Never give a sucker an even break. 

Heading into this game, Laval picked up just one victory in eight games while allowing 41 goals along the way, but a Rocket team low on confidence managed to concoct a comeback in this game that saw them score four times without response in the final frame.

“We got away from our game. We got a little too comfortable and started being loose with the puck. We didn’t do our job.”

– Captain Logan Shaw

First Period

The Marlies were a mess in the opening minutes of the game and should have fallen behind with a little over 100 seconds played when an offensive zone turnover led to a 3-on-1 break for Laval. Somehow, the Rocket wasted the opportunity, but they didn’t have to wait long for another opportunity.

Toronto dithered in the defensive zone, with Nicholas Robertson’s turnover the biggest culprit. Sean Farrell rifled a shot against the crossbar, and nobody wearing a Marlies jersey reacted in time as the puck fell to Xavier Simoneau. The latter dished off to Mitchell Stephens to score on the second recorded shot of the game.  

The Marlies‘ struggling power play went to work at the seven-minute mark. Consecutive shots from Topi Niemelä created some chaos and a bad-angle chance for Kieffer Bellows. The latter was unable to bank the puck in off the goaltender to score on his debut.

The best chances for Toronto to tie the game arrived with eight minutes remaining when a spell of efficient forechecking along the boards resulted in two opportunities for Dylan Gambrell in the slot. The first brought a save from Jakub Dobeš before his second effort whistled wide of the post.

Laval’s first attempt on the power play proved more futile than Toronto’s as they failed to record a shot on goal.

Second Period

The Marlies began the middle frame with a man advantage carrying over from the previous period. The Rocket weren’t troubled on the penalty kill before almost doubling their lead at the two-minute mark.

Some sloppiness by Toronto in the defensive zone resulted in a broken play and a huge bounce off the backboards. The puck fell into the wheelhouse of Xavier Simoneau, who wound up a big slapshot that Martin Jones somehow deflected high, although I’m not sure he knew much about it.

The Marlies responded with a strong shift that should have seen Robert Mastrosimone tie the game at 1-1. His first effort from the slot forced a wonderful sliding right pad save out of Dobeš, but it was a chance the rookie should have buried. Two additional efforts were turned aside as the Rocket goaltender kept his tenuous shutout intact.

Toronto wasted a third power play but continued to create high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five. Some nice interplay between Josiah Slavin and Mastrosimone teed up Kyle Clifford alone at the far post, where the veteran forward somehow missed the target.

Arguably a worse miss came shortly afterwards. Robertson was the creator this time with another backdoor feed, but Gambrell put his effort off the crossbar when it appeared easier to score.

Dobeš produced his best save of the game 30 seconds later when Nick Abruzzese could and should have scored on an exquisite feed from Logan Shaw following a turnover by Laval in the defensive zone. Dobeš stretched out his right pad to rob the Marlies winger from the slot as the Rocket clung to their narrow lead.

What appeared to be the turning point of the game arrived in the final three minutes of the period. Laval came within millimeters of doubling their lead with the man advantage as Philippe Maillet struck the crossbar with a one-time effort from the slot.

After surviving the penalty, Toronto scored twice in 46 seconds to take a 2-1 lead into the second intermission.

Mikko Kokkonen found the net with a rasping shot from the point, finally breaking the resistance of the Laval netminder. The goal owed much credit to a fantastic screen by Abruzzese parked out front.

The go-ahead marker was a tad fortunate but no more than Toronto’s dominance deserved. A point shot from Rifai was partially blocked, with the rebound falling kindly to Bellows in the slot, where the newest member of the Marlies made no mistake.

Third Period

If the end of the middle frame was a possible turning point, the beginning of the third period definitely should have been. Laval threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Toronto in the opening two minutes with the play almost exclusively spent in the Marlies’ zone. On their first attempt to clear their zone, the Marlies doubled their lead.

Robertson charged down a clearance by Dobeš before sniping home following a swift interchange between Gambrell and Alex Steeves.

Toronto allowed just two shots on a penalty kill, and while Laval enjoyed the lion’s share of possession at five-on-five, they created very little in the way of scoring chances.

The Marlies might have put the game to bed with a little over 10 minutes remaining when Abruzzese sent Bellows away on a partial break, but his five-hole effort caught the inside of the netminder’s pads. Abruzzese and Shaw were on hand for the loose puck, but they were thwarted by the officials prematurely whistling the play dead.

60 seconds later, the Rocket breathed life back into their home crowd. Martin Jones didn’t hold onto a chest-high shot by Logan Mailloux and coughed up an easy rebound for Maillet to score his first of the year.

27 seconds later, Laval tied the game at 3-3.

After losing consecutive defensive-zone draws, the Marlies were too loose closing down shots from the point and battling in front of Jones, resulting in a tap-in for Jan Mysak.

With the energy of a fervent home crowd behind them, Laval controlled zone time and possession for the next couple of minutes. The Rocket couldn’t turn it into a go-ahead goal, and the game appeared to be heading for overtime.

That was until the Marlies were presented with a power-play opportunity inside the final two minutes. We could call it sloppy or a crisis of confidence; either way, the Marlies were not sharp with the extra skater and gifted Laval the game-winner.

The Rocket simply outworked Toronto and cycled the puck back to the right point, where Maillet redirected Mailloux’s shot off the crossbar to record his second goal of the game to give Laval a 4-3 lead. Shaw’s protests about a high stick unsurprisingly fell on deaf ears as it’s not a reviewable play in the AHL.

Despite opting for a timeout and pulling Jones to create a two-man advantage, Toronto failed to record a shot on goal before Brandon Gignac finished into the empty net with eight seconds remaining to seal the Marlies’ fate.

Post Game Notes

– Toronto’s propensity for giving up multi-goal leads is becoming a theme. They were fortunate to come back and win against Charlotte and Milwaukee after throwing away two-goal leads. The loss to Rochester saw leads of 3-0 and 4-1 evaporate in a 5-4 defeat.

– With each passing game, Toronto’s power play becomes more of a momentum-crippling problem for the team. Not only did they fail to connect on three attempts but also gave up a short-handed game-winner. There is little cohesion or confidence in what either unit is attempting to achieve.

Nick Robertson recorded a multi-point haul (1G/1A) in a mixed outing. Offensively, he was a threat, but he proved culpable in the defensive zone, prone to overthinking and not making the high-percentage plays.

– Making a season debut for a new club almost 10 games into a campaign is not the easiest situation to thrive in. Kieffer Bellows showed his experience to good effect at times, especially on his goal. Otherwise, the second line of Bellows alongside Shaw and Abruzzese looked clunky at times.

“It always takes a little bit of time to not just come in but feel like he’s welcome,” said John Gruden. “As the game went on, I liked that he started to feel more comfortable. You could see some of the chemistry coming.”

Alex Steeves extended his point streak to five games (4G/2A) with an assist.

Mikko Kokkonen scored just the second goal of his AHL career in his 53rd game. The defenseman also recorded a career-high-equalling four shots in a single game.

– Friday’s lines:

Robertson – Gambrell – Steeves
Bellows – Shaw – Abruzzese
Clifford – Blandisi – McMann
Mastrosimone – Slavin – Ellis

Kokkonen – Niemelä
Pietroniro – Villeneuve
Rifai – Miller


Post-Game Media Availability: John Gruden