A choppy ice surface and some questionable officiating resulted in a somewhat disjointed performance from Toronto, but the Marlies have shown a great deal of resilience on the road this season.
They once again found a way, despite some adversity, to remain unbeaten in 2023. A ninth consecutive road win ties the franchise record set in 2015-16, and the Marlies now own the league’s best road record at 15-3-1 (.816 points percentage).
The opening exchanges were frantic as both teams could easily have netted inside the first minute of play.
After a couple of defensive mishaps, the Marlies escaped unharmed and almost caught Belleville with too many players on the wrong side of the puck. Adam Gaudette sprung Logan Shaw on a breakaway, but Kevin Mandolese rejected the Marlies‘ captain with a right pad save.
More slapdash defending from the Marlies meant Joseph Woll had to be at his best with saves on Johnathan Aspirot and Matthew Boucher.
Toronto earned the first power play of the game, but they generated nothing in the way of legitimate scoring chances despite a good chunk of the two minutes spent inside the offensive zone.
Back at even strength, the Marlies broke the deadlock at the nine-minute mark on a set breakout play. Joseph Blandisi’s perfectly-weighted pass down the left wing put Gaudette in behind the defense, creating a two-on-one break. Gaudette teed up Alex Steeves to score on a one-time shot to the glove side.
Belleville was thwarted on their first attempt with the man advantage, and the penalty was eventually negated by the hustle of Blandisi, who drew a call. However, a let-off by the Marlies with 13 seconds of four-on-four action allowed Cole Reinhardt to coast-to-coast before beating Woll with a top-shelf finish.
Toronto erased the mistake by quickly restoring their lead on the power play. Shaw applied the deft redirect from the slot on a fantastic pass from Nick Abruzzese to give the Marlies a 2-1 lead at the intermission.
The Marlies’ bench was furious with the officials in the middle frame. Tabbed for four consecutive infractions, they were incensed when a slew foot on Kyle Clifford and a high-stick on Joey Anderson (drawing blood) went uncalled.
The Marlies killed off the first penalty of the period and nearly increased their advantage at the nine-minute mark when a speculative shot from the point by Noel Hoefenmayer struck the post; the puck hit the inside of the post flush and bounced back into the blue paint for Mandolese to smother.
Pontus Holmberg could not take advantage of a rebound opportunity during a rare spell of offensive-zone time for Toronto, who almost conceded within seconds. After more disorganized play without the puck allowed Betts to escape on a breakaway, Woll made another fantastic save, and Matt Hellickson was nabbed for tripping on the play.
Egor Sokolov finished off a rebound on the resulting power play to tie the game at 2-2.
The Marlies’ penalty kill came up with two further kills to rebuff before Toronto rode its luck in the dying seconds of the period.
William Villeneuve attempted to dance across the Belleville blue line and fell, handing a breakaway to the speedy Betts. Woll came to the Marlies’ rescue again to keep it a tied game through 40 minutes.
A hooking penalty assessed to Scott Sabourin was questionable at best but unsurprising given the standard of officiating in the game. Toronto made good use of the power play to take the lead at the five-minute mark through Gaudette, whose one-time blast from the left circle beat Mandolese clean.
The Marlies took control of the game in the following minutes and should have put the score beyond doubt. Steeves was sprung on a breakaway and would have been a little disappointed with an effort that was easily turned aside.
Toronto doubled their lead around the midway mark of the period when Holmberg played a beautiful give-and-go with Clifford, sending the latter in alone on goal. He hasn’t been in the best of form lately, but Clifford delivered a top-drawer backhand finish to give the Marlies a 4-2 advantage.
Toronto’s penchant for conceding a quick goal after scoring themselves then reared its head again. Belleville responded 23 seconds later after Jacob Larsson took advantage of more sloppy play defensively from the Marlies.
To their credit, Toronto shut Belleville down in the remaining seven minutes, limiting the Senators to just four shots on goal. The Marlies generated a couple of high-quality scoring chances to reestablish their two-goal lead, but neither Steeves nor Clifford could find their second of the game.
Anderson’s missed attempt at the empty net didn’t matter in the end as Woll shut the door to win his 11th game of the season, keeping his perfect record intact.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies struck twice with the man advantage on three attempts. The league-leading power play is now registering at 29.7%.
– Joseph Woll is now 11-0-0 and has won 12 straight games if we date it back to last season. Wins are not the best statistic to judge a goaltender by, but the cliche of giving your team a chance to win has certainly applied to Woll this season. His habit of making big saves at key moments was again critical in this result, particularly his breakaway stop late in the middle frame to keep the game tied.
“At times, it was tough with how many scrambly plays were around his crease, and he is trying to sift through the mess,” said Greg Moore. “He has been consistent this year and was a big part of this win.”
– Logan Shaw is enjoying the season of his life. The power-play goal not only extended his point streak to seven games (6G/10) but also put him at 46 points in 38 games. That equals his career single-season high for points set in 63 games with the Manitoba Moose in 2018-19.
– After just a couple of points in seven games, Joseph Blandisi has found his offensive groove of late. A pair of assists extends his mini-points streak to three games (1G/4A).
– William Villeneuve recorded two assists in a performance of contrasting fortunes for the defenseman. On an ice surface that wasn’t conducive to his aggressive style of play, the rookie wasn’t deterred, and it wasn’t always pretty. This was a learning experience for him on when to pick his spots.
– Adam Gaudette was back amongst the points, registering a power-play goal and a primary even-strength assist. His line with Joseph Blandisi and Alex Steeves is worth keeping together.
– Note: D Filip Král and F Max Ellis (illness, day-to-day) will not dress for Saturday’s game.
– Friday’s lines:
Abruzzese – Shaw – Anderson
Clifford – Holmberg – Der-Arguchintsev
Steeves – Blandisi – Gaudette
Chyzowski – Abramov – Johnstone
Hoefenmayer – Villeneuve
Rifai – Miller
Hellickson – Pietroniro