The Toronto Marlies got back to winning ways thanks to another exceptional performance by Joseph Woll.
Toronto’s goaltender turned aside 10 high-danger scoring chances in the opening two periods before the Marlies found a way to edge the WBS Penguins in the final frame.
On another night, Toronto could have been trailing by two or three goals before the first TV timeout.
Mistakes from Kyle Clifford and Matt Hellickson led directly to scoring chances for Lukas Svejkovsky and Justin Addamo, but Woll turned them aside and continued to impress on an early power play for the Penguins. Valtteri Puustinen was stopped from point-blank range as Woll was busy in the opening five minutes, making eight saves in total.
The Marlies were on the back foot for the majority of the first period, but they did generate a spell of offensive-zone pressure around the midway mark. Zach Solow, Joseph Blandisi, Nick Abruzzese, and Alex Steeves all tested Dustin Tokarski.
The teams split four power-play opportunities between them, but the penalty kill units won out with an assist from some exceptional goaltending.
The Marlies were certainly the happier team heading into the first intermission with the game still deadlocked at 0-0.
Blandisi came close to giving the Marlies a perfect start to the middle frame after just 40 seconds played. His top-shelf effort was met by a shoulder save by Tokarski, but the midair rebound evaded the Marlies forward.
A mindless kneeing penalty by Clifford allowed the Penguins to strike first with a power-play goal timed at 3:26. It was somewhat fortuitous as Svejkovsky’s redirect from the slot hit the shaft of Matteo Pietronirio’s stick and took a wicked bounce before finding the net.
Wilkes-Barre Scranton was immediately back on the power play in search of a 2-0 lead, but a pair of fantastic saves by Woll to rob Drake Caggiula and Tyler Sikura prevented WBS from taking a stranglehold on the game.
Somewhat out of the blue, Toronto tied the game at the seven-minute mark when Jordie Benn ripped one through traffic from the top of the right circle. Radim Zohorna wasn’t credited with a point, but his net-front presence was a major contributor.
A chance for Alex Steeves late in the period was the closest the Marlies came to taking a lead. At the other end, excellence from Woll remained the primary reason Toronto was tied through 40 minutes.
Sloppy defensive play by the Marlies presented the Penguins with a plethora of gilt-edge scoring chances that they failed to convert on, with Woll remaining rock solid in the crease and adding another spectacular save to his highlight reel in this game.
Svejkovsky appeared to have the Marlies netminder beat after making a move around him in the crease, but Woll stretched out his left leg to make a last-ditch toe save.
The switch was flicked in the third period as the Marlies began to impose themselves on the game for the first time.
At the four-minute mark, Marshall Rifai pinched into the slot and looked set to score, but his stick exploded at the critical moment as he wound up for a one-timer.
Marc Johnstone then turned provider for Blanidisi, but the latter failed to get all of his shot, although Tokarski still had to make a sharp save.
Chances off the rush were a rarity for Toronto in this game, so when Clifford failed to deliver a pass to Johnstone or record a shot on goal, it felt like a huge opportunity wasted. However, on the same play, the Marlies were able to recover possession and score through sheer determination in front of goal.
Tommy Miller found Johnstone behind the goal line, where the latter immediately attempted to throw the puck toward the net on his forehand. Blandisi got himself in the mix and jammed the puck home past Tokarski on the second attempt.
The goal went immediately to the legs of the Marlies, who almost found a third tally right away, with the effervescent Johnstone and Zach Solow both coming close.
The Marlies were diligent defensively with their 2-1 lead, limiting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to four shots in the following five minutes.
The Penguins then pulled Tokarski with three minutes remaining to no avail. Clifford sent the puck almost the entire length of the ice — with the help of a kind bounce or two — into the empty net to seal the victory.
An unsportsmanlike penalty taken by Caggiula killed off any remaining chance of a WBS comeback as the Marlies held on comfortably for a 3-1 victory.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies got back to their winning ways after losing in Hershey and Lehigh. They are yet to suffer three consecutive defeats this season.
– As I advocated for in a recent recap, Max Ellis was promoted to the second line alongside Pontus Holmberg and Radim Zohorna. There was some initial promise and chemistry that definitely deserves a further look depending on player availability.
On that note, it was a much better outing for Zohorna, who was more composed in possession and drove the net at every opportunity. The latter is a huge strength of his game. His presence in the crease was a key factor in the first Toronto goal.
– Joseph Blandisi is back to his impressive early-season form. He scored once, could have had another couple, and was a consistent thorn in the Penguins’ side. Blandisi extended his point streak to four games (2G/2A).
– What is there left to say about Joseph Woll at the AHL level? He’s simply a class above and proved it in this game as he was the difference between the teams. Woll improved his record to 15-1-0 this season with a .933 save percentage.
– Logan Shaw returned to action after missing time due to an illness. “Man, he is so important,” said Greg Moore. “His presence in the room, his voice, and what he does on and off the ice pairs with a lot of our other veteran guys now, too, such as Benn and Cliffy with their leadership and experience. There is definitely a big void when Logan is not here in the lineup.”
– Wednesday’s lines:
Abruzzese – Shaw – Steeves
Zohorna – Holmberg – Ellis
Clifford – Blandisi – Johnstone
Slaggert – Solow
Rifai – Benn – Hoefenmayer
Hoefenmayer – Miller
Král – Pietroniro