The Toronto Marlies needed a better performance than Game 1 to take a 2-0 series lead.
If anything, the Marlies played worse and Utica made them pay for it thanks to a dominant second-period showing.
A promising, fast-paced start by Toronto quickly unraveled before the two-minute mark. Loose defensive coverage allowed Utica to zip the puck around before Brian Halonen scored off of a feed from Alexander Holtz.
Toronto failed to create a note of chance until the 12th minute. A hit by Joseph Blandisi created a partial breakaway for Ryan Chyzowski, but Nico Daws easily held the winger’s shot.
Utica doubled their lead after the restart of play. It was again too easy for the Comets as they passed the puck around Toronto with consummate ease before Aarne Talvitie’s slot pass hit a Toronto leg and deflected into the net. Even if it hadn’t taken a fortuitous bounce, Tyce Thompson was at the backdoor waiting for a tap-in.
Against the run of play, Toronto tied the game with two power-play goals just 87 seconds apart.
Semyon Der-Arguchintsev netted the first from a tight angle after some patient build-up play. On the second, Kyle Clifford was afforded the space in front to pull off a between-the-legs finish from the doorstep.
The Marlies completed a special teams win in the opening frame by killing off Utica’s first power play.
Perhaps the outcome may have been different if Toronto capitalized with 90 seconds remaining in the opening frame. Marc Johnstone picked out Pontus Holmberg screaming into the slot with an inch-perfect pass, but Daws robbed the Swedish forward with a tremendous diving save.
Utica took advantage of Toronto’s defensive frailties in the middle frame.
First, a misplayed pass around the boards turned over possession, resulting in a tap-in for Nolan Stevens at the seven-minute mark.
Utica dominated offensive-zone time afterward, changing on the fly as Toronto continued to fluff passes and botch zone exits.
Graeme Clarke somehow didn’t score after another defensive break, but the Comets then struck twice in 45 seconds to establish a healthy 5-2 lead.
After a neutral-zone turnover resulted in a 2-on-1 break for Utica, Keith Petruzzelli made the first save but could do nothing about Ryan Schmelzer scoring his third goal of the postseason.
The fifth goal was the worst of the bunch. Toronto was denied by three good saves from Daws before the play transitioned back the other way, where there were four Toronto skaters back as compared to three Utica forwards. It mattered not as Xavier Parent cruised into the slot unmarked and scored.
It was embarrassingly easy for Utica at this stage, and it could have been even worse for Toronto. A giveaway by Graham Slaggert straight to Parent should have resulted in a fourth-straight goal, but the beleaguered Petruzzelli pulled off a wonderful save that was no more than damage limitation at this point.
Toronto ran into penalty trouble early in the third period, facing a 5-on-3 for 59 seconds. Clarke scored on the man advantage, effectively ending the game.
Worryingly, there was little response from Toronto — they appeared gassed — and a seventh goal arrived before the midway point via Brian Pinho.
Petruzzelli would have liked the seventh goal back, but after he was shelled through the first two periods, Greg Moore opted to pull him at this point. It felt like a move that should have happened after the fifth goal or the second intermission.
Toronto resorted to ‘gooning it up’ in the time remaining, with Clifford and Joseph Blandisi the main perpetrators. It appeared to be a message-sending attempt, but the last thing the Marlies need right now is a suspension.
The series is now tied at 1-1 as it switches to Utica for games three and four on Wednesday and Friday.
Post Game Notes
Toronto allowed five goals at 5v5 as Utica found a clinical scoring touch in this game. For all of the post-game posturing by Greg Moore, the Marlies‘ poor defensive-zone coverage and propensity for giveaways must be of serious concern.
The power play struck twice, improving to 37.5% in this series. Special teams are one area Toronto has been competitive in through two games.
In the wonderful Leafs Notebook, Anthony Petrielli has a segment where he pens ‘Five Things I Think I’d Do.’ Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, so I’m sure Anthony won’t mind me poaching his idea here.
1. The fourth line has been ineffectual, neither shutting down Utica nor generating offense. There are plenty of other options to try there, and my radical idea would be something like Clifford-Zohorna-Blandisi if Moore wanted to create a physical checking line.
2. Continuing to run with Kyle Clifford alongside Pontus Holmberg on the second line is madness. Holmberg has been Toronto’s best player and needs to play with wingers that complement his skillset.
3. Where is Noel Hoefenmayer? Unless he is injured, I do not understand the decision behind benching him for the playoffs. He played the second-most games of any blue-liner and led all Toronto defensemen in scoring. After a year of growth in many facets of his game, the Hoef has to return.
4. There is a big decision to make regarding goaltending after how Keith Petruzzelli was treated in Game 2. I would not be averse to switching it up to make a point (on balance I would stick with KP), but if Moore opts for Dennis Hildeby in Game 3, he has to be prepared to run with that decision.
5. It’s time to sit one (or even both!) of Mac Hollowell or Carl Dahlström. Both have been error-prone through two games, and as mentioned in the preview, Toronto has a plethora of defensive options available. Moore has to make players accountable for performances, something he wasn’t proactive about after Toronto found a way to win Game 1.
– Game 2 lines:
Abruzzese- Shaw – Blandisi
Clifford – Holmberg – Johnstone
Steeves – Zohorna – Der-Arguchintsev
Cruikshank – Slaggert – Chyzowski
Benn – Niemelä
Rifai – Dahlström
Pietroniro – Hollowell