If we’re sorting victories into categories, this Toronto Marlies win should be classified as “fortunate.”
The Marlies were badly outplayed by the visiting Comets, who led on three separate occasions before coughing up a 4-2 lead inside the final six minutes of regulation. The performance of Joseph Woll, some clinical finishing by Toronto, and a little bit of puck luck allowed the Marlies to kick off 2023 with a victory on home ice.
Three defensive-zone turnovers in the first five minutes perfectly summarized Toronto’s play in the opening frame. The Marlies did not pay the ultimate price for any of those, but they did eventually fall behind at the seven-minute mark.
Mason Geertsen, a Comets forward playing as an emergency defenseman, scored through a screen from the point.
Joseph Woll kept the deficit to just one with four excellent saves, the best of which came on Jack Dugan and Graeme Clarke.
The Marlies‘ play with the puck lacked pace, precision, and imagination in the opening frame. The shot clock may have credited Toronto with 11 shots through 20 minutes, but Comets goaltender Akira Schmid wasn’t really troubled.
The Marlies fared a little better in the middle frame thanks to some clinical finishing offensively.
Prior to tying the game, Adam Gaudette rang a shot off the post in an early power-play opportunity before a slack pass as the penalty expired almost cost them. Robbie Russo sprung from the box and took control of the loose puck to create a breakaway, but Woll came to the Marlies’ rescue with a sharp pad save.
The tying goal came as a result of an offensive-zone faceoff win by Logan Shaw on the right dot. Bobby McMann grabbed possession and shifted a few strides to his left before firing a low shot through Schmid.
Utica struck back six minutes later, taking advantage of a gift from the Marlies. The neutral-zone turnover from Toronto was avoidable, but the situation wasn’t dire as the Comets crossed the blue line in a three-on-three situation. Three Toronto skaters were standing still puck watching as Nolan Steves and Andreas Johnsson set up Clarke for a backdoor tap-in.
There was not much of a pushback from the Marlies before the tying goal arrived out of the blue. Alex Steeves’ grit and determination along the wall won back possession with an assist from Kyle Clifford, and Utica defenseman Michael Vukojevic lost his stick on the play. Vukojevic attempted to lay a block on Steeves without his stick, but the Toronto forward opened up a lane for himself and fired a shot on goal that found the net off of Schmid’s pad.
The game was tied 2-2 for all of 22 seconds.
After the Marlies lost an offensive-zone faceoff, a quick transition through an open neutral zone against a disorganized trio of Marlies led to Ryan Schmelzer breaking in alone on net. A backdoor feed put a goal on a platter for Johnsson, giving the Comets the 3-2 lead through 40 minutes.
Toronto began the third period with a power play that carried over from the middle frame, but they failed to take advantage of two man-advantage opportunities early in the third period. In between times, Woll was again the saviour with a great save on Clarke during an odd-man rush for Utica.
An insurance tally for the Comets at the six-minute mark appeared as if it might be the dagger goal for the Marlies. A broken play in the neutral zone turned into an odd-man break, and Zach Senyshyn beat Woll with a quick release to make it 4-2.
Again, there was little pushback from the Marlies after conceding. Utica outshot Toronto by a 6-1 margin in the following seven minutes and appeared to be coasting to victory.
There were a little over five minutes in regulation remaining when the Marlies finally put the Comets under some pressure and turned it into a third goal.
With the Comets collapsing down low, Shaw found McMann at the top of the circles, where he had the time to take a couple of strides and rip a shot on goal. In a role reversal, Filip Král — of all people — was crashing the net, and the puck deflected in off the rookie defenceman. Král admitted after the game, “I don’t even know how I got there!”
The Marlies have had previous clutch captains in franchise history — names like Ryan Hamilton and Ben Smith spring to mind — and the latest carrier of the ‘C’ on his jersey stepped up to the plate with 49 seconds remaining.
With Woll pulled for the extra attacker, the Marlies worked the puck to Shaw at the top of the left circle. With Joey Anderson providing a perfect screen, Shaw ripped a shot into the far corner of the net to tie the game at 4-4.
The Marlies captain almost won the game single-handedly in the dying seconds of regulation time; his drive to the net off of the right wing was broken up by a poke check from Schmid.
The Marlies stared overtime with Shaw, Král, and Kokkonen on the ice and lost the opening faceoff, but the new tactic of sending out two defensemen to start three-on-three worked out. The Marlies won back possession without giving up a shot on goal and created a fantastic chance to win the game. Those same three players combined, but Kokkonen smashed his shot against the crossbar with the goal at his mercy.
It mattered little after the Marlies netted the winner with just 73 seconds played.
Adam Gaudette won the battle for possession down low in the Toronto zone before getting on his horse and beating his man up ice. Mac Hollowell rang the puck around the boards to Anderson, who showed great hands to settle down a bouncing puck and measure a perfectly-weighted stretch pass to the surging Gaudette, sending him on a breakaway.
Gaudette went forehand-backhand before chipping the puck in behind Schmid to win the game and kick off a raucuous Marlies celebration. Goalscorers love to score, and after missing time through injury and suspension, Gaudette was elated to break a six-game scoreless streak in such a dramatic fashion.
Post Game Notes
– With the victory, the Marlies became the fourth team in the American Hockey League to register 20 wins this season. Toronto has a perfect 3-0-0 record against Utica this year with three games left in the season series. Eight points separate Toronto (first) and Utica (third) in the North Division standings, with the latter holding two games in hand.
– This was the beginning of a five-game homestand for the Marlies before they finish the month on the road. They have been strong on the road, but eight games in 16 days, including trips to Abbotsford and Manitoba, will be a grueling test.
– Bobby McMann scored for the third straight game, extending his point streak to four games (3G/3A). His first three-point haul of the season included two primary assists (on the third and fourth goals). Scoring on 15% of his shots thus far, McMann is on pace to at least match his goal tally from last season (24 goals in 61 games).
– He’s not been playing poorly of late, but Adam Gaudette has struggled to find the net since his suspension and minor injury. Before his six-game slump, Gaudette scored 12 goals in 16 games, showing incredible form in front of the net. This was his third game-winning goal of the season and his second against Utica.
“It should elevate [Gaudette’s confidence],” said Greg Moore. “Goal scorers naturally want to shoot the puck and feel the back of the net. Maybe it was a little bit of a drought for him, but in our last few games, he has maybe been our most productive individual player at creating scoring chances. He has not been playing badly. It just wasn’t finding the back of the net for him. There was a burst of emotion there to finally feel it.”
– Forgotten a little bit amongst the huge comeback and spectacular overtime winner: Joseph Woll kept his perfect start to the season intact. Woll may have allowed four goals for the first time in this campaign, but he continually came up with key saves to keep Toronto within shouting distance. During the post-game presser, Woll admitted he might want the fourth goal back, but he’s being overly critical of himself. Woll is now a perfect 7-0-0 with a .926 save percentage.
– Toronto’s captain led from the front with a three-point game (1G/2A). Logan Shaw had been a little quiet offensively of late with just two goals and zero assists through his last six games. His 33 points (11G/22A) still lead the team in scoring.
– Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Filip Král, Joey Anderson, and Mac Hollowell all returned to the lineup.
– Tuesday’s lines:
McMann – Shaw – Anderson
Abruzzese – Der-Arguchintsev – Gaudette
Clifford – Blandisi – Steeves
Slaggert – Johnstone – Ellis
Rifai – Hoefenmayer
Kokkonen – Hollowell
Král – Pietroniro