24 hours after an ugly shutout loss ended their eight-game winning streak, the Toronto Marlies responded positively with a resilient performance to get back into the win column in their rematch against Abbotsford on Wednesday night.

Despite a frustrating zero-for-five night on the power play, the Marlies outshot Abbotsford 32-23, outscored them 3-1 at five-on-five, and limited the Canucks to just six shots in the third period.

First Period

The opening frame was far from perfect, but a much-improved effort from Toronto gave them a foothold in the game.

Abbotsford was entering the Marlies‘ zone unimpeded in the early stages and almost made Toronto pay around four minutes into the game. Marc Gatcombe drifted into the hash marks and forced a good save out of Erik Källgren.

The Marlies responded by creating a couple of scoring chances of their own.

On a set breakout play, Joseph Blandisi delivered an exquisite stretch pass to send Kyle Clifford away. The veteran forward attempted to make a move around Arturs Šilovs, but he couldn’t elevate his shot over the Abbotsford goaltender’s pad.  

That “miss” wasn’t as bad as the one that followed. A smart piece of play from Noel Hoefenmayer teed up Adam Gaudette at the doorstep, but the latter missed the target with the net at his mercy.

The Canucks made Toronto regret those missed opportunities by striking first at the eight-minute mark. After it was again too easy for Abbotsford to gain the zone with possession, Chase Wouters and Arshdeep Bains combined in the slot, with the latter applying the deftest of touches to slip the puck by Källgren.

Toronto immediately found themselves on the penalty kill after falling behind. The Marlies enjoyed a little puck luck as the Canucks were unable to convert with the man advantage.

The Marlies did threaten shorthanded through Dryden Hunt, Mikko Kokkonen, and Kyle Clifford. The best opportunity fell to Clifford as Blandisi nicely orchestrated a 2-on-1 break, but Clifford’s weak finish wasted the chance.

Similar to his last victory, Källgren didn’t have a ton of work in terms of the quantity of shots faced, but he came up with key saves when Toronto needed them.

Facing a 3-on-1 break, the Swedish netminder made a pad save on Gatcomb and left no rebound.

Toronto killed a second penalty before finishing the period brightly back at even strength.  As the Marlies sustained some offensive-zone pressure in the final three minutes, Logan Shaw was denied a tying goal by a good save by Šilovs, keeping the Canucks’ 1-0 lead intact heading into the first intermission.

Second Period

The Marlies were unable to capitalize on a power play that carried over from the first period, but they did tie the game at even strength just two minutes into the middle frame.

Neutral-zone pressure resulted in a turnover, allowing Gaudette to spring in behind the Canucks defense. After his missed opportunity in the opening frame, there was no mistake this time as Gaudette delivered a tidy finish up and over the shoulder of Šilovs.

Toronto took the lead at the six-minute mark shortly after a second failed power play attempt.

After a wild clearance from Šilovs ended up high in the air, Toronto recovered possession thanks to a crushing double-team hit delivered on Jett Woo by Clifford and Marc Johnstone. The latter delivered the puck back to Marshall Rifai at the point before driving hard to the net, where the defenseman’s shot resulted in a rebound. Johnstone dove head-first into the crease to slide the puck home.

Wearing a bubble cage after taking a puck to the face the night before, everything about the goal and the build-up to it summed up what Johnstone is all about.

The Marlies should have struck again 90 seconds later. An innocuous bank pass off the neutral-zone wall from Clifford resulted in a partial breakaway for Gaudette, but there was no second of the night for the veteran forward, who was outraged by the lack of a tripping penalty on the play.

The Marlies’ power play continued to struggle, failing to create anything on a third attempt, but the penalty kill stepped up to keep the lead intact. It almost did more than that, though, as Blandisi once again shone on special teams.

His poke check on Christain Wolanin created an odd-man rush, but after a give-and-go with Clifford, Blandisi hit the post when it seemed easier to score.

Now with his legs under him after making his Marlies debut 24 hours earlier, Dryden Hunt created two scoring chances with five minutes remaining. The first resulted in a shot off the post. He also set up Alex Steeves, whose one-time shot missed wide.

Third Period

The final frame was easily Toronto’s best 20 minutes of the game at five-on-five, but Abbotsford won the special teams battle to keep themselves in it.

On either side of two power plays for Toronto, the Canucks netted a tying goal with the man advantage. Linus Karlsson scored from an acute angle with a perfectly-placed shot that appeared to handcuff Källgren.

The tying goal didn’t knock Toronto off their stride as Abbotsford recorded just two shots on net in the final 13 minutes.

As the Marlies swarmed the Canucks’ zone, Tommy Miller flubbed a shot on goal, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. From behind the goal line, Johnstone kept the play alive, creating a chance for Graham Slaggert. While Slaggert’s first effort was stopped, the livewire Johnstone circled the net and was on hand to finish off his second of the game to give the Marlies the lead.

Abbotsford’s push for a tying goal only materialized in the final minute with their net empty. After not seeing a shot for over six minutes, Källgren stayed sharp to turn aside efforts from Wyatt Kalynuk and Nils Höglander and ensure the Marlies returned to winning ways.

Post Game Notes

– In a solid rather than spectacular performance, Erik Källgren turned aside 21 of 23 shots. He came up with key saves in the opening frame and late in the game, and he appears to be getting his mojo back at the AHL level.

“You could tell there was a more confident Erik Källgren in the net just with his movement and his presence,” said Greg Moore.

– He’s adept at drawing penalties, killing penalties, and providing a spark plug for the team. Now, Marc Johnstone is producing offense. Two goals in this game were a deserved reward for doing all of the little things right.

“The fact that he even played [after taking a puck to the face on Tuesday] is remarkable,” said Moore. “It shows how tough he is as a person. For him to step up and play really well — and obviously score two big goals for us — I can’t say enough about the grit that he has.”

– I’m not always convinced of Kyle Clifford‘s usage in a top-six role for the Marlies. While he’s useful on the penalty kill, the number of plays that die on his stick can be frustrating to watch alongside skilled players at five-on-five. However, when engaged in a more simple grinding role with his size and strength, Clifford can be highly effective. We saw it on the second and third goals.

“[Cliford] did a great job,” said Moore. “I thought his line with Blandisi and Gaudette were momentum drivers for us at five on five. Even at the end of power plays when he goes out there, he gets out there with [Johnstone and Slaggert] and gets two goals. [Johnstone’s] two goals were big momentum builders at the end of power plays.”

– I was very impressed by Dryden Hunt in just his second game with the Marlies. He was driving the play at five-on-five and was responsible for creating a handful of scoring chances. It won’t be long before Hunt produces offense if he builds off of this performance.

– Wednesday’s lines:

Abruzzese – Shaw – Hunt
Clifford – Blandisi – Gaudette
Steeves – Der-Arguchintsev – Ellis
Chyzowski – Slaggert –  Johnstone

Rifai – Miller
Hoefenmayer – Kokkonen
Pietroniro – Villeneuve


Post-Game Media Availability: Slaggert, Hunt & Moore

Game Highlights: Marlies 3 vs. Canucks 2