“[Dmitry Ovchinnikov] is probably wondering why we don’t put him on the power play more often! It was good for him [to score a hat trick]. He was opportunistic. He’s a really smart player. If he just understands to put in some work in the weight room and do some extra things, he could actually be a really special player.”

“… I really liked our team effort from the goaltender out and in terms of learning how to win.”

– John Gruden

Not only was Dmitry Ovchinnikov’s hat trick a reason to be enthused about this performance, but the Marlies‘ emphatic showing through 50 minutes of this game was also highly encouraging. Despite icing a lineup bereft of their top forwards due to illness, injury, and call-ups, the Marlies handed out a beatdown to a Grand Rapids team that had not lost in regulation at home this season.

First Period

The Marlies set the tone early by dominating possession and zone time through the opening four minutes. While scoring chances were at a premium, it was a structured start from a Toronto team that had imploded in their previous outing.

The Griffins struck first at the seven-minute mark with a goal born out of won puck battles at the right faceoff dot in the Griffins’ zone.

Josiah Slavin tussled for possession from the puck drop, allowing Keenan Suthers to use his size and strength to claim possession. The power forward flubbed his shot, but the puck fell kindly back to Slavin to finish off his second goal of the season. 

The Marlies weren’t able to capitalize on their first power play, which was negated by a penalty. During the ensuing four-on-four action, Keith Petruzzelli made an important pair of back-to-back saves to rob Carter Mazur and Jonathan Berggren, which in turn resulted in a rush the other way.

Max Lajoie was the trailer on the play, beat one defender in the slot, and looked set to score but couldn’t beat Sebastian Cossa between the pipes.

At the exact second Toronto’s second power play expired, the Marlies doubled their lead inside the final four minutes. Dmitry Ovchinnikov scored with a one-time shot from low in the right circle on a fantastic cross-seam pass from Nick Abruzzese.

The Marlies found themselves on the penalty in the final minute with Kyle Clifford sent to the box. Grand Rapids came really close to netting in the dying seconds, but a tremendous double save by Petruzzelli robbed Joel L’Esperance and preserved the 2-0 lead through 20 minutes.

Second Period

The Marlies killed the remainder of the penalty to begin the second period, but Clifford didn’t last much longer in this game. Assessed five and a game for spearing, he left his teammates facing a five-minute penalty kill and put the team down to 10 forwards for well over half the game.

Despite more acrobatic saves from Petruzzelli and some timely blocks from Mikko Kokkonen, Toronto’s resistance was broken on the penalty kill. The Marlies could consider themselves a little unlucky as Brogan Rafferty’s shot through traffic rebounded off the backboards and straight into the wheelhouse of Tim Gettinger for a tap-in.

The home crowd was lifted by the goal and it went straight to the Griffins’ legs, but the Marlies weren’t rattled by the turn of events, instead returning to the tenets that earned them success in the opening frame.

Ovchinnikov started and finished the third goal as the Marlies responded less than two minutes later to establish a two-goal lead. After stripping Rafferty of the puck in Toronto’s zone, the Russian winger sped down the right side to create a 3-on-1 rush, and a give-and-go with Nick Abruzzese led to an empty cage for Ovchinnikov to aim at. He did benefit from a little luck as his shot found the net via the post and Cossa, but he deserved the good fortune.

The Marlies surged into a 4-1 lead with six minutes remaining on a beautiful passing play. Max Lajoie teed up Alex Steeves in the left circle, where the good money was on the winger shooting. Steeves deceived everyone by sending a one-time pass to Abruzzese in the opposite circle to extend the lead to three goals.

Third Period

The Marlies killed the remnants of another penalty to begin the final frame and set about securing the two points.

It took just 81 of the third period for Toronto to strike for a fifth time. A crushing hit by Zach Solow by the home bench caused a stir, with Grand Rapids focused more on the Marlies forward than the action on the ice. Within a split second, Joseph Blandisi sprung Keiffer Bellows on a breakaway, and Bellows made no mistake with his finish.

A little bit of complacency with the lead set in afterward, allowing the Griffins to strike at the six-minute mark. Zach Aston-Reese (remember him?) was afforded space between the hash marks to score his first goal of the season.

Fast-forward another six minutes, the Griffins struck again to make it a 5-3 game. Toronto was asleep at the wheel as Amadeus Lombardi scored the first goal of his professional career on a rebound. John Gruden then wisely took a timeout to settle down his troops.

A spell of four-on-four action felt like a penalty kill from Toronto’s perspective, but the safety-first approach led to no scoring chances for the Griffins.

Grand Rapids pulled their goaltender with three minutes remaining but failed to make any inroads with the extra attacker. Instead, Steeves made a really smart play to seal the victory, dumping the puck clear from his side of the red line with the anticipation that he could retrieve it before scoring into the empty net.

With the destination of the two points decided, all hell broke loose with 39 seconds left on the clock. Grand Rapids threw the dummy out of the pram and a line brawl ensued.

The result was the following penalties assessed to the Griffins:

19:21 Bench Game misconduct – Abuse of officials, 10 min

19:21 Zach Aston-Reese Roughing, 2 min PP

19:21 Zach Aston-Reese Slashing, 2 min PP

19:21 Zach Aston-Reese Misconduct – Continuing altercation, 10 min

19:21 Carter Mazur Misconduct – Abuse of officials, 10 min

19:21 Wyatt Newpower Fighting, 5 min

19:21 Wyatt Newpower Game misconduct – Aggressor, 10 min

19:21 Dominik Shine Fighting, 5 min

19:21 Dominik Shine Game misconduct – Aggressor, 10 min

19:21 Dominik Shine Game misconduct – Third man in, 10 min

Quite the list. Saturday’s rematch will no doubt be feisty.

On the resulting Marlies power play, Ovchinnikov completed his hat trick followed by a big celebration by him and his teammates.


Post Game Notes

– Huge credit has to go to the 10-man forward crew who put in an outstanding effort after Kyle Clifford’s game misconduct penalty. The group included Keenan Suthers, who recorded an assist on his AHL debut. Listed at 6’8 and 245 lbs, the towering forward gave the Marlies everything you could want out of a player his size: difficult to dislodge in possession, strong along the boards, and a willingness to engage physically at every opportunity.

– In my season review, I believe I listed Dmitry Ovchinnikov as an enigma. He doesn’t play in every game, but when he does, he produces some moments that make you sit up and take notice. His first professional hat trick showed what’s possible when he’s confident and feeling it. Consistency of performance and a commitment to build up his physical strength (as noted by John Gruden) are the keys for the winger moving forward.

Alex Steeves extended his point streak to eight games (7G/4A) with a delightful primary assist on Nick Abruzzese’s goal and the empty-net goal to secure victory. Abruzzese notched a pair of five-on-five primary assists and a five-on-five goal in what was probably his best performance this year. It was his first multi-point haul of the campaign, and he has now scored in back-to-back games.

– I have been waiting for Max Lajoie to break out offensively given his career statistics. In the first game back from a recall, the defenseman registered three assists, opening his scoring account this season. A first goal will likely follow in due course.

Max Ellis was missing due to illness and is considered day-to-day. Bobby McMann sat for precautionary reasons and the presumption that he’ll be called up to the Leafs was born out by today’s transaction.

– Friday’s lines:

Steeves – Gambrell – Abruzzese
Bellows – Blandisi – Solow
Clifford – Slavin – Mastrosimone
Ovchinikov – Suthers

Kokkonen – Villeneuve
Lajoie – Niemelä
Rifai – Miller


Post-Game Media Availability: Lajoie, Abruzzese & Gruden

Game Highlights: Marlies 7 vs. Griffins 3