“I thought Alex Steeves was one of our best players all weekend. It’s good to see him be rewarded for doing a lot of good things out there.”
– John Gruden
In a game that lacked flow due to 20 total penalties, the Toronto Marlies clambered to victory after digging themselves into an early two-goal hole.
The Marlies got off to the perfect start to this game, scoring with just 100 seconds on the clock. Kyle Clifford was the beneficiary of a turnover behind the Sens net before combining with Joseph Blandisi to tee up Max Ellis for his first of the season.
After the restart of play, Josiah Slavin had an opportunity to double the lead, but his backhand effort on a breakaway was turned aside. The Marlies imploded from there.
There was plenty of 4-on-4 action throughout the 60 minutes, and during the first sequence of it, Belleville prospered in the extra space. Keith Petruzzelli will feel he should have done better on the 1-1 goal, but Lassi Thomson’s backhand shot over the shoulder of the netminder was a top-drawer finish.
Consecutive penalties put Toronto on the back foot as the emphasis on special teams continued to grow. Belleville scored on the second attempt after capitalizing on two failed zone exits by Kyle Clifford. It was another nice finish as Matthew Highmore scored on the turn from the high slot.
The Senators scored a second goal in three minutes to stretch their lead to 3-1. A defensive breakdown from a shell-shocked Marlies side led to Dillon Heatherington scoring his first goal of the season.
There was a glimmer of hope to finish the period when Logan Shaw’s line produced the best shift of the period for Toronto, resulting in a power play. Overall, however, it was a first-period performance that looked like a hangover from Friday’s overtime loss.
The middle frame contained the majority of the entire game’s five-on-five action, and Toronto fared much better in that game state.
Nick Robertson couldn’t finish on a breakaway initiated by Alex Steeves at the three-minute mark, but it didn’t matter after the pair combined to score Toronto’s second goal just 30 seconds later.
The Marlies transitioned at speed after recovering possession in the neutral zone. Dylan Gambrell stormed across the blue line and dished off to Robertson to his right, where Robertson produced a stinging one-time shot that rang off the far post. The puck fell into the path of Steeves for an easy finish.
There was no further scoring in the period despite both teams trading chances off the rush.
Toronto’s penalty kill ensured the game remained within one, as did Petruzzelli, who made a stellar save to deny Brennan Saulnier late in the frame.
10 penalties in the final frame of regulation led to a disjointed 20 minutes of action.
Arguably, the best shift of the period at the two-minute mark resulted in the only goal.
Bobby McMann played a huge role both in possession and in recovering pucks as the Marlies swarmed the Belleville zone. The result was a rebound tucked home by Steeves following a rebound from Marshall Rifa’s point shot.
As Toronto’s power play struggled to make an impact, the Marlies continued to push for a winner at even strength.
Ellis would have been disappointed to miss the target from the right circle following some excellent build-up play. Joseph Blandisi was frustrated after not putting away a rebound off of Simon Benoit’s shot.
Petruzzelli continued to shut the door after the opening period, making a good save to deny Zack MacEwen on a breakaway among the five high-danger scoring chances he stopped to send the game to overtime.
With Robertson slashed on a partial breakaway early in the overtime frame, Toronto’s power play had the opportunity to finally make its mark. Despite an attempt to flip the script by starting with four forwards, Toronto mustered just two shots on goal which didn’t truly test Leevi Merilainen.
For the first time this season, the Marlies required a shootout to determine the destination of the extra point.
Clifford stepped up first and failed to score in what seemed like a strange choice with so many options available. Steeves did score, and Shaw had the chance to win the shootout but didn’t convert as the third shooter. In sudden death, both Robertson and Ellis scored before Petruzzelli made a sprawling glove save to rob Highmore and register a well-deserved victory.
Post Game Notes
– It hasn’t always been pretty through seven games, but the Marlies’ resilience to date has seen them just lose one game in regulation. A record of 4-1-2 is currently good for second place in the North Division.
– It’s still early in the season, but the Marlies’ power play has been dreadful so far. After an 0-6 outing, Toronto now owns the worst power play in the league at 11.4%. Gaining the zone was problematic in this game and the frustration among the units was apparent. No doubt, it’s an aspect they’ll be working on heavily in practice this week.
– After a rocky first period, Keith Petruzzelli held the fort by making 25 consecutive saves to give Toronto a chance to come back. He turned aside 31 shots in all to register his second victory of the season.
“Those momentum saves give your bench a little bit more life,” said Gruden. “Your goalie is still out there battling and making those game-changing saves. Our guys responded.”
– Alex Steeves doubled his goal tally for the season with a pair in this victory. The winger deserved a couple after hitting the post on four occasions in the previous game.
– Scoring his first of the campaign was Max Ellis. It’s been a bright beginning for the winger, who is getting a healthy push from the new head coach.
– Somewhat quietly, Topi Niemelä has accrued five points (2G/3A) through six games. If you include last season’s numbers including playoffs, the rookie has 12 points (5G/7A) in his first 19 AHL games.
– Saturday’s lines:
Robertson – Gambrell – Steeves
McMann – Shaw – Abruzzese
Clifford – Blandisi – Ellis
Ovchinnikov – Slavin – Solow
Benoit – Lajoie
Pietroniro – Villeneuve
Rifai – Niemelä