play, but they did open the scoring just before the six-minute mark.
Another fantastic shift from the newly-formed second line had the Penguins scrambling. From the right circle, Joseph Blandisi used Jack St. Ivany as a screen and beat Dustin Tokarski with a perfectly-placed short-side, top-shelf finish.
The Penguins rarely threatened in the opening frame, but they were almost gifted a tying goal. Out to play the puck behind his net, Joseph Woll was dispossessed by Drake Caggiula, who then teed up Alex Nylander for what appeared to be a tap-in. Alert to the danger, Mac Hollowell thrust himself in front of the shot and somehow blocked it.
The Penguins weren’t gifted the luxury of getting away with their mistakes. After a misplay from WBS allowed Max Ellis to escape down the left wing with speed, Ellis picked up his own rebound, worked back up to the point, and fired another shot on goal. This time, Ryan Chyzowksi was on hand to bury the rebound to give Toronto a 2-0 lead.
Toronto wasn’t able to add to their advantage before the intermission buzzer, but they did a good job of rattling Tokarski’s cage. Strong net drives by Bobby McMann and Kyle Clifford unsettled the Penguins netminder, who was upset at the officials for letting them go.
The Marlies got off to a fast start to the middle frame, with Semyon Der-Arguchintsev and Graham Slaggert both testing Tokarski before the pressure resulted in a power play. From that moment onward, the period turned into a special-teams battle.
Toronto’s second power play of the game was a hot mess. Woll made a pair of excellent saves to deny Caggiula a shorthanded marker and hten robbed Nathan Légaré on a breakaway after the forward exited the box.
The Marlies killed off consecutive penalties while creating some good scoring chances in the process. Clifford and Blandisi were providing a constant threat to the Penguins’ power play, combining twice to test Tokarski.
Captain Logan Shaw also tested the WBS goaltender as Toronto’s relentless puck pursuit led to a power play of their own.
On the man advantage, a trademark blast from Noel Hoefenmayer appeared to take a wicked deflection, but the defencemen’s excellent recent performances have earned him a little puck luck. His power-play tally gave Toronto a 3-0 lead.
The Marlies became a little overconfident and sloppy on their next man advantage, and Woll had to make a pair of outstanding saves to turn aside Tyler Sikura and Raivis Ansons.
As the period finished with some five-on-five action, Toronto struck for the fourth time. Marshall Rifai’s point shot beat Tokarski cleanly, giving the defenseman his second goal of the season.
The Marlies should have coasted to victory, but they made life difficult for themselves despite another strong start to the period.
Adam Gaudette ripped a shot off the post 60 seconds in following a neutral-zone turnover. Clifford and Blandisi once again threatened offensively on the penalty kill, but Tokarski thwarted both chances.
Woll was then robbed of his shutout bid with 7:32 remaining. The Toronto netminder was heavily screened as Xavier Ouellet’s speculative shot through traffic found the back of the net.
WBS went for broke on a late power play, opting for the extra attacker. It paid dividends as the Penguins struck after Toronto twice failed to clear the zone. Alexander Nylander netted his 10th of the season, bringing the Penguins within a pair with 1:50 remaining in regulation.
The Marlies recomposed themselves to see out the game, with Nick Abruzzese’s empty-net goal sealing the deal on a 5-2 victory.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies head into a mini-Christmas break with a 17-8-2 record and lead the North Division by six points at the time of writing. They have won three straight and are currently on a five-game point streak (4-0-1).
– Joseph Woll turned aside 37 of 39 shots to record his fifth straight victory. Barring one misplay behind the net in the opening frame, Woll delivered another impressive performance. The best Christmas present/New Year’s resolution for the netminder: a healthy 2023. Injuries are the only thing holding back a promising career.
“It is really impressive right now how calm and easy [Woll] is making the game look,” said Greg Moore. “You wouldn’t think that he has been out with the injuries he has had and the games that he has missed. He looks like he is in mid-season form and has been playing every day for the last four years. He was really fun to watch and gave us a great chance to win a hockey game.”
– Not since the days of T.J. Brennan has Toronto had a defenseman in the lineup that could seemingly score at will like this. Noel Hoefenmayer found the net for the third straight game, and his eight goals this season are second among all AHL blueliners.
“Hoef has come leaps and bounds from last year and has a lot of confidence right now,” said Moore. “[Hoefenmayer and Rafai] both defend really hard. They both can shoot the puck really hard… Hoef gets a lot of stings, a lot of contact, and has added a lot of physicality to his game this year compared to last season.”
– In a bottom-six role for the first 19 games of the season, Joseph Blandisi produced seven points (3G/4A). Since his promotion to the second line, Blandisi has recorded 10 points (5G/5A) in five games, including a goal and an assist in this outing. He is also a key reason why the penalty kill has been much improved in recent weeks. He is going to be a difficult player to dislodge from a top six-role.
– Semyon Der-Arguchintsev extended his points streak to five games (2G/5A) with an assist on Blandisi’s 1-0 goal.
– Tuesday’s lines:
McMann – Shaw – Steeves
Abruzzese – Der-Arguchintsev – Blandisi
Clifford – Johnstone – Gaudette
Chyzowski – Slaggert – Ellis
Kokkonen – Hollowell
Rifai – Hoefenmayer
Hellickson – Pietroniro