The Toronto Marlies remain unbeaten in 2023 for one reason: Joseph Woll.
The Marlies netminder produced perhaps the best performance of his professional career to date, leading his team to a regulation victory in a game it had no business winning against Laval on Sunday.
“We should’ve given Woll a better effort,” said Greg Moore. “I think there are a lot of guys in the room that would like to have this game back and do a better job for Woller.”
The Marlies took the lead against the run of play just before the five-minute mark. Seconds after Mikko Kokkonen made a tremendous defensive play to break up a two-on-one break, a floated pass down the middle of the ice from Mac Hollowell created a breakaway.
After Adam Gaudette made no mistake with a forehand-to-backhand move to beat Kevin Poulin, the Rocket were upset with the officials, claiming the play was offside (it was certainly a close call).
Five minutes later, Laval tied the game on their first power play of the game. After Woll made a couple of excellent stops, poor coverage allowed Teasdale room in the slot to tie the game at 1-1.
Joseph Blandisi blazed a shot wide of the target from above the hash marks on a rare Toronto offensive foray, but otherwise, it was one-way traffic toward the Marlies‘ net.
Joel Teasdale and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, in particular, were bemused as to how they didn’t score in the final 10 minutes of the opening frame.
Laval has a reputation for shooting from anywhere and everywhere. That was not the case in the first period, with 15 shots from the top of the circles or below.
Woll was at his best during a late penalty in which Toronto survived a five-on-three for 37 seconds. The Marlies netminder turned aside 19 shots to keep the game tied heading into the first intermission.
The Marlies killed the remainder of a penalty amid a strong start to the middle frame.
A stretch pass from Marc Johnstone released Graham Slaggert, who led an odd-man rush. Slaggert’s low shot was easily turned aside to safety by Poulin as the chance evaporated.
After a penalty to Blandisi halted Toronto’s bright start to the period, a special teams battle ensued. The Marlies won that battle, killing a pair of penalties and netting on the power play.
Just past the midway point, Bobby McMann’s heads-up play led to the lone goal of the period. He traversed the zone to present a passing option and fired a nice shot from the top of the circle through a screen by Joey Anderson.
Woll wasn’t as busy in the second period, but he still pulled off six saves of note (10 in all) to keep Laval off the board.
The Marlies again began a period by killing the remainder of a penalty before adding an insurance marker at the four-minute mark.
It came off of a set play after Gaudette won a faceoff back to Kokkonen at the left point. The Finnish defenseman’s shot was expertly redirected by Alex Steeves as Gaudette’s screen took away Poulin’s eyes. Toronto led 3-1 after scoring on just their 15th shot.
Far too often this season, the Marlies have given up a quick goal after scoring, and this game was no different. Laval struck 70 seconds later on a delayed penalty.
A mad scramble in the crease saw Woll pull off two quick reflex saves only to be let down by his back-tracking teammates as Gabriel Bourque scooped the rebound past the netminder.
Kyle Clifford led a three-on-one break, but he delayed his decision too much, eventually delivering a pass off the mark.
Woll kept the door shut with six consecutive saves, including one under severe pressure as Rem Pitleck crashed the net, leaving the goaltender flat on his back. The shenanigans that followed resulted in off-setting penalties and four-on-four action.
A handful of seconds after those penalties expired, Abruzzese dispossessed William Trudeau at the Marlies’ blue line to set an odd-man rush in motion. The rookie forward dished the puck off to his left to McMann, who showed a great deal of composure with a lofted finish into the roof of Poulin’s net.
Holding a 4-2 lead with a little under 10 minutes remaining, the Marlies relied on Woll to bail them out. Laval recorded 18 shots after falling behind by two goals, pulling Poulin from the action with four minutes remaining.
McMann inexplicably hit the post on an empty net as his hat-trick goal escaped him. It mattered not, as the Marlies and Woll stood firm to record a third straight victory to start 2023.
Post Game Notes
– What a remarkable season it’s been so far for Joseph Woll with eight wins in eight starts and a .934 save percentage. Stopping 56 of 58 shots was a fantastic effort; rarely was he scrambling, even during intense flurries or melees in the crease. He’s no stranger to making huge quantities of saves in a single game having previously turned aside 57 of 60 shots against Laval in May 2021.
“Really impressive,” said Moore. “He has the athleticism to make the big saves when he needs to. Something he has been working on in the last few years is not relying on athleticism but making the game calm and simple, which he does. He uses the athleticism when he needs to do bail us out with the chances and quality of chances we allowed against.”
– Bobby McMann recorded a pair of goals for the second time this season, extending his point streak to six games (5G/4A).
“McMann had a great game not only in scoring but doing some heavy lifting for us driving the game and helping us get out of our zone, which we spent a lot of time in,” said Moore.
– The Marlies killed six of seven penalties and scored on one of two power play opportunities. “Power play and goaltending was key for us in the game,” said Moore.
– Three consecutive home victories for Toronto is their best streak this season at Coca-Cola Coliseum.
– Sunday’s lines:
McMann – Shaw – Anderson
Abruzzese – Der-Arguchintsev – Blandisi
Clifford – Gaudette – Steeves
Slaggert – Abramov – Johnstone
Král – Hoefenmayer
Kokkonen – Hollowell
Rifai – Villeneuve