The Toronto Marlies have become comfortable playing in and winning tight hockey games in the month of January.
Nine of their 10 games were decided by a single goal (excluding empty-netters), with the latest one coming in large part thanks to another excellent performance from Joseph Woll against the Manitoba Moose on Friday night.
The Marlies got off to a bright start and held the upper hand in the opening seven minutes.
Joseph Blandisi sent Adam Gaudette on a breakaway, but Gaudette was stopped on his backhand attempt. With Arvid Holm scrambling out of position after the save, the Marlies couldn’t get the puck over the line during a flurry of action around the net.
The deadlock was broken shortly afterward at the six-minute mark. Gaudette cut out an east-to-west pass in the Marlies zone, creating a partial breakaway for himself. He did well to fight off the backcheck pressure from Leon Gawanke before delivering a low forehand finish past Holm.
The Marlies were fortunate not to allow a tying goal within 90 seconds. A horrific giveaway from Logan Shaw presented Jansen Harkins with the puck in the slot, but the Moose forward fired wide.
Toronto’s stuttering power play failed to fire the first time of asking before the penalty kill was made to work inside the final five minutes of the opening frame.
Dominic Toninato was robbed at point-blank range by Joseph Woll, who then faced a barrage on a five-on-three penalty kill in the final 37 seconds.
Alex Limoges (x2) and Jeff Malot were stonewalled by Woll from close range, Tommy Miller blocked one shot, and Gawanke hit the post as Toronto survived a frenetic finish to the first period.
The Marlies killed the remainder of the two penalties but struggled to find their footing back at five-on-five.
Manitoba was causing problems by generating offense from behind the goal line, including at the six-minute mark when Daniel Torgersson should have scored from close range. Woll smothered the danger, and Toronto got away with some loose defensive coverage.
The Marlies’ power play continued to struggle and was fortunate not to concede a shorthanded marker. Woll denied Henri Nikkanen on an odd-man rush for the Moose.
In between times, Henri Nikkanen nearly made Toronto pay for another defensive breakdown, but Woll was there again with another outstanding stop.
After getting outplayed for the majority of the middle frame, the Marlies took control in the last two minutes. The result was some sustained offensive-zone pressure and a late goal.
A point shot from William Villeneuve produced a rebound that Semyon Der-Arguchintsev only needed to tap in from close range. It may have been an easy finish for SDA, but it was a reward for continually going to the right areas.
A late-period goal gave the Marlies some confidence coming out for the third period as they stifled Manitoba offensively, allowing just one shot of note through the opening 12 minutes.
Offensively, Toronto threatened to add an insurance marker. The trio of Alex Steeves, Der-Arguchintsev, and Max Ellis, in particular, was causing the Moose all kinds of problems in their defensive zone.
While they weren’t able to capitalize on a couple of half chances and scrambles in the crease, Toronto drew a penalty at the midway mark. It was a poor effort with the man advantage, and the Moose built some momentum off of the back of the penalty kill.
Another play originating from below the goal line resulted in a scoring chance in the slot for Greg Meireles. After facing very few shots through 15 minutes, Woll pulled off yet another point-blank save on a grade-A opportunity.
After Manitoba pulled Holm with two minutes remaining, the Marlies should have sealed the game with an empty-net goal on a couple of occasions. Instead, Manitoba made it a one-goal game with 64 seconds left on the clock.
It was apparent to everyone watching that the Moose were looking to set up a one-time play for Gawanke, but the Marlies afforded him the space, and Woll was beaten by a screaming shot through traffic.
There was more than enough time left for a dramatic finish in an adrenaline-filled final minute of the game. Manitoba should have allowed the Marlies to touch the puck during a delayed high-sticking penalty on Steeves, but Moose continued to play on and created two chances of note. Woll shut the door on Gawanke and Malott before Toronto touched the puck.
Facing a six-on-four with four seconds remaining, Logan Shaw couldn’t win or tie up the draw, but the Moose didn’t get a shot off in time to test Woll one last time.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies’ lead atop the North Division has grown to 10 points, with none of their rivals able to match their level of consistency. It’s a huge 17- and 18-point gap between Toronto and Rochester and Syracuse in third and fourth, respectively, although they both have three games in hand. Toronto now leads the AHL with 18 road victories in 23 games.
– The power play (zero for four) looked more cohesive than the last game in Abbotsford, but it isn’t creating the same number of chances as before. Perhaps it’s personnel-related with the call-ups (Joey Anderson & Bobby McMann), a little bit of regression was inevitable, or a mix of both.
– Joseph Woll turned aside 30 shots for his 12th victory in 13 games. A strong argument could be made that this was his best performance this year. He made at least seven saves on high-danger chances for the Moose.
“[Woll] is always a momentum builder for us,” said Greg Moore. “What gets frustrating is that we too often have to rely on him. Our team shouldn’t feel comfortable giving up the chances and having him make big saves to build momentum. We should build momentum by protecting our net and not giving up those chances.”
– January has been quite the month for Adam Gaudette, whose opening goal was his seventh in 10 games and 19th on the season.
– A confidence-boosting game-winning goal for Semyon Der-Arguchintsev breaks a four-game pointless slump. It was his first goal since December 17, 2022 (14 games).
“[SDA] is a very offensive player and can create a lot with the puck,” said Moore. “I really liked how he [scored], too. He simply got to the net and looked for a rebound. Nothing too complicated, but he executed inside of our plan. I thought it was a good game for him. He competed hard and played a 200-foot game.”
– Friday’s lines:
Abruzzese – Shaw – Hunt
Clifford – Blandisi – Gaudette
Steeves – Der-Arguchintsev – Ellis
Slaggert – Abramov – Johnstone
Rifai – Miller
Pietroniro – Hoefenmayer
Hellickson – Villeneuve