“After that 5-on-3 penalty kill, I think we really rallied around that. There were some huge blocks from the guys back there, and big saves from Keith [Petruzzelli]. We found our confidence to put the game away after that.”
– Max Ellis
After blowing another 2-0 lead this season, the Marlies found themselves facing a 5-on-3 penalty kill to begin the third frame with the game tied at 2-2. A promising early sign from this group, Toronto found a way through the adversity to grab the two points.
The opening frame could have swung either way, but the Marlies managed to establish a healthy advantage through 20 minutes.
An early power play for Toronto led to nothing before the Admirals created the first scoring chance back at five-on-five. Keith Petruzzelli was forced into a sharp right-toe save to turn aside Denis Gurianov after Toronto gave up an odd-man rush.
The tide began to turn the Marlies‘ way after the six-minute mark when Max Ellis and Joseph Blandisi combined to good effect and Troy Grosenick was forced to swat away efforts from both on the same shift.
The game’s opening goal came about through some old-fashioned graft in the Admirals’ zone. William Lagesson and Ryan Tverberg teamed up to win possession on the right boards, with the rookie coming away with the puck before delivering a pass for Nick Abruzzse to bury with a deft finish in tight.
Toronto doubled their lead just 77 seconds later. An excellent poke-check at the red line by Bandisi allowed the Marlies to break quickly in transition. Ellis sped away down the right wing, and with Milwaukee focused on Blandisi, the former delivered an inch-perfect backdoor feed to Kyle Clifford for a tap-in.
The Marlies weren’t nearly as good in the second half of the period and were fortunate not to be punished for poor puck management. Turnovers in the neutral and defensive zones allowed the Admirals to build momentum and earn a pair of power plays.
A lack of a killer instinct by Milwaukee saw them waste a handful of odd-man rushes as Toronto held onto their 2-0 lead heading into the intermission.
There was no improvement in Toronto’s play in the middle frame. A lazy slashing penalty by Blandisi set the tone early, and frequent turnovers and low-percentage decisions played into the hands of the Admirals.
It was no surprise that Milwaukee finally got on the board just before the midway point of the game. It came off of another odd-man rush as Joakim Kemell played a give-and-go with Gurianov before slotting home.
The Marlies flattered to deceive in the following two minutes, generating three chances of note before reverting to old habits. Logan Shaw hammered a shot from the slot into the mask of Grosenick, and Nick Robertson’s deflection on a point shot from Marshall Rifia was well saved.
Ellis showed another side of his game on the opposite wing by stickhandling his way through two defenders. He again found Clifford with a backdoor feed, but this time, the finish did not match the set-up.
Milwaukee struck with 36 remaining in the period to tie the game at 2-2. Another neutral-zone turnover by Toronto cost them, but Dylan Gambrell didn’t play it well defensively (similar to the first goal against). He allowed Zach L’Heureux to spin away from him with ease and could only watch on as the Admirals’ forward delivered an incredible top-shelf backhand finish to record his first professional goal.
Two penalties in the final second of the middle frame put Toronto on the back foot to begin the third period. Clifford was assessed two minutes for goaltender interference, and Blandisi was given five and a game for spearing.
The trio of Logan Shaw, Max Lajoie, and Lagesson held firm for almost the entirety of the full two minutes before earning a whistle for a well-deserved rest. The Marlies easily dealt with the next three minutes down by one skater as Keith Petruzzelli remained a steady and calming presence between the pipes.
The next piece of adversity then arrived for Toronto with the loss of Ryan Tverberg. The rookie was on the wrong end of a late hit and needed assistance on his way to the dressing room after struggling to get off the ice.
With neither team able to assert any dominance at five-on-five, the next goal was always likely to be the game-winner. It arrived with 4:29 remaining thanks to a decisive play 45 seconds earlier.
A poke-check by Mikko Kokkonen broke up an odd-man rush for Milwaukee, preventing a scoring chance and allowing Toronto to transition the other way. From there, the Marlies won possession following a dump-and-chase play and never looked back.
After a couple of near-misses, Alex Steeves beat Grosenick’s glove short-side with a low shot.
The eventual victory was made easier by the Admirals taking two penalties inside the final three minutes.
The 3-2 victory marked a winning end to a five-game homestand to start the season. At the time of writing, Toronto leads the North Division with a record of 3-1-1
Post Game Notes
– Alex Steeves has a goal in two straight games now and is beginning to find the groove that saw him pot 23 in 58 games in his rookie campaign. “He is starting to understand to get inside a little bit more and not play on the perimeter,” said John Gruden. “Because of that, he is having success. He can shoot a puck. We want him in areas where he can shoot. It is something to build off, and I think the sky is the limit.”
– This game wasn’t up to the level of his previous performances this season, but Nick Abruzzese got the monkey off his back by scoring the opening goal.
– He’s not a particularly sexy name when it comes to prospects but Max Ellis has made a bright start to the campaign. The winger has registered an assist in each of his last four outings. Undoubtedly, speed is his greatest asset, but Ellis is starting to show that he can be effective in the tight areas of the ice. There were immediate signs of chemistry alongside Blandisi, a combination that Gruden will likely explore further on the upcoming road trip.
“When [Ellis] is in open ice, he can be pretty dangerous,” said Gruden. “In open ice, we know he is good. If he can play in those tight areas, now he can be a really good player. He has taken advantage of some opportunities. I like his playmaking ability and what he brings to the team.”
– Joseph Blandisi is a player who walks a fine line between antagonizing the opponent in an effective way and costing his team with a lack of discipline. I like what Blandisi offers to the team overall, but he let them down in this game by taking two reckless penalties. There is a possibility that the AHL dishes out supplemental discipline for spearing despite the game misconduct penalty assessed at the time.
– There was no update regarding the status of Ryan Tverberg. Before suffering the injury, Tverbeg registered his third assist of the season and has four points (1G/3A) through five games.
– A solid performance from Keith Petruzzelli was made more notable by the fact he received no help from the officiating crew. Milwaukee ran the goaltender at every opportunity, but Petruzzelli is an affable character who kept his composure. The American native turned aside 20 shots to record his first win of the campaign.
– Tuesday’s lineup:
Robertson – Gambrell – Steeves
Abruzzese – Shaw – Tverberg
Clifford – Blandisi – Ellis
Mastrosimone – Slavin – Solow
Lajoie – Lagesson
Pietroniro – Kokkonen
Rifai – Miller