The Toronto Marlies have no intention of coasting into the new year.
Tuesday night’s 4-2 win in Belleville — their sixth consecutive victory — was earned on the back of an outstanding performance from Joseph Woll and an offensive outburst in the middle frame.
Looking to avenge their Boxing day defeat, Belleville threw the kitchen sink at the Marlies in the opening frame. The Senators dominated possession and offensive zone time, ultimately leading to a Belleville power play at the eight-minute mark.
Toronto’s penalty kill gave up two late chances, but it was otherwise superb. Joseph Woll stepped up to the mark with consecutive saves on Ridley Greig and Angus Crookshank from the slot.
The Marlies‘ best chance of the period at five-on-five arrived seconds after the kill. A stretch pass sent Adam Gaudette on a partial breakaway, but Mads Sogaard made the save and the rebound was swept away to safety.
Belleville threatened in flurries thereafter, but Woll wasn’t going to be beaten. His best save of the period (there were a few to choose from) came on Alex Breton on the doorstep as Toronto was out of sorts on a broken play.
With the animosity between the Ontario rivals showing no signs of cooling off, a fight broke out between Noel Hoefenmayer and Jayce Hawryluk behind the play. There was hardly a punch thrown as the pair quickly tumbled to the ice, with the Belleville forward definitely coming out the worse for wear.
Toronto’s reliable power play delivered with a little under four minutes remaining to give the Marlies a 1-0 lead. From behind the goal line, Nick Abruzzese delivered an inch-perfect pass back out to Logan Shaw positioned at the high slot, where the captain’s one-time shot through traffic gave Sogaard no chance.
Belleville finished the frame on the power play, and despite another fantastic late chance for Greig, Woll shut the door to take a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
After weathering the best Belleville had to offer in the opening 20 minutes, Toronto took the game to the Senators in the middle frame.
Shaw set Gaudette on a breakaway just 29 seconds in, but Sogaard came to the Senators’ rescue.
Toronto then doubled their lead at the two-minute mark when Max Ellis won possession in the neutral zone before crossing the blue line with Mikhail Abramov in tow. The latter appeared to be going wide on his backhand before cutting inside to the middle of the ice, leaving two defenders floundering. Abramov delivered an emphatic top-shelf finish that beat Sogaard clean.
Abruzzese must have wondered how he didn’t score in the second period. His five-hole attempt was denied on a breakaway, and then he was involved in a play with Joseph Blandisi and Abramov that would have been a contender for goal of the season. After starting the movement, Abruzzese ended up as the recipient at the backdoor, but he was completely robbed by the Senators netminder on what appeared to be a certain goal.
Toronto’s penalty kill — a consistent threat this season offensively — struck to give the Marlies a 3-0 lead. Moments after Marc Johnstone couldn’t convert on a breakaway, his shot resulted in a huge rebound that was finished off by Graham Slaggert.
Belleville responded immediately with a power-play tally. It was a letoff mentally from Toronto, who allowed Jarid Lukosevicius to waltz unmarked into the slot, where his pinpoint wrist shot gave Woll no chance.
Woll bounced back quickly to ensure the Senators weren’t able to gain any further traction by denying Cole Reinhardt on a solo break.
The Marlies further demonstrated their special-teams superiority in the second period by netting a power play goal of their own. Bobby McMann rifled one home from the slot, giving Toronto a 4-1 lead through 40 minutes.
Blandisi missed the final four minutes of the second period, but he did return for the final frame. Semyon Der-Arguchintsev was left in the locker room with an ailment, leaving Toronto down a forward for the third period.
It was almost a perfect 20 minutes for the Marlies as far as executing sound game management with a three-goal lead. They took very few risks without going totally retreating into a shell.
Their only chance of note to pad their lead arrived on a power play where a pass from Alex Steeves split the Belleville penalty kill, but Sogaard rose to the occasion with another fantastic save to deny Ellis.
There was little in the way of a threat from Belleville until Logan Shaw was assessed a double minor with 2:35 remaining. In the time remaining, the Marlies became very frustrated with an officiating crew that allowed Woll to be to run into three times.
Inexplicably, Toronto found themselves facing a 6-on-3 after one such scrum in the crease, with Matteo Pietroniro assessed a roughing penalty for protecting his goaltender. It was no surprise when Belleville scored through Scott Sabourin.
Had the score line been closer, all hell would have broken loose, but the Marlies saw out the final 40 seconds to record their 12th road win this season.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies’ sixth straight victory and 19th this season ensures they will end 2022 with the best record (points percentage) in the North Division. That means Greg Moore will represent Toronto at the AHL All-Star weekend as coach of the North Division.
“It is certainly an honour, but it isn’t really a representation of me as much as it is our entire organization,” said Moore. “The work that our players have put in, our coaching staff, our support staff, and management — it has been really fun working with this group this year. I am just really proud to be the person who gets to represent our team at the event.”
– Toronto’s shorthanded goal was their fifth this season. The power play connected for the 34th time and continues to convert at a ridiculous 28.3% this season.
– Nick Abruzzese recorded his second multi-point game in five outings with a pair of primary power-play assists. He is continuing to rediscover his groove offensively after some struggles at the start of this month.
– Goaltending continues to be undoubtedly Toronto’s greatest strength this season. Joseph Woll turned aside 36 of 38 shots to post his sixth consecutive win and remain unbeaten this season. Along with special teams, he was the main difference in the first period with 17 saves.
– Logan Shaw broke a two-game pointless run with the opening goal. He’s the first Marlies player to reach the 30-point mark this season (10G/20A). The captain leads his team in power-play goals (6), short-handed goals (2), and assists (20).
– Kyle Clifford was absent with an upper-body injury and is considered day-to-day.
– According to Greg Moore, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev sat out the third period with a lower-body injury. It will be incredibly frustrating if SDA has to miss significant time as he’s been playing the best hockey of his career in recent weeks. He assisted on the first goal of the game to extend his point streak to seven games (2G/5A).
– Wednesday’s lines:
Steeves – Shaw – Gaudette
Abruzzese – Der-Arguchintsev – Blandisi
McMann – Abramov – Ellis
Chyzowski – Slaggert – Johnstone
Kokkonen – Hoefenmayer
Rifai – Pietroniro
Hellickson – Villeneuve