The play of Erik Källgren hasn’t matched up to that of the unbeaten Joseph Woll this season.
This game was an exception. The Swedish netminder made a bunch of outstanding saves — especially in the overtime period — to allow the Marlies to claim a hard-fought two points in Laval.
With the 4-3 shootout victory, the Marlies now own a 14-2-2 record in one-goal games this season.
As was the case Friday evening, the officials played far too much of a prominent role in this game. Both teams were exasperated at the calls, beginning with a weak interference penalty on William Villeneuve.
Laval couldn’t strike on the first opportunity with the extra skater but did take advantage the second time around. After the Marlies were caught overloaded on one side of the ice, Lucas Condotta’s initial effort was denied by Källgren before Xavier Simoneau buried the rebound.
The Marlies responded well with a particularly impressive shift from the fourth line. Marc Johnstone drew a penalty, but the power play drew a blank.
Toronto tied the game inside the final five minutes after Marshall Rifai blocked a shot and reacted quickly to send Alex Steeves away in the neutral zone. The defenseman followed up the play as a 3-on-1 break developed, and Steeves dished the puck back to Rifai on his right. You might have expected the rookie blue-liner to defer, but Rifai confidently ripped a wrister into the roof of the net.
Toronto finished the period strongly and drew a penalty with four seconds left in the period. Logan Shaw was tied up on the draw, but Nick Abruzzese dove into the scrum for the loose puck and sniped into the top shelf all in one move.
A buzzer-beating goal with a second remaining on the clock gave Toronto a 2-1 lead.
It was a fast and furious start to the middle frame in which both teams could have scored.
A stretch pass completely undid the Marlies, but Källgren robbed Peter Abbandonato on the breakaway. At the other end, Pontus Holmberg and Steeves were turned aside by Poulin.
The Marlies failed to capitalize on their first power play of the period, but they were firmly in control at five-on-five. The fourth line again was excellent as they hemmed the Rocket in the defensive zone, but the Marlies wasted the momentum at the six-minute mark.
Under no pressure, Matteo Pietroniro’s careless pass was intercepted in the neutral zone, resulting in an odd-man rush for Laval. From the middle of the slot, Anthony Beauregard tied the score at 2-2 totally against the run of play.
Greg Moore immediately went back to the fourth line, and they delivered another dominating shift, drawing a penalty.
A string of penalties from that point on led to disjointed play and shortened spells of four-on-four action, with Toronto killing seconds rather than minutes of penalties.
The Marlies were fortunate to head into the intermission tied after surviving several near misses. Sloppiness in the defensive zone presented Anthony Richard with two gilt-edge chances that Källgren took care of, and on the follow-up, it was unclear whether it was the Swedish netminder or Joseph Blandisi that blocked Pierrick Dubé’s shot from point-blank range.
With one minute left on a penalty kill, Källgren turned aside four shots in two separate scrambles in the opening 25 seconds.
Five minutes into the period, Rifai threaded the needle to send Holmberg in alone on goal, but Poulin denied the first and second attempts from Holmberg, matching his counterpart at the other end.
However, Toronto drew a penalty on the same play and capitalized on the man advantage. It was another gorgeous snipe from Abruzzese, who is oozing confidence offensively with his fourth goal in his last four games.
A little over 30 seconds later, the Marlies were millimeters away from both scoring an insurance marker and giving up a tying goal. After receiving a pass from Tommy Miller, Blandisi teed up Semyon Der-Arguchintsev in the slot, but he was robbed by Poulin.
Laval then quickly transitioned the other way for a 2-on-1 break, but a tremendous hustle play from Blanidis — who got on his horse to get back from below the Laval goal line — allowed him to intercept the intended pass.
The Marlies will feel they should have scored an insurance marker at the midway mark when they swarmed the Laval zone. The Marlies were dominating for long enough to bring a fresh change into the attack, but the closest they came was a shot from Joey Anderson ringing off the post.
It was a dagger when the officials awarded a phantom penalty and the Rocket took advantage with a power-play goal with five minutes remaining. Richard’s shot from the top of the right circle tied the game at 3-3.
The mood of the Marlies didn’t improve 30 seconds later. As the fourth line was again causing Laval all kinds of problems and drew a penalty, Ryan Chyzowski appeared to score during the delayed penalty. Unbelievably, the officials deemed the whistle had been (incorrectly) blown, and the goal was waved off.
The Marlies failed to capitalize with the extra man for a third time, sending the game to extra time.
Overtime was essentially Laval versus Källgren as Toronto gave up four great scoring chances while failing to record a shot on net.
Richard, Mitchell Stephens, and Mattias Norlinder were all turned aside by some athletic goaltending from Källgren.
STOPPED BY KALLGREN.
Erik Källgren had a great game last night and made several key saves including these three in overtime.
He was the player of the game in the locker room.#MarliesLive #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/N2QhFlTmk3
— Mark (@MarkUkLeaf) January 22, 2023
With 70 seconds remaining, the Rocket simply needed to score on a 2-on-0 break. Källgren denied Rochard, and while the puck slipped into the net on the rebound, it was clearly batted in by the hand of William Trudeau.
Gaudette and Shaw scored in the shootout, while Källgren turned aside two of three to secure the victory and a franchise record-setting 10th consecutive road win.
Post Game Notes
– A 10th consecutive road victory not only set a new franchise record but also extended Toronto’s lead atop the North Division to eight points. The Marlies own a perfect 4-0-0 record against Laval with three of the victories coming at Place Bell.
– Nick Abruzzese recorded the first multi-goal game of his professional career. The two goals extended his point streak (5G/7A) to seven games.
“[Abruzzzese’s] confidence is in a good place right now,” said Greg Moore. “He has the ability to make plays in tight spaces, and off of the faceoff, it was a heck of a release. It surprised the goalie. And getting the shot off in the bumper on the power play the way he did to pick the corner was very impressive. Overall, his compete, his ability to get pucks back, and his defensive play have really improved lately.”
– Toronto’s captain picked up the primary assist on both of Abruzzese’s goals. Logan Shaw now sits second in AHL scoring with 48 points (16G/32A).
– Erik Källgren posted 23 saves for the victory, but a disproportionate number of those shots were from high-danger areas. It was a bounce-back game for the Swedish goaltender, who will hopefully take some confidence from it after some rocky performances.
“[Källgren’s] skill set lends to being strong in shootouts,” said Moore. “He is a phenomenal skater. He is really patient. He has the personality of just being calm and waiting for the player to make the first move. Huge save in the overtime to get us to the shootout, and a great job shutting the door.”
– Last but not least, the fourth line of Ryan Chyzowski – Graham Slaggert – Marc Johnstone was absolutely tremendous in this game. They drew three penalties, generated a handful of scoring chances, and were a consistent spark plug for Toronto.
– Saturday’s lines:
Abruzzese – Shaw – Anderson
Steeves – Holmberg – Gaudette
Blandisi – Abramov – Der-Arguchintsev
Chyzowski – Slaggert – Johnstone
Hoefenmayer – Villeneuve
Rifai – Miller
Hellickson – Pietroniro