The Toronto Marlies recorded their 35th victory of the season with a solid performance at Scotiabank Arena on Family Day.
With the first opportunity to play on an NHL ice surface since his reassignment from the Leafs, Bobby McMann continued his red-hot play with the Marlies, scoring the game-winning goal in Monday’s victory over Utica.
With the 3-1 win, the Marlies‘ improved their record to 5-0-0 against the Comets this season.
These two teams have been very well matched this season, with the four previous meetings decided by a single goal. There was again little to separate the two sides throughout the opening 20 minutes of this game.
Toronto generated the first scoring chance of the afternoon, but Max Ellis fired wide of the target on a nice feed from Dryden Hunt.
Utica should have made the Marlies pay for some sloppy play at the four-minute mark when Nolan Foote escaped on a breakaway, but he rang his effort off the far post.
The Comets built momentum off of that chance and had the Marlies floundering in their defensive zone, but Toronto responded by scoring on their next offensive foray.
After an excellent forechecking shift from the fourth line resulted in a broken play, the puck squirted loose to Matt Hellickson pinching above the circles. The defenseman isn’t known for his scoring exploits, but his heavy shot snuck through Nico Daws and trickled across the goal line.
A good save from Daws denied Nick Abruzzese from doubling Toronto’s lead before the Comets tied the game shortly after. The Marlies‘ penalty kill was undone by a pass from Reilly Walsh and a good five-hole finish by Graeme Clarke.
The Comets failed to deliver on a second power play of the period and almost conceded a shorthanded goal. Kyle Clifford and Joseph Blandisi connected, but the weak shot was never going to solve Daws.
The Marlies finished the period with some momentum coming off of a solid penalty kill, but the game remained deadlocked through 20 minutes.
An inability to capitalize on scoring opportunities was the difference in the middle frame.
The Marlies began the period brightly, but they lacked a cutting edge and were fortunate not to fall behind at the five-minute mark. Keith Petruzzelli came way out of his crease to challenge Foote on a partial breakaway and smothered the forward’s effort.
The Marlies had good reason to feel hard done by on their first power play of the game. The officials didn’t notice that Noel Hoefenmayer was not only high-sticked but was bleeding, with no call forthcoming despite the replay on the big screen.
Pontus Holmberg struck the post with a deceptive backhand shot as Utica came away unscathed.
The Marlies were pushing the pace of play in search of the go-ahead goal, but they were leaving them exposed the other way in the process. After Clifford and Marc Johnstone came close to connecting, an ill-judged line change resulted in a 5-on-2 break for Utica. Some stellar defensive work from Tommy Miller snuffed out the danger.
Further opportunities for Bobby McMann, Logan Shaw, and Clifford went to waste until Toronto earned a power play inside the final five minutes. A fantastic pass from Abruzzese found McMann in space in the left circle, where McMann ripped a clinical bar-down finish into the far corner of the net.
The Marlies doubled their lead 45 seconds later.
Holmerg was the architect, toying with Utica down low before delivering a perfect pass out to Max Ellis above the hash marks. A low pinpoint finish gave Daws no chance, extending Toronto’s lead to 3-1 through 40 minutes.
Utica came out of the gates flying, outshooting the Marlies 6-0 in the opening two minutes.
Andreas Johnsson had the best of those scoring chances, and the Comets hit the post on an odd broken play in which the puck took several wild bounces.
A penalty halted the Comets’ momentum, and Toronto set about taking back control of the game at five-on-five. A stretch pass from Marshall Rifai sent Abruzzese away, but Daws kept his team in the game with the save.
Abruzzese could have ended the game with three or four points without a little more luck around the net. He and Shaw combined, but a tip from the slot by the captain missed wide of the target. A tic-tac-toe play involving Holmberg, McMann, and Abruzzese would have provided one of the nicest goals this season, but Daws came up with his best save of the game.
To Utica’s credit, they never surrendered, but they didn’t test Petruzzelli nearly enough in the final minutes, although some excellent shot blocking from the Marlies played its part.
Petruzzelli made two saves of note to deny Clarke and Filip Engaras en route to a second straight victory for him and the Marlies.
Post Game Notes
– The win marked Greg Moore’s 100th victory as Toronto Marlies head coach.
“Certainly, it has been a long road since I got here,” said Moore. “I had only been a head coach for a year and a half prior to having the honour to step into this organization and coach with the Marlies. There has been a lot of growth, to be honest with you — just in building relationships with these men, and learning structure, style of play, and what it takes to win at this level.”
“It is a milestone. I am nothing without the players, support staff, and coaching staff. They are pushing me and challenging me every day. As good as it feels, it is hard to make it about me. There are a lot of people that go into this.”
– That’s now six goals on 22 shots in four games for Bobby McMann, who doesn’t look likely to slow down anytime soon. He’s keeping himself right at the top of the call-up list.
– Afforded the opportunity of regular ice time, Keith Petruzzelli is back into the groove he was in at the start of the campaign. He turned aside 33 shots for the victory. That’s back-to-back wins in which Petruzzelli has given up just a single goal in each game.
– One trickle-down effect of the trade with St. Louis is the opportunity for Max Ellis to receive the ice time he deserves. His 3-1 goal in this game was his fourth point (3G/1A) in as many games.
“[Ellis] has done a great job stepping into situations that he may not have been getting earlier in the year,” said Moore. “His development has come a long way. A lot of it is just on him. He is committed, he is working really hard, and he is doing a really good job inside of contact.
“He is doing a great job of getting off the wall in the breakout better. It was something we were talking about earlier in the season. It has just taken him time to learn our structure and how to be a responsible player in pro hockey.”
– Zach Solow recorded his first point as a Toronto Marlie. He’s not a flashy player, but as shown by his assist on the opening goal, he has a tremendous work ethic and a willingness to put his body on the line. He has produced a little bit at this level, previously putting up 10 points in 33 games split between Milwaukee and Chicago.
– Monday’s lines:
McMann – Shaw – Abruzzese
Clifford – Holmberg – Steeves
Hunt – Blandisi – Ellis
Slaggert – Johnstone – Solow
Rifai – Miller
Hoefenmayer – Villeneuve
Hellickson – Pietroniro