“[Charlotte’s PK] worked harder. You have to outwork the penalty kill. They haven’t given up a goal yet (on the PK) this season. Sometimes, we have to simplify it. You have got to be willing to get more bodies to the net and get shots through.”

Toronto Marlies head coach John Gruden on his team’s power-play struggles

The Marlies‘ toothless man advantage was essentially the difference between the two teams in their 3-2 loss to Charlotte on Saturday. The Marlies went zero for six with the extra skater, including over a minute with a two-man advantage. The visiting Checkers were outshot 31-18 and did not generate very much offensively, but they were more clinical when it mattered.

First Period

The Marlies had opportunities to stamp their authority on the game inside the opening five minutes. Alex Steeves was unable to jam the puck home from close range following a turnover, and Dylan Gambrell was the next to test goaltender Spencer Knight with a deft redirect on a point shot by Steeves.

The Marlies’ first power play of the game resulted in no shots on net before Toronto fell behind at the six-minute mark. Consecutive turnovers in the defensive zone put the Marlies on the back foot. Allied with a breakdown in d-zone coverage, it resulted in Patrick Giles’ unassisted goal from the right circle.

To their credit, Toronto responded well to falling behind, creating some excellent scoring chances. Sadly, the finishing didn’t match the effort and creativity, with Max Lajoie guilty of making life too easy for Knight from the high slot. On a second power play, Gambrell missed the target on a backdoor play with half an empty net to aim at.

Finally, the Marlies broke through via Joseph Blandisi, who took a pass from Max Ellis at the Charlotte blue line and drove into the zone. Using the defenseman as a screen, Blandisi’s early wrist shot beat Knight clean.

The Marlies ran into penalty trouble toward the end of the frame, taking two infractions just 2:30 apart. On the second PK, Toronto flipped the script by tallying their first shorthanded goal of the campaign.

Blandisi capitalized on a misplay by Santtu Kinnunen in the Marlies’ zone to spring an odd-man rush. The former delivered a perfect pass to his right, where Josiah Slavin’s emphatic backhand finish found the roof of the net.

Dennis Hildeby played his part in the final seconds of the frame by making a fantastic sprawling save during a hard drive to the net by Charlotte.

Second Period

The Marlies should have taken the game away from Charlotte in the first five minutes of the middle stanza. Nick Robertson was the recipient of a high hit with the Marlies already on the power play, forcing the young winger out of the game (he returned later on seemingly none the worse for wear).

With the resulting two-man advantage for 76 seconds, John Gruden called a timeout. Gruden mentioned after the game that the team hasn’t worked much on its two-man advantage units in practice — “that’s on me” — and it was too tentative and predictable by the Marlies’ power play as Charlotte saw off the penalties with ease.

The Marlies then handed the Checkers their first power play of the game, and Charlotte struck within 15 seconds. A point shot by Michael Benning found the roof of the net with Zac Dalpe screening Hildeby.

Charlotte rode the momentum and started to dominate, scoring a go-ahead goal two minutes later. It was all too easy as the Checkers connected on passes in the Marlies zone with little pressure on the puck. Lucas Carlsson had plenty of time to measure an effort from between the circles that gave Hildeby no chance.

After finding their composure, Toronto created three high-quality scoring chances but failed to convert on any of them. Logan Shaw was the worst culprit, somehow failing to score with the net at his mercy after some great work by Nick Abruzzese. Knight made the save by flinging himself across the crease, but it was luck more skill on his part.

William Lagesson had the other two chances of note and would have been disappointed not to score on either.

Third Period

As Charlotte set out to frustrate Toronto in the final frame, play meandered through the first three minutes.

A fight at the benches between Riley Bezeau and Zach Solow broke the monotony, with the former assessed an extra two minutes for instigating.

The Marlies power play struggles continued, with Knight going untested between the pipes.

While Toronto registered just seven shots through the final period, there were chances for them to take something from the game. William Villeneuve fired wide of the net from low in the right circle, and a shot from Topi Niemelä created a rebound off the backboards that fell kindly to Lajoie, who couldn’t finish it off with the net seemingly at his mercy.

Charlotte did their best to keep the game interesting by taking a penalty inside the final two minutes. With Hildeby on the bench, Toronto created one final chance of note.

A rebound from a shot by Shaw fell to Gambrell in the slot, where the centerman couldn’t capitalize as the Marlies slipped to their first regulation defeat of the season.

Post Game Notes

– It was the first Toronto goal and point for Josiah Slavin, who performed admirably in a fourth-line role, but he will likely struggle to generate consistent offense with Kyle Clifford and Zach Solow as his wingers. 

Joseph Blandisi is making it clear he shouldn’t be sat out of the lineup again. Following up his two points against Utica, he repeated the trick in this game (1G/1A).

“I really liked the way [Blandisi] plays,” said Gruden. “You can play him up and down the lineup. His teammates love playing with him. He just brings that speed and that energy that any team needs and wants.”

Roni Hirvonen (upper body, no timeline) and Bobby McMann (lower body, day-to-day) were both absent along with Pontus Holmberg, who was called up to the Maple Leafs.

– Personal note: I’ll be making a huge career change in a couple of weeks that will greatly alter my work/life balance for the better. It’s a change that will allow me to spend a little more time on hockey coverage, including great scope for elaborating with game recaps. (At the moment I am having to watch games mostly on delay and squeezing in recaps when I have time!). If you have any requests for additional notes for the recaps or future Marlies’ articles, please leave a comment below or contact me via social media. I appreciate your support as always.

– Saturday’s lineup:

Robertson – Gambrell – Steeves
Blandisi – Shaw – Abruzzese
Mastrosimone – Tverberg – Ellis
Clifford – Slavin – Solow

Lajoie – Niemelä
Lagesson – Villeneuve
Rifai – Miller


Post-Game Media Availability: Josiah Slavin & John Gruden

Game Highlights: Checkers 3 vs. Marlies 2