“We got a little loose, we weren’t stopping on pucks, our details go a little bit, and they took advantage of those opportunities. At the end of the day, if your five-on-five game is not there, you’re not going to win many games.”

– John Gruden

The Marlies didn’t really suffer the beating that the scoreline might otherwise suggest in this 7-3 loss to Milwaukee. The first period was even, and despite conceding four goals in the middle frame, the Marlies were more than competitive for 10 minutes of the second period.

Left facing a mountain to climb in the final frame, the Marlies may have made it interesting if they had capitalized on a few of their scoring opportunities.

First Period

The opening frame was a low-event affair, bereft of high-quality scoring chances for either team. Neither club could capitalize on a power play apiece and of the 18 combined shots in the period, only two came from between the dots.

Toronto’s only chances of note included a withering drive to the slot by Josiah Slavin, who opted to pass on his backhand rather than shoot. His pass to Keiffer Bellows was a little heavy, and the latter was unable to apply the finishing touch. 

Mikko Kokkonen arguably had the best look after escaping down the right wing, but his shot from the circle drew a blocker save with no chance of a rebound opportunity.

Second Period

Before the carnage began, Toronto should have opened the scoring when the puck fell to Kyle Clifford in the slot, but he could not corral it with the goal at his mercy.

Milwaukee struck first with 3:06 on the clock when Kokkonen wasn’t strong enough on the puck behind the goal line, allowing the Admirals to recover possession. Tye Felhaber was left uncovered out front and scored on a one-time shot from Denis Gurianov’s feed.

It was quickly 2-0 for the Admirals at the 4:18 mark when Egor Afanasyev fired a speculative shot from above the left circle, which beat Martin Jones cleanly on his right side. With no traffic in front, the experienced netminder had no excuses on this goal.

The Admirals surged out to a three-goal lead just 23 seconds later. The officiating was not of a high standard in this game, and it played a part in the third goal. As Toronto scrambled in their own end struggling to clear the zone, Slavin was tripped up. Afanasyev was the perpetrator and rubbed salt into the wound by playing a give-and-go with Mark Jankowski before netting his second goal of the game.

Jones was yanked immediately, and although Gruden said it was to wake the team up, Jones had hardly covered himself in glory by that point in the game.

Keith Petruzzelli came up with a couple of good saves despite entering the game cold but was left hung out to dry as the period approached the nine-minute mark. The Marlies gave up an odd-man rush and Reid Schaefer scored from close range.

Everything that could go wrong by that stage had gone wrong, but to Toronto’s credit, there was no let-up.

The faltering power play breathed life into the Marlies with seven minutes remaining. Nick Abruzzese scored with a bullet one-timer from the top of the right to finally break down Milwaukee’s stubborn defense.

Third Period

A comeback appeared unlikely given Milwaukee’s strong defensive record, but Toronto created enough good openings to stress the Admirals.

Early in the third period, Clifford was presented with a similar opportunity to his scoring chance in the second, only this time Troy Grosenick made a comfortable save. Zach Solow came agonizingly close to scoring on a backhand attempt, Slavin flubbed a shot off the heel of his stick, and Max Ellis somehow missed the target from close range. Abruzzese came within millimeters of netting a second goal but couldn’t stretch his stick far enough to connect with Joseph Blandisi’s cross-seam pass.

After seven minutes of dominating the run of play, Milwaukee almost made the result secure on an odd-man rush. Petruzzelli kept Toronto’s tentative hopes alive with another excellent glove save.

The power play came through for the Marlies again with a little under 10 minutes remaining when Blandisi’s blistering shot from the right circle halved the deficit.

Instead of the goal going to their legs, the Marlies became extremely sloppy and hemmed themselves in the defensive zone, not helped by the dreadful ice surface.

Joakim Kemell had time from the hash marks to measure his effort to make it a 5-2 game with 8:05 left on the clock.

What made that brain fart from Toronto even more infuriating is that the Marlies responded nine seconds later. It was a contender for goal of the season as Bellows, Robert Mastrosimone, and Dylan Gambrell connected on a tic-tac-toe play, with the former scoring his second of the campaign.

The Admirals called a timeout and were able to settle the game down from their perspective as Toronto struggled to create further quality scoring chances.

With Petruzzelli pulled with three minutes remaining, the officials decided to get in on the act again. Afanasyev completed his hat trick by finishing into the vacated cage despite being clearly offside. With the cheesiest grin on his face after finding the net for the third time, the Milwaukee forward knew he had been given a helping hand.

William Villeneuve was so incensed by the decision that he was thrown out of the game after berating the officials.

With the wind knocked out of them, the Marlies allowed a seventh goal. Jordan Gross scored his first of the year as Milwaukee converted their touchdown.

Post Game Notes

Kieffer Bellows looks set to receive an NHL offer from the Maple Leafs if he continues this level of performance. He recorded a first multi-point haul for the Marlies (1G/1A) and has four points (2G/2A) through three games.

– The odd man out in Toronto’s trio of goaltenders has been Keith Petruzzelli, who for my money, hasn’t been put in a position to succeed. After coming in cold in this game, he made a plethora of quality saves to keep Toronto within striking distance of making a comeback. His numbers don’t do him justice this season (.877 SV%). If it were down to the calibre of the performances and not about keeping Jones “NHL ready,” Petruzzelli would be deserving of more starts.

– G Dennis Hildeby (illness, day-to-day) and F Logan Shaw (lower body, day-to-day) were absentees.

Max Lajoie has been reassigned and will join the team in Grand Rapids.

– The Marlies have recalled goaltender Vyacheslav Peksa from Newfoundland. The Russian netminder is 1-2-0 this season in the ECHL with a .833 SV%.

– Wednesday’s lines:

McMann – Gambrell – Steeves
Bellows – Slavin – Abruzzese
Clifford – Blandisi – Ellis
Mastrosimone – Solow

Kokkonen – Villeneuve
Pietroniro – Niemelä
Rifai – Miller


Post-Game Media Availability: John Gruden