“I think it’s a little bit of early-season complacency. I think we felt we were better than we were and thought we had the game in hand.”
– Bobby McMann
The Marlies will be hard-pressed to endure a defeat as frustrating as this one for the remainder of the campaign. Toronto completely dominated the Amerks through 40 minutes and were better value than the three-goal lead they held heading into the final period.
The Marlies dominated the shot count in the opening frame, but clear-cut scoring chances were at a premium.
It took until the eighth minute for Toronto to find their feet. A back-door feed from Nick Robertson perfectly picked out Pontus Holmberg, but the latter flubbed his shot.
Keith Petruzzelli was almost a passenger through the opening frame, but he had to be sharp with five minutes remaining. Some sloppy play in the defensive zone resulted in Juri Kulich alone in the slot, where the Rochester forward was turned aside by the Marlies netminder.
So often their saviour last season, the power play resulted in Toronto opening the scoring. On a feed from Logan Shaw, Bobby McMann beat goaltender Michael Houser from the left circle with a bullet of a shot that kissed the underside of the crossbar before finding the net.
Toronto controlled the final four minutes and should have drawn further ahead.
Holmberg created a turnover down low, but he was unable to score from a tight angle at close range. He did, however, draw a penalty, and on the resulting man advantage, Shaw and McMann were denied on multiple occasions by Houser.
Rochester earned their first power play of the game early in the middle frame but failed to register a shot on goal.
Normal service was resumed back at five-on-five as Toronto continued to control the majority of possession and zone time.
Robertson brought the best out of Houser following a fantastic transition play that Mikko Kokkonen was heavily involved with. McMann’s injury-impacted pre-season has not slowed him down for a second; he instigated a neutral zone turnover and played a give-and-go with Abruzzese before Houser once more kept the Marlies at bay.
Holmberg drew his third penalty of the game at the 8:30 mark, and Toronto netted a mere 20 seconds later. Shaw was afforded the freedom to drift from the left boards to the left circle and beat House with an emphatic forehand finish.
The Marlies further extended their lead with seven minutes remaining. McMann was excellent down-low, recycling possession before ending up back at the point. The power forward pounded a shot toward the net, where Shaw was on hand to slot home the rebound.
It was now 3-0, and the home crowd sensed a blowout as they witnessed total domination from Toronto.
However, the Marlies allowed Rochester a sniff before the period ended. Kyle Clifford not only coughed up the puck in the offensive zone but also took a ridiculous penalty before the Amerks struck through Isak Rosen to get themselves on the board.
Toronto’s response was immediate. Within 32 seconds, the three-goal lead was reestablished as Abruzzese combined with McMann, who produced the deftest of deflected finishes to outwit Houser.
A complacent start to the third period gave the Amerks some life as Rochester scored inside two minutes. Ryan Johnson was gifted time and space down low to pick out Brett Murray, who produced a nice top-shelf finish from in tight.
The Amerks then received a helping hand from some generous officiating. During a tussle in Toronto’s crease, Topi Niemelä was handed an interference penalty, but it’s a play you’ll see a million times across the league this season without a call.
Toronto’s penalty kill didn’t step up to bail the team out, gifting Aleksandr Kisakov the freedom of the slot to bring the Amerks within a single goal with over 15 minutes left in regulation.
The game meandered in the subsequent minutes until a reckless hit sprung the Marlies back to life. Joseph Cecconi was assessed a match penalty for a check to the head but not before a duel with Marshall Rifai, who jumped in during the aftermath.
Instead of a full five-minute power play, Toronto was limited to three, but that should have been enough to put the game to bed by netting an insurance marker.
The man advantage lacked the purpose it showed through the opening 40 minutes, and Toronto was made to pay at the other end. An ill-timed line change as the penalty expired presented Jeremy Davies with a clear passage down the left wing, where the Amerks forward beat Petruzzelli with a howitzer of a shot that found the top corner of the net.
The game was now tied at four apiece, with Toronto looking like a shell of the team that had been in complete control earlier in the afternoon.
The Marlies created two chances of note in the remainder of regulation, but both went begging. Abruzzese should have done better following a drive to the net, while Dylan Gambrell didn’t get strong enough contact on a mid-air bat attempt with the goal at his mercy.
The extra frame was frantic, although high-quality scoring chances were at a premium.
Kulich secured the extra point for Amerks with a slap-shot following a set breakout play by Rochester. Petruzzelli would not have been happy with his effort, but the game should never have gotten to this point.
Post Game Notes
– Despite missing a chunk of the pre-season, Bobby McMann didn’t miss a beat in this game. He finished with two goals and an assist, but he could easily have helped himself to a hat-trick and a handful of points. If he stays healthy and continues in this form, the first call-up might be his.
– Incredibly, Pontus Holmberg finished without a single point to his name. The centerman drew three penalties and had several good looks around the net. The chemistry with Robertson and Steeves wasn’t immediate, but some promising moments led me to think the trio will be all over the scoresheet before too long.
– Speaking of Nick Robertson, both his points were power-play assists.
– Captain Logan Shaw led the way with a team-high four points (2G/2A) and eight shots.
– It was a solid if unspectacular performance from Topi Niemelä, who recorded a secondary assist on the second goal. It’s positive that the young defenseman has already been handed first paring minutes.
– Mikko Kokkonen was the most noticeable blue liner from an offensive perspective. The majority of his reads were excellent, and he generated two high-quality scoring chances by jumping up into the play.
– Saturday’s lineup:
Robertson – Holmberg – Steeves
McMann – Shaw – Abruzzese
Hirvonen – Gambrell – Tverberg
Clifford – Slavin – Ellis
Lajoie – Niemelä
Kokkonen – Lagesson
Rifai – Miller
Players assigned to Newfoundland include Forwards: Jackson Berezowski, Brock Caufield, Grant Cruikshank, Neil Shea, Tate Singleton, Todd Skirving, Tyler Weiss,
Defencemen: Nolan Dillingham, Jonny Tychonick and Goaltenders Dryden McKay and Vyacheslav Peksa.
Injuries: Matthew Hellickson, Jay O’Brien, Keenan Suthers, and Ty Voit.