“I liked the style of play. We hit a lot of posts and had a lot of possession time in the O-zone. [Sometimes] you run into a hot goalie. I thought we did a lot of good things. We just didn’t get the result that we wanted.”
– John Gruden
The Marlies will likely win games featuring worse performances than this one this season, and we can certainly give a nod to an excellent performance between the pipes by the Senators’ Mads Sogaard. That said, the Marlies failed to create enough traffic in front of the netminder at times and weren’t clinical in their numerous high-quality scoring chances.
It was one-way traffic for the Marlies in the opening nine minutes. Simon Benoit could have scored just 40 seconds into the game in his Marlies debut, but the defenseman missed the target from the slot.
Toronto drew consecutive penalties but could not find the breakthrough with the extra skater. The closest they came was through Alex Steeves hitting the crossbar and then the short-side post.
At the other end, Dennis Hildeby made a good double-save to deny Zack MacEwen just before the midway mark to ensure the game remained tied.
Nick Robertson, Joseph Blandisi, and Dmitry Ovchinikov all should done better with excellent scoring opportunities before Toronto went back to the power play for a third time. Dylan Gambrell and Logan Shaw wasted rebound chances in the slot as Belleville clung onto a 0-0 score line heading into the intermission.
Through 20 minutes, Toronto recorded 19 shots on goal, but that number could have been at least 30 if not for some wastefulness in numerous other promising scoring positions.
The Marlies killed a penalty to begin the middle frame before taking it to the Senators some more back at five-on-five.
Ovchinikov and Blandisi combined to good effect, but neither was able to find the clinical touch when it mattered. The top line created an odd-man rush at the five-minute mark with Steeves in possession, but he ignored Robertson to his right and rifled a shot off the crossbar once more.
The fourth time was the charm as Toronto finally stuck with the man-advantage. After some crisp puck movement and with traffic in front, Topi Niemelä scored with a one-time slap-shot from the point.
On a rare offensive foray, the Senators almost struck back two minutes later, but the crossbar was the Marlies’ friend this time.
Toronto could and should have doubled their lead before the second intermission. Robertson delivered an exquisite pass to find Gambrell alone at the back door, but the centerman completely flubbed his shot. Josiah Slavin initiated an odd-man rush from the Marlies zone, but true-to-form for Toronto, it all went to waste.
Belleville nearly played spoiler with 30 seconds remaining. Matthew Highmore escaped on a breakaway following a poorly-timed change by the Marlies, but his effort was denied by a smart glove save from Hildeby, who did well to keep his concentration despite stretches of inactivity.
The Marlies weren’t nearly as dominant in the third period as the Senators sensed they could still take something from the game despite getting completely outplayed in the opening 40 minutes.
Neither team could make hay on special teams early in the frame, and Belleville was beginning to look more threatening at five-on-five.
Lassi Thomson and MacEwen brought the best out of Hildeby, who had to deal with more high-danger shots in the final frame of regulation alone than in the opening 40.
A power play with a little over eight minutes remaining gave Toronto a chance to find an insurance marker. The Marlies created one chance of note — a rebound that fell to Slavin just above the blue paint with the goal at his mercy — but the Marlies forward was frustrated after sending the puck over the cage.
The Senators tied the game up with a little under four minutes remaining with a power play tally as Roby Jarventie polished off a favourable bounce from Maxence Guenette’s initial shot.
The Marlies failed to register a shot for the final five minutes of regulation or in the overtime that followed.
It took only 43 seconds for the Senators to claim an undeserved victory. From Toronto’s perspective, it was far from their best effort at three-on-three, with John Gruden suggesting his team “fell asleep.”
Niemelä’s weak backhand shot was not a high-percentage play, resulting in a 2v1 rush the other way. Hildeby threw himself to his left, but he couldn’t prevent Jacob Larsson from scoring the winning goal.
Post Game Notes
– It was a game of mixed fortunes for Topi Niemelä. He took the holding penalty leading to the Belleville power-play goal and didn’t make the best decision in overtime. It was a game full of learning experiences for him, but overall, it was another positive performance at five-on-five and he netted his second goal of the season.
– Nick Robertson registered a ridiculous 11 shots on goal in this game. I am not going to criticize him for getting the puck on net with regularity — it’s certainly a strength of his game — but it did appear as if Sogaard had a pretty good read on him by the second period. A little more deception might be required against the same goaltender on Saturday evening.
– Hitting the iron three times was certainly unfortunate for Alex Steeves. If one of those shots goes in, the narrative of the game is likely much different. His shot count was at five by the end of the game, and he at least did a good job of creating rebound opportunities with his efforts.
– Dennis Hildeby must be wondering how well he has to play to pick up a first AHL win. A 31-save performance from the Swedish netminder deserved far better than the final result. “He looked incredible,” said Gruden. “It is his second start in the AHL. I thought he looked comfortable and a lot more confident than the first time. A good sign for us.”
– An update on Ryan Tverberg: He’s out week-to-week with a lower-body injury. A tough break for a young prospect off to an excellent start to his professional career.
– Friday’s lines:
Robertson – Gambrell – Steeves
Abruzzese – Shaw – Ellis
Clifford – Blandisi – Ovchinikov
Mastrosimone – Slavin – Solow
Benoit – Miller
Lajoie – Niemelä
Kokkonen – Villeneuve