A depleted Toronto Marlies lineup was second-best through the first 40 minutes of this game in Hershey.

If the Marlies didn’t put themselves in such a hole, an impressive third-period push might have resulted in a point or two instead of a 4-3 regulation loss to the Atlantic Division leaders.

First Period

Due to absences and the recent trade of Dryden Hunt, Toronto dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Despite the Marlies getting largely outplayed through 40 minutes, there were a few opportunities for them to get on the scoresheet.

The first came 45 seconds in. Jordie Benn (of all players) streaked down the middle of the ice and played a give-and-go with Marc Johnstone before seeing his backhand shot turned aside by Zach Fucale.

Hershey responded by dominating the following two shifts, forcing Keith Petruzelli into a pair of good saves while drawing a penalty.

The Toronto penalty kill stood firm, and back at full strength, the Marlies created another high-danger scoring chance. Nick Abruzzese blocked a shot and sent an excellent stretch pass to spring Alex Steeves, but the latter has been snakebitten of late and Fucale denied his backhand effort. 

The Marlies recorded just four shots through the opening 20 minutes, but they produced one final chance on the power play. It fell to Kyle Clifford in the slot, but the veteran forward totally whiffed on the shot with the net at his mercy.

Petruzelli kept Toronto in the game, making 11 saves through the first period, the best of which were robberies on Mason Morelli and Connor McMichael.

The two teams developed a dislike for one another from the get-go (which boiled over late in the game). A fair but booming hit by Tommy Miller resulted in a jumping from Bobby Nardella, resulting in a Toronto power play split on either side of the first intermission.

Second Period

The Marlies failed to convert with the man advantage and again found themselves needing to fend off incessant pressure at five-on-five.

Petruzzelli’s efforts should have been rewarded with a goal. After Graham Slaggert led a 2-on-1 break and opted to pass to Clifford on his left, there was the option of a pass back to his partner or a shot off the pads looking for a rebound, but Clifford sent his effort into the midriff of Fucale.

A battle for possession behind the goal line proved decisive in the opening goal. Hershey was able to switch possession back to the point before Morelli scooped home the rebound on Logan Day’s shot.

Mike Sgarbossa doubled the lead, escaping behind Noel Hoefenmayer after receiving a stretch pass and scoring with a pinpoint far-side finish.

The Marlies created just one chance to halve the deficit. A misplay by Hershey was seized on by Abruzzese, who set up Pontus Holmberg. Fucale pulled off a good stop to deny the Swedish forward, who then put his rebound attempt wide.

Beck Malenstyn rang a shot off the post on Hershey’s second power play, but the home crowd didn’t have to wait much longer for a third goal.

After Clifford lost a puck battle in behind the Bears’ net and all three Marlies forwards were on the wrong side of the puck, Hershey swiftly transitioned the play and Mike Vecchione placed a shot over the shoulder of Petruzzelli.

With seven minutes remaining, the Marlies had been outshot 11-2 in the middle frame and Hershey looked in complete control.

A nicely-worked play by recent call-up Zach Solow seemed to galvanize Toronto. He delivered an inch-perfect pass to split the Bears’ defense, and while Abruzzese failed to convert on the scoring chances, Toronto finished the period strongly.

Additional chances went to Holmberg and Abruzzese, but Hershey kept Toronto off the scoreboard to take a 3-0 lead into the second intermission.

Third Period

Toronto carried the momentum from the end of the second period into the third. While they largely dominated possession and zone time, too much of it was on the perimeter.

That was until a mistake by Fucale opened the door. The Bears goaltender’s weak poke-check at a loose puck handed the puck to Johnstone, who outwaited the goaltender.

The Marlies were then gifted a chance from the restart to draw within one. Johnstone sent Clifford on a breakaway, but the forward missed the target as he was impeded by a Hershey defender. The result was a penalty shot, but Fucale made a left pad save to deny a backhand attempt by Clifford.

An excellent stop by Petruzzelli denied Vecchione a breakaway goal before the game fell away from Toronto with a little over 11 minutes remaining.

Seemingly incensed by an interference penalty by Sgarbossa, Marshall Rifai cross-checked him through the bench door head first. That lack of discipline cost the Marlies dearly.

With Rifai handed a five and 10, Toronto conceded a fourth goal as Morelli netted on the man advantage to put Hershey 4-1 ahead.

There was no quit despite that apparent death blow as Toronto drew within two with 5:19 left on the clock. Holmberg forced a turnover in the neutral zone and worked his way into the slot to receive a perfect pass through traffic from Abruzzese. After several near misses earlier in the game, the Swedish forward made no mistake this time around.

Vechhione should have made certain of victory, but he hit the post with the empty net at his mercy with Petruzzelli pulled for the final two minutes.

A scrambly goal by Johnstone with nine seconds remaining pulled Toronto within one, but that was as close as the Marlies came to getting a result out of this game.

Post Game Notes

– Toronto’s power play went zero for three, while Hershey netted once with the extra man on the five-minute major penalty. Ultimately, it was the difference in the game.

– A pair of goals for Marc Johnstone, who relished his promotion to the second line, is the third time this season he’s scored twice in a game.

“[Johnstone] does a lot of the hard things that we ask of the guys all season,” said Greg Moore. “When he can find the back of the net or contribute like this, it really elevates the bench. He is a really loveable guy that everyone gravitates towards and cheers for.”

Pontus Holmberg has now scored in consecutive games, and this was another performance in which he could have had himself a handful more points with better finishing.

– It is now nine games without a goal for Alex Steeves. No doubt, he’s starting to grip his stick a little tighter. He led all Toronto skaters with six shots, though, and the encouraging sign is that he continues to get into scoring positions and continues to put pucks on net.

Orrin Centazzo recorded his first AHL point with an assist on the third goal. It came off of a hustle play to win possession on the right boards under pressure.

– With the secondary helper on the second goal, William Villeneuve registered his 15th assist of the season in his 43rd appearance.

– Friday’s lines:

Abruzzese – Holmberg – Steeves
Clifford – Blandisi – Johnstone
Centazzo – Slaggert – Ellis
Badini – Solow

Benn – Hoefenmayer
Rifai – Miller
Král – Pietroniro


Post-Game Media Availability: Johnston & Moore

Game Highlights: Bears 4 vs. Marlies 3