The Toronto Marlies’ task of putting a poor performance against Syracuse behind them was made tougher by two notable absences.
With no Bobby McMann or Logan Shaw in the lineup, there was an opportunity for the lesser lights to shine, and the team’s third line did just that.
The expectation was a fast start from Toronto after a shutout loss to Syracuse in the previous outing, but that never materialized. The Marlies were very much the second-best team in the opening frame.
Rockford drew the first penalty of the game inside two minutes as they sought to capitalize on sloppy play from the Marlies. Dryden Hunt made sure Toronto didn’t pay the price as the forward picked off an errant pass and drew a penalty of his own as he drove down the middle of the ice on a partial breakaway.
The Marlies failed to threaten during an abbreviated power play and were reliant on Erik Källgren to make a pair of key saves at five-on-five. In a relatively low-event first period, Rockford created the better scoring chances and struck first with 7:30 remaining.
After a stretch pass by Alex Vlasic split Toronto’s defense, Ontario native Dylan Sikura made no mistake with an emphatic finish.
The visitors settled for a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes after failing to strike on a second power play.
Whatever was said in the Toronto locker room during the first intermission produced the desired effect 72 seconds into the period. Tommy Miller and Kyle Clifford connected to tee up Dryden Hunt to score the tying goal. Not only was it a fantastic goal by Hunt, but it also went straight to the Marlies‘ legs as well as the lungs of the fervent School Day crowd in attendance.
With all four lines rolling for the Marlies, it was no surprise when the concerted pressure led to a go-ahead goal 82 seconds later. Marshall Rifai rifled a slap-pass into the slot, where Pontus Holmberg delivered a delicious redirect past Arvid Soderblom.
Toronto’s power play failed to connect for a third time, but it mattered little. Directly off of a faceoff win, Max Ellis quickly got a shot off that evaded Soderblom via a wicked deflection.
Against the run of play, the IceHogs halved the deficit through Koletrane Wilson, who scored in his AHL debut with an excellent redirect on a point shot by Michael Teply.
Toronto continued to create scoring chances for the remaining eight minutes of the period. Pontus Holmberg, Kyle Clifford, and Ellis all came close to re-establishing the two-goal lead.
A key defensive play late in the frame kept Toronto’s lead intact. Nick Abruzzese, who has vastly improved his game away from the puck in recent weeks, showed fantastic awareness to prevent a cross-seam pass late in the period that likely would have resulted in a tying goal.
Toronto got off to another fast start to the final period and struck inside the first two minutes to take a 4-2 lead.
Another faceoff win by Graham Slaggert resulted in a goal for Ellis. There was no luck involved this time, however, as the diminutive forward faked a pass before slotting the puck low past Soderblom.
The Marlies were certainly engaged physically, but it was largely to their detriment. Consecutive minor penalties on either side of a fight involving Marshall Rifai gave Rockford some life.
The IceHogs scored on the second penalty, taking just nine seconds to make the man advantage count. It was another deft redirect from the slot, this time applied by Luke Philp.
Toronto responded well to the minor setback, with Holmberg looking like a man inspired. On a single shift, he was impeded on three occasions with the officials calling just one penalty.
On the resulting power play, Steeves was denied on a partial breakaway and Ellis came within a whisker of recording a hat trick, but the latter was robbed by Soderblom from point-blank range.
The IceHogs opted for the extra attacker with a little over two minutes remaining and created two chances of note. Jordie Benn threw himself in front of an effort by Teply from the slot, and Källgren made a fantastic save to deny Mike Hardman despite a partial screen.
With 15 seconds left on the clock, Källgren turned aside a short-side effort by Lukas Reichel, who snuck behind Toronto down low.
The victory was secured moments later when Joseph Blandisi steered the puck into the vacant cage to give Toronto a 5-3 win.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies moved back to second in the overall standings, tied with Calgary on points but with fewer regulation wins. Toronto requires just 14 points to qualify for the playoffs. 23 points is the total needed to clinch the North Division.
– Two faceoff wins by Graham Slaggert turned into a pair of primary assists. Utilized mostly on the fourth line this year, Slaggert has played both center and wing, proving himself as a reliable and responsible forward. He and Max Ellis provide the speed and creativity, while Marc Johnstone added the sandpaper on a line that dominated in the second half of the game.
“The [line] did really well,” said Greg Moore. “Really good job by Slaggs in the circle winning those pucks. Stoner got the inside picks… A lot of good stuff from them.”
This was the first multi-goal game for Ellis this season. The winger now has six goals in his last seven games.
“Intelligence and speed,” Moore said of Ellis’ game. “He is really fast for a smaller player. If you are going to be a little bit smaller than the average player, you need some other elements that are more elite than everyone else. His shot and his speed make him more of a threat all of the time. Since the beginning of the season, he has done a really good job of being more comfortable playing inside of contact offensively and defensively.”
– In his final act as a Marlie, Dryden Hunt stepped up with a solid outing and recorded his first multi-point haul for Toronto.
– It took him a little while to get his feet wet again back in the AHL, but Pontus Holmberg put in the kind of performance that reminds us he’s too good for this level. He scored once, but he could easily have left the game with a handful of points.
– Both Kyle Clifford and Tommy Miller registered a pair of assists.
– Jack Badini made his Toronto Marlies debut up front. His previous AHL experience consists of 69 games with the San Diego Gulls.
– Bobby McMann is out with a lower-body injury and is considered day-to-day.
– Logan Shaw missed the game due to illness, but Greg Moore is hopeful that he’ll return this weekend.
– Wednesday’s lines:
Abruzzese – Holmberg – Steeves
Clifford – Blandisi – Hunt
Slaggert – Johnstone – Ellis
Centazzo – Badini – Solow
Benn – Hoefenmayer
Rifai – Miller
Král – Pietroniro