This victory marked the Toronto Marlies’ 19th win in one-goal games this season.
The win was less comfortable than it should have been after Toronto controlled much of the 60 minutes, outshooting Laval 49-21 and recording 20 shots on goal in the first period alone.
The Marlies set the tone in the opening 90 seconds of the game when their first and second lines kept Laval hemmed inside their own zone.
Toronto should have broken through at the four-minute mark when a shot from Alex Steeves resulted in a rebound chance that Kyle Clifford failed to bury as Cayden Primeau came up with two big saves.
Laval was struggling to make any inroads until Noel Hoefenmayer was called for a roughing penalty. Mitchell Stephens struck the iron on the power play with an effort from the high slot.
That might have been a bad break for Laval, but the Rocket could also count themselves lucky not to concede a shorthanded goal. A sloppy clearance down the middle of the ice by Primeau left a wide-open cage for Logan Shaw, but the captain’s effort from just inside the red line narrowly missed the target.
Laval also earned a penalty shot in what was an action-packed power play, but Erik Källgren stepped up to the plate with a good glove save on Nate Schnarr.
The Marlies finally got the better of Primeau with 4:04 remaining in the first frame when the fourth line outhustled Laval, winning a few puck battles around the net before Graham Slaggert finished off a nice feed from Marc Johnstone.
Primeau pulled off a pair of good saves on Steeves and Shaw to ensure Laval trailed by only one at the first intermission.
The Marlies began the second period on the power play, but they couldn’t capitalize on a few excellent scoring chances. Hoefenmayer found himself low in the slot following a turnover, but he sent a soft shot into the pads of Primeau.
Back at five-on-five, Bobby McMann wired an effort from the high slot wide of the target before Toronto gave up a pair of odd-man rushes.
The first — a 3-on-1 for Laval — resulted in a fantastic left pad save by Källgren to rob Riley McKay. The second ended up in Toronto’s net as William Trudeau ignored his teammate to his right and fired a shot inside the far post.
The Marlies responded two minutes later to take a 2-1 lead at the midway point of the game.
Toronto took advantage of a lapse by Laval’s penalty killers as Nick Abruzzese found McMann in space between the hash marks. After his earlier miss, McMann wasn’t going to spurn a second chance, burying the puck into the roof of the net.
Toronto killed a second penalty without Källgren making a save, and Laval was limited to just five shots on goal in the entirety of the middle frame.
The Marlies conceded another odd-man rush inside the final minute, but a fantastic back-checking effort by Johnstone denied what appeared to be a certain goal.
Poor finishing and shaky special teams almost cost the Marlies in the third period.
Despite dominating possession and zone time, Toronto was unable to find an insurance marker. Back-to-back power plays went to waste, with only one scoring chance of note created for Shaw.
By virtue of some solid play from Primeau and hanging tough despite being outplayed, Laval remained in the game and scored a tying goal with a little under eight minutes remaining.
Joël Teasdale’s initial shot was blocked, but it fell kindly for Stephens, who made no mistake with a clinical finish in tight.
There was an irony to the context around the winning goal. Laval was enjoying their best spell of offensive pressure in the third period, hemming Toronto in their zone for 30 seconds before Joseph Blandisi and Dryden Hunt combined to win back possession along the wall and create an odd-man rush.
Hunt outwaited Mattias Norlinder, who sprawled out in an attempt to block a pass, before delivering a backdoor feed to present Max Ellis with a tap-in.
The Marlies comfortably held on for a 3-2 victory as Laval was limited to just one shot on goal in the final five minutes of regulation.
“I was really happy that it was the first time in a while when holding onto a lead, we outshot our opponent,” said Greg Moore.
Post Game Notes
– Such is the disparity in the North Division, the Marlies could clinch a playoff berth within the first two weeks of March. Their magic number is 18 with 20 games remaining in their schedule. By virtue of three consecutive victories, Toronto not only leads the Eastern Conference but is also tied for the overall league lead.
– Max Ellis has seized his opportunity to play more minutes in a third-line role. The game-winner was his fourth goal in five games, and Ellis has not been shy of shooting more during this run of good form (14 shots in five games).
“[Ellis] is another person on our team that continues to climb the ladder when there is more opportunity,” said Moore. “He is proving that he deserves it. In talking to him throughout the season, he has been wanting to get a lot better with his defensive play and responsibility on the ice so that our coaches can trust him with more ice time. Because he is defending better, he is getting in better spots to create offense.”
– Leading the way with six shots on goal was Alex Steeves, which is a good sign his confidence hasn’t been affected despite not scoring in the last five games. He registered his 25th assist of the season to give him 42 points on the year, just four back of his rookie total.
– Nick Abruzzese extended his assist streak to three games with a primary power-play helper. His 38 points (15G/23A) in 52 games are good for eighth in AHL rookie scoring.
– Every time he touches the puck from the top of the circles or below, it feels like Bobby McMann will score right now. He extended his goal streak to five games with his seventh goal in that span. Now up to 18 goals on the season, 15 of those have been scored in the last 15 games.
“[McMann] has taken it to another level this entire year,” said Moore. “There are moments in the game when he can just take over with his power, strength, and speed. He can transport it from the defensive zone to the offensive zone and set things up. He is doing a lot better job of where he is finishing his routes — inside and at the net rather than fading off to the corner. He is putting himself in better spots to create offense.”
– It was a light workload, but it was a solid outing for Erik Källgren (19 saves), who had little chance on either goal against. His penalty shot save in the first period was important, and he gave up very little in the way of second opportunities throughout the game.
“It was not an easy one for Erik to be in,” said Moore. “There were pockets of time when he wasn’t seeing a lot of shots, and then all of a sudden, there were grade-As coming his way. That is a tough one to stay mentally sharp and in it. He was available and ready for those big grade-As and was able to shut the door.”
– Saturday’s lines:
McMann – Shaw – Abruzzese
Clifford – Holmberg – Steeves
Hunt- Blandisi – Ellis
Slaggert – Johnstone – Solow
Rifai – Miller
Hoefenmayer – Villeneuve
Kokkonen – Pietroniro