The Toronto Marlies’ defensive issues should have resulted in their first defeat of 2023 against Rochester on Saturday. To their credit, they refused to lie down despite trailing on four different occasions for a combined 27 minutes.

The Marlies capitalized on late mistakes by Rochester to outlast them in the dying seconds of the game. With a 7-5 win, they remain unbeaten in 2023 with five consecutive victories since the turn of the new year.

First Period

The Marlies were on the back foot from the start of the game, but Joseph Woll was there to deny Rochester an early lead. The Marlies netminder turned aside shots from Brandon Biro, Lukas Rousek, Brett Murray, and Tyson Kozak to keep the game scoreless.

The Marlies rarely threatened offensively at even strength in the opening frame. Their best chance came on the power play, where Malcolm Subban was equal to Logan Shaw’s one-timer from the left circle.

Jiri Kulich broke the deadlock with 2:29 remaining to give the Amerks a 1-0 lead. He made a move around Semyon Der-Arguchintsev in the high slot before using Matt Hellickson as a screen, obscuring Woll’s view of a low shot that beat the Toronto netminder on his glove side.

The Marlies responded just 55 seconds later. Nick Abruzzese showed poise with the puck at the top of the circles to delay and shift the puck to Noel Hoefenmayer, whose initial shot was blocked before Logan Shaw literally caught the rebound, dropped the puck, swiveled, and scored with a top-shelf finish.

Second Period

Alex Steeves sustained an injury and remained in the dressing room to begin the second period. It seemed as though the rest of the team stayed there with him mentally as the Marlies surrendered a goal just 19 seconds in.

A turnover along the wall followed by missed assignments in the defensive zone resulted in an easy goal for Mason Jobst.

After a sneaky shot from Hoefenmayer wound its way through traffic and struck the post, the near-miss seemed to inject some life into the Marlies’ legs.

Logan Shaw won an offensive-zone faceoff to Joey Anderson, whose initial shot rebounded off the backboards and out to the opposite side of the net, where William Villeneuve was on hand to finish it off.

The Marlies were now controlling the game and pressing for the next goal before a needless penalty halted their momentum. Woll held the Amerks at bay, frustrating both Murray and Rosen, although Rochester didn’t have to wait much longer for their third goal.

Despite two incredible saves from Woll on Lawrence Pilut and Jobst on odd-man rush, the latter finished off the loose puck from the crease.

Third Period

Trailing 3-2 with 20 minutes remaining, the Marlies got off to the worst possible start to the final frame. After chasing the puck around the defensive zone, they conceded a goal to Jeremy Davies inside 35 seconds.

There wasn’t an immediate response, but a piece of individual brilliance sparked the Marlies at the five-minute mark. Abruzzese took a pass from Joseph Blandisi at the Amerks’ blue line and got in behind the defenseman before delivering a perfect backdoor feed to set up Marc Johnstone for his first-ever AHL goal.

A beloved member of the locker room, Johnstone was mobbed by his teammates, and he goal immediately went to the Marlies’ legs — including Johnstone himself, who drew a penalty on his next shift.

After an unsusccessful power play, the game meandered for the next six minutes, and it appeared Rochester was attempting to lock down the game with a 4-3 lead. It didn’t work as some static defending from the Amerks led to Blandisi and Mikhail Abramov teeing up Johnstone for his second goal of the game.

After fighting back to tie the game at 4-4 with 6:39 remaining, Toronto coughed up a fifth goal just 46 seconds later. A lofted neutral-zone pass from Anders Bjork looped in behind Hellickson and the Marlies defense as Jobst finished in alone on Woll.

Rochester has struggled to hold leads late in games this season, though, and the Marlies ensured that trend continued.

He wasn’t awarded a point on the play, but Joey Anderson was instrumental in the 5-5 goal, winning possession back on a dump-and-chase play with a strong puck retrieval on the forecheck. Anderson sent the puck out to the slot to Hoefenmayer, whose bomb of a shot was blocked before a miscued clearance was picked up by Shaw. The Marlies captain teed up Hoefenmayer for a second attempt that beat Subban clean.

Woll came up with a couple of sharp saves as he continued to battle and make timely stops despite the five goals against. Toronto was under pressure in the final 30 seconds, but a blocked shot by Mikko Kokkoken helped spring a counter-attack the other way.

Nice tape-to-tape interplay between Shaw and Anderson led to a back-post feed to Abruzzese, who didn’t produce the cleanest finish by his own admission, but they don’t ask how when it’s a game-winner with nine seconds remaining.

Anderson sealed the Marlies’ victory with an empty-net goal to cap off another remarkable comeback victory for the franchise history books.

Post Game Notes

– It might sound odd, but Joseph Woll produced another solid performance despite the 7-5 scoreline. None of the goals could be laid at his feet, and he kept the Marlies within reaching distance on numerous occasions. His save percentage dropped from .935 to .926, but most importantly, he’s now 10-0-0 on the season.

– A five-point game (1G/4A) for Logan Shaw makes him the first Toronto player to achieve the feat since T.J. Brennan in 2016 (stat courtesy of Todd Crocker).

“[Shaw] finds a way to always have an impact in different ways,” said Greg Moore. “I think he impacted every square inch of the rink. He is our captain for a reason. He leads the team, and the group as a whole never quit and gave up.”

Nick Abruzzese extended his point streak (2-5-7) to four games with a three-point haul (1G/2A). This was maybe his best offensive game of the season at five-on-five. The game-winning goal was his 10th of the season.

– After four games without a point, Noel Hoefenmayer bounced back with the game-tying goal (5-5) and an assist. He led all Toronto skaters with five shots and also hit a post.

– Two assists for Joseph Blandisi was his first multi-point haul since December 20, 2023. Blandisi and Marc Johnstone were sparkplugs for the Marlies in this game with the team down to 11 forwards.

– Three games without a point? That doesn’t bother Joey Anderson, who produced a three-point haul (1G/2A). He was the architect of the game-tying goal with a strong forecheck. Anderson was back at his effective best.

Marc Johnstone is a very easy player to root for, and it was fantastic to see him pot his first two AHL goals. He’s not a flashy player, but he’s effective through all three zones and has a knack for goading opponents into penalties.

“We have been waiting for [Johnstone] to put a puck in the net for quite a while,” said Moore. “It is not due to a lack of chances or ability. He has had some good looks, and they just haven’t hit the back of the net. In so many other areas of the game, he does so much for us. We were really happy for him tonight to get those.”

– As per Greg Moore, Alex Steeves sustained a lower-body injury.

– This was the first of eight straight road games for the Marlies, the first four of which are against divisional rivals.

– Saturday’s lines:

Abruzzese – Shaw – Anderson
Clifford – Der-Arguchintsev – Gaudette
Steeves – Blandisi – Johnstone
Chyzowski – Abramov –  Ellis

Rifai – Hoefenmayer
Pietroniro – Kokkonen
Hellickson – Villeneuve


Game Highlights: Marlies 7 vs. Americans 5

Post-Game Media Availability: Johnstone, Abruzzese & Moore