“If I’m evaluating our team’s play compared to Game 1, it was so much better. In the long run, if we keep playing like this, we give ourselves a good chance to come back in this series regardless of where it is right now.” 

I understand the need for head coach Greg Moore to remain positive about his team outside of the locker room. However, these comments seem inappropriate and off the mark given the ineffective performance of the Marlies in a pivotal game of the team’s series and season. It’s hard to imagine any fan who paid money to watch Game 2 agreeing with Moore’s viewpoint.

First Period

The Marlies flattered to deceive in the opening frame, but at least they were somewhat competitive.

A spell of play around the five-minute mark was arguably the best shift of the game for Toronto. Marc Johnstone teed up Pontus Holmberg in the slot, but the Swedish forward fired wide after stretching to get his shot off.

Seconds later, Kyle Clifford was presented with an even better scoring chance from the slot, but he buried the puck into the pads of Malcolm Subban. Johnstone, Matteo Pietroniro, and Zach Solow also had efforts turned aside as the Marlies were unable to grab an early lead.

As is often the case when a team fails to capitalize at one end, Rocester opened the scoring at the other at the midway point of the first period.

It was another disastrous penalty-killing effort by the Marlies starting with a lackadaisical effort by Kyle Clifford, Joseph Blandisi, and Noel Hoefenmayer (the latter two collided) to prevent Mason Jobst from cruising into the middle of the zone, The puck broke free to the open Jiri Kulich to finish off.

Clifford proceeded to take a needless roughing penalty, but Toronto managed to kill that one off without too much drama.

The Marlies finished the period with a power play of their own. A frantic two minutes included chances for Holmberg and Blandisi bookending a shorthanded effort by Jobst, who felt he really should have scored.

Nick Abruzzese fired wide when trying to pick the far corner, and as the power play expired, an individual effort from Alex Steeves handcuffed Subban, who just got enough of the backhand attempt to deflect it away from danger.

Second Period

Toronto began the middle frame on the power play after Jobst was called for cross-checking at the end of the previous period.  Abruzzese worked his way from the top of the right circle to just above the hashmarks before tying the game with a seeing-eye shot.

It should have been the jolt the Marlies needed, but Rochester responded by building an unassailable lead.

It was a strange period for Erik Källgren, who initially kept the Marlies in the game. The netminder bailed out Johnstone (turnover) by making a great save to deny Brett Murray and followed that up with three even better stops on a Rochester power play.

As the penalty assessed to Noel Hoefenmayer expired, Jeremy Davies scored a go-ahead goal on a short-side shot that the Marlies goaltender would want back.

A combined effort by Graham Slaggert and Jordie Benn to clear the puck off the goal line denied the Amerks a third goal, but the reprieve was short-lived.

Carl Dahlström was high-sticked by Lukas Rousek during a battle for possession in the Amerks’ zone, but play continued as Rochester broke on an odd-man rush the other way. Jobst teed up Rousek to score despite vehement protests from the Marlies. The officials had a long meeting after the goal but opted not to assess a penalty.

It was a dagger blow for the Marlies, who failed to respond positively to the adversity.

For what felt like the umpteenth time in the period, Rochester broke with speed in transition, creating a 4-on-3. Sean Malone was left with a tap-in to give the Amerks a 4-1 lead.

Keith Petruzzelli replaced Källgren in the Marlies’ net to little effect as Rochester scored again after the resumption of play through a Joseph Cecconi point shot. It was now 5-1 Rochester after four goals in less than three minutes.

Very few Toronto players were worthy of high grades for their performance in this outing, but Holmberg was an exception. He drew a penalty in the process of creating another Grade-A scoring chance for Clifford, but the veteran forward failed to capitalize as another opportunity passed him by. 

On the ensuing power play, the Marlies should have conceded a sixth goal. Toronto gifted Rochester a 2-on-0 shorthanded rush which the Amerks wasted. It was almost as if the Amerks knew the game was won at this point and they could begin to have some fun at Toronto’s expense.

Max Ellis made the Amerks regret that attitude somewhat by scoring shortly afterward to make it a 5-2 game.

Third Period

The Marlies got off to the worst possible start by taking a penalty at the two-minute mark. Ryan Chyzowski was able to exit the box with no further damage to the score line, and Toronto then earned a power play of their own.

The relentless Holmberg finished from the bumper position to bring the Marlies within two at the five-minute mark.

Any faint hope of a comeback was erased 129 seconds later when Michael Mersch netted a power-play tally for Rochester. The penalty-killing effort on the Amerks’ sixth goal was reminiscent of a dog chasing its tail as Rochester cut Toronto to shreds with quick puck movement. 

The last opportunity for the Marlies to give Rochester any second thoughts arrived with eight minutes remaining. A shot from Logan Shaw produced a huge rebound for the waiting Mac Hollowell alone in the slot, but the defenseman produced a weak effort into the pads of Subban as the Marlies’ poor finishing at 5v5 continued.

The scoring was rounded off by an empty-net goal for Rochester (Brendan Warren) and a consolation power-play tally for Steeves.

Toronto is now staring down the barrel of a sweep, something that’s only happened once in franchise history. It came at the hands of the Norfolk Admirals in the 2012 Calder Cup Final, one of the most dominant teams in the history of the league. 

Rochester is nowhere near that calibre of opponent, but they continue to feast on Toronto’s defensive breakdowns.

At this point, it’s difficult to envision Toronto winning the next game of the series on Wednesday, let alone the requirement of producing a reverse sweep to keep the season alive.

Post Game Notes

– The Marlies have allowed 11 goals in the two games of this series.  At 5v5, they’ve been outscored 5-2. The penalty kill has been destroyed, with Rochester scoring on 50% (4-8) of their chances with the extra man. All four Toronto goals have been scored on the power play. 

– Greg Moore’s refusal to change up the forward lines is incredibly frustrating. 

Pontus Holberg continues to be weighed down by two wingers who aren’t in the best position to succeed. Marc Johnstone and Kyle Clifford are better suited to a checking role.

Alex Steeves is a proven goalscorer at this level, and in my opinion, he would thrive on the wing with a playmaker like Holmberg. With SDA injured, I would give Max Ellis the chance on the right side (he scored 10 goals in the regular season and has speed to burn).

That would leave a potential rough-and-tumble, hard-to-play-against third line of Kyle Clifford, Radim Zohorna, and Marc Johnstone.

Semyon Der-Arguchintsev missed the game was a lower-body injury and is considered day-to-day.

Noel Hoefenmayer returned to the lineup but looked rusty. The decision to ditch Marshall Rifai for Hoefenmayer’s (welcome) return is not one based on recent performances and doesn’t send the right message to the group. Mac Hollowell, for one, could count himself fortunate to remain in the lineup.

– There is the potential for the reassignment of Joseph Woll to the Marlies in time for Game 3.  However, if Toronto continues its current form, it won’t matter who tends the twine.

– Game 2 lines:

Abruzzese- Shaw – Blandisi
Clifford – Holmberg – Johnstone
Steeves – Zohorna – Ellis
Chyzowski – Slaggert – Solow

Benn – Niemelä
Dahlström – Hoefenmayer
Pietroniro – Hollowell


Post-Game Media Availability: Kyle Clifford & Greg Moore

Game Highlights: Americans 7 vs. Marlies 4