“You’ve got to learn from your mistakes… I really liked our response [to yesterday’s loss] with our young defensemen, the leadership we got from the guys, and the stops from Hildeby. It was a well-rounded effort and I really liked a lot about our game.”

– John Gruden

This was indeed a much better 60-minute effort from the Marlies, and the 5-0 result speaks for itself.

First Period

Similar to the previous evening, Laval began the game with high intensity and put Toronto under sustained pressure in the opening few minutes. After Dennis Hildeby settled the nerves with a good stop at the doorstep on Riley McKay at the three-minute mark, Toronto grew into the game.

The Marlies would have been disappointed not to be up by a couple of goals inside eight minutes. Kyle Clifford created a breakaway for himself by stripping Brandon Gignac at the Toronto blue line but couldn’t finish it off. Nick Abruzzese then forced Jakub Dobeš into a spectacular left-toe save on a partial breakaway as Toronto began to make inroads on Laval’s shaky defense.

The breakthrough arrived just after the midway mark as a result of a strong shift cycling the puck. Dylan Gambrell and William Villeneuve kept Laval pinned in their zone before Alex Steeves took over behind the goal line, where the winger extricated himself from one defender before driving through the right circle, into the slot, and delivering a shot over the right shoulder of Dobeš — a reward for actively fighting his way into the inside ice.

This will be my only reference to officiating in this recap. In short, it was dreadful for both teams throughout this game, but Toronto could certainly feel hard done by given the nature of the game’s first call.  Joseph Blandisi was assessed a double-minor for high-sticking only after Mitchell Stephens headed down the tunnel to receive treatment. None of the four officials saw the “penalty” at the time it happened, and I can only assume that they guessed on the call. A ridiculous state of affairs, but I’ll digress.

There was some justice after Toronto’s penalty kill stood firm despite spending the majority of the four minutes inside the defensive zone.

The Marlies were unable to strike on two power plays of their own inside the final four minutes before the period ended with a brawl. Brady Keeper sent Logan Shaw crashing into the backboards with an incredibly dangerous cross-check, infuriating Keiffer Bellows and Bobby McMann, who both charged in to protect their captain. The latter ended up with the only penalty for roughing even though he was taken down head-first to the ice during the melee.

Second Period

The parade to the penalty box continued in the middle frame, with four infractions called in a little over seven minutes. The Marlies‘ power play continued to struggle, but the penalty kill barely gave the Rocket a glimpse at goal.

Back at five-on-five, Toronto struck for a second time with an unlikely source playing provider. Josiah Slavin cleared the danger for Toronto by carrying the puck across the blue line and into the neutral zone as Marshall Rifai exited the box. The defenseman stepped into the play and found himself on a partial breakaway thanks to Slavin’s feed.

Although Dobeš produced a good save to deny Rifai initially, Kyle Clifford did what he does best by driving the net and scoring on the second attempt on the rebound.

There were additional scoring chances late in the frame for Slavin, Abruzzese, Bellows, and Mikko Kokkonen, but Dobeš kept Laval within striking distance.

It was a quieter frame for Hildeby, who made just seven stops, but a save on Joshua Roy from in tight with seconds remaining in the period was a key moment in the game.

Third Period

Hildeby was called on early in the final frame to keep the two-goal lead intact. A turnover by Toronto allowed Laval to transition with speed, but Hildeby stayed calm and strong on his right post to turn aside Roy for a second time.

A game-changing double-save then arrived at the three-minute mark after a turnover by Kokkonen presented Laval with an odd-man rush. Lucas Condotta looked odds-on to score from the slot, but Hildeby turned him aside and ended up on his backside while making the stop. The sequence showcased the goaltender’s athleticism as he robbed Gignanc and Lias Andersson on the follow-up efforts, with the second shot knocking off Hildeby’s mask as he flung himself to his right.

The Marlies rode the momentum swing and immediately made it count at the other end of the ice. With time to measure his effort, Nick Robertson unloaded with a shot that snuck through Dobeš and trickled over the line.

A 3-0 lead couldn’t be considered game over against a Laval team that often cheats for offense, but the Marlies weren’t in the mood to give out any more favours.

After seven games without a goal, Logan Shaw’s eyes lit up when Abruzzese sent him on a breakaway just before the eight-minute mark. Toronto’s captain might have been snakebitten lately, but you wouldn’t have known it by the nature of his emphatic finish.

It became 5-0 a minute later as the Toronto power play finally, at long last, broke through, although it was more of an individual goal than a well-worked tally by the top unit. Robertson won a neutral zone face-off back to William Villeneuve, who quickly sent the puck over to Steeves on the right wing. Steeves drove around the outside of one defender before cutting inside to the slot, holding off the attention of a second Laval defenseman and slotting the puck home for his second of the game.

The Rocket were frustrated and continued to take a plethora of penalties, hindering their chances of breaking the shutout.  Hildeby only needed to make a single save in the final 10 minutes of the game to secure his first clean sheet and victory in North America.

Post Game Notes

– The shutout for Dennis Hildeby came in just his fourth career AHL start. This was certainly the best performance the team has produced in front of him, and the netminder responded in kind. A 26-save shutout improves his save percentage to .935% for the season through three games.

“[Hildeby] deserves it,” said Gruden. “He was solid the whole night. He made two huge saves there in the third period. They were spectacular, game-changing saves. We’re excited for him.” 

Alex Steeves extended his point streak to six games (6G/2A) with a pair of goals. He’s been criticized in the past for his tendency to play on the perimeter, but it was noticeable how many times he drove between the dots into the danger areas in this game. It paid dividends.

– There aren’t many times in his AHL career when Logan Shaw has gone seven games without a goal and four without a point, but Toronto’s captain threw the monkey off his back in style by scoring a breakaway goal. He’s definitely been a casualty of the faltering power play in terms of his overall point production.

Dylan Gambrell scored 20 goals in the 2019-20 AHL campaign (51 games), but that’s an outlier from what I’ve seen so far. He’s not been clinical in front of goal as yet (one goal in nine games while missing a plethora of gilt-edged chances), but I hope he proves me wrong. Gambrell recorded a pair of five-on-five primary helpers, extending his assist streak to three games. With two shooters on either side of him, it’s fine for Gambrell to be a complementary playmaker. 

– It was a four-point weekend for Nick Robertson, who added a goal and a secondary assist to his tally. He’s recorded 11 points (5G/6A) through nine games, although there have been some concerns with and without the puck in the defensive zone in the early going. There was a marked improvement in that area of the game in this outing over Friday’s performance.

Marshall Rifai registered an assist for the third straight game. Without much fuss, he’s recorded four five-on-five assists in six games. Two of those have been primary helpers, and it’s been noticeable how much more willing he’s been to shoot the puck so far this season (13 SOG in six games).

– Saturday’s lines:

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

Kokkonen – Villeneuve
Pietroniro – Niemelä
Rifai – Miller


Post-Game Media Availability: Dennis Hildeby & John Gruden

Game Highlights: Marlies 5 vs. Rocket 0