Making his AHL debut between the pipes for Belleville, Leevi Merilainen was given a relatively easy introduction to the league as the Toronto Marlies struggled to generate enough scoring chances at five-on-five.
As for the chances that did materialize, a combination of poor finishing and a lack of traffic in front of the rookie netminder allowed Merilainen to post a shutout, sending the Marlies to their seventh consecutive defeat.
There was a familiar theme to their recent defeats in that the Marlies dug themselves an early hole and were never able to recover.
Shaky when playing the puck outside of his crease in recent games, Joseph Woll was caught out in the second minute of the game. Matthew Boucher stripped the Toronto goaltender of the puck and Dillon Heatherington scored before Woll could fully reset.
The Marlies created openings on either side of the goal. An effort by the returning Semyon Der-Arguchintsev resulted in a rebound that eluded his linemates, none of whom crashed the net.
Orrin Centazzo attempted to connect with Ryan Tveberg, who eluded the Belleville defense, but the backdoor feed went astray. That’s as close as Toronto came to scoring at five-on-five.
The Marlies failed to make hay on two power plays, creating just two chances for Der-Arguchinstev and Alex Steeves, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Senators struck on their first man-advantage to take a 2-0 lead at the 10-minute mark. Roby Jarventie’s attempted pass to find Egor Sokolov in the slot took a deflection off a Toronto stick as Belleville enjoyed a little bit of puck luck.
Sokolov should have given his team an even more commanding advantage late in the period, but the Belleville forward was unable to corral the puck with the net wide open.
Belleville began the second period on the power play, where Rourke Chartier was robbed by Woll in the opening seconds.
Neither team was sound defensively in the middle frame as the scoring chances began to arrive fast and furious. Tverberg again broke free, but after cutting across the crease from the right circle, the rookie produced a weak finishing attempt that was easily dealt with by Merilainen.
At the other end, a breakdown from Toronto presented Sokolov with a breakaway, but his effort found the crossbar.
Carnage ensued at the eight-minute mark when the Marlies swarmed the Senators’ net with Belleville’s rookie netminder floundering out of position. Noel Hoefenmayer didn’t know whether to stick or twist, unwilling to shoot the puck before attempting a pass that allowed the Senators to regroup.
Play quickly switched back the other way, where Cole Cassels delivered a picture-perfect top-corner finish to give Belleville a 3-0 lead.
The Marlies spurned two consecutive power plays, including 46 seconds of a two-man advantage, and were left with a mountain to climb in the final 20 minutes.
The Marlies recorded six shots without reply to begin the third period. Their best chance fell to Steeves, who worked himself into some space in the slot, but he sent a tepid shot into the glove of Merilainen.
Belleville created two excellent scoring chances after surviving an initial push by the Marlies. Scott Sabourin and Matthew Wedman brought the best out of Woll, who was responding admirably after his early mistake.
Toronto finished the game in the manner of a team that hadn’t won in six games, conceding a fourth goal in a concerning fashion. With Woll pulled for an extra attacker, Belleville dumped the puck looking to score into the vacant cage. Two Marlies failed to skate hard enough to ensure icing was called, allowing Boucher to collect the loose puck and score.
Post Game Notes
– Seven defeats on the bounce for Toronto include three shutout losses.
– Semyon Der-Arguchintsev flashed some nice puck touches on his return to action after suffering a concussion.
– Ryan Tverberg showed some promise on the fourth line. He’s going to be a long-term project for the organization, but he looked noticeably more comfortable in this game despite the result.
– Kyle Clifford (illness, day-to-day) and F Max Ellis (upper body, day-to-day) were absent from the lineup.
– Saturday’s lines:
Abruzzese – Shaw – Der-Arguchintsev
Ovchinnikov – Holmberg – Steeves
Slaggert – Johnstone – Solow
Centazzo – Badini – Tverberg
Dahlström – Benn
Rifai – Hoefenmayer
Kokkonen – Villeneuve