“I thought we were outstanding in the first and then part of the second [period]. We got a little sloppy, but you are going to get a push from the other team. I really did like our third period, so that’s becoming a trend that we can stick to and understand that the third period is where you win games.”
– John Gruden
With a 4-0 win over Grand Rapids, the Toronto Marlies finished their seven-game road trip with a record of 4-2-1 and now lead the North Division with 16 points (7-3-2).
As expected after the Marlies humbled them on Friday evening, Grand Rapids came out with some pep in their step from the drop of the puck. Dennis Hildeby turned aside two efforts from Joel L’Esperance and one by Amadeus Lombardi to prevent the Griffins from taking an early lead.
The Marlies rewarded their goaltender by scoring the opening goal at the other end. Griffins captain Josiah Didier turned the puck over in the slot, allowing Nick Abruzzese to tee up Joseph Blasndisi for his fourth goal of the campaign.
The Marlies did a good job of limiting scoring chances for the Griffins, who took until the 12th minute to trouble Hildeby again. A rare breakdown from the Marlies led to an odd-man rush, but Marco Kasper could not find a way past Toronto’s Swedish netminder.
To rub salt into the wound, the Marlies struck for a second time just 60 seconds later when Abruzzese capitalized on a turnover near Toronto’s blue line and surged down the left wing in transition. Steeves was the obvious passing target, but instead, Abruzzese patiently held up a little and found Dylan Gambrell storming down the middle of the ice. Gambrell sent a reverse pass over to Steeves, who applied the finish to a well-worked goal.
Carter Mazur failed to hit the target on a breakaway chance for the Griffins late in the period, but otherwise, Hildeby went untested and the Marlies held a 2-0 lead through 20 minutes.
The middle frame was a fast-paced period with very few whistles.
Grand Rapids were disappointed not to take advantage of a handful of high-quality scoring chances to get themselves on the board. Mazur and Elmer Soderblom were both stonewalled by Hildeby in the opening 90 seconds as the Griffins got off to another fast start to a period.
The Griffins went on two odd-man rushes in the second period but didn’t hit the net on either one. A turnover by Abruzzese led to a 2-on-0, but as Hildeby stretched out his right pad in a vain attempt to make a save, the Griffins struck the iron. On a 3-on-1 break at the midway point, Jonatan Berggren fired wide from the slot.
Hildeby made one other save of note shortly afterward to turn aside Lombardi for a second time, but he was largely untroubled for the remainder of the period.
A double effort by Alex Steeves and a drive to the net by Keenan Suthers was as close as the Marlies came to extending their lead before the end of the first 40 minutes.
Toronto got off to a solid start to the final frame, allowing just one shot on net through the opening six minutes while looking to solidify their two-goal lead.
An undisciplined hooking penalty by Kyle Clifford handed the Griffins just their third power play of the game, but Hildeby produced an inspired double save to deny Simon Edvinsson and Mazur, further frustrating the Griffins on their only shots on net during the man advantage.
The Marlies continued to shut the game down at five-on-five and drew a penalty of their own with eight minutes remaining. Dmitry Ovchinnikov scored from the slot on the third attempt after Michael Hutchinson turned aside Kieffer Bellows and Abruzzese.
The Marlies then secured their victory with five minutes remaining when Bellows escaped on a partial breakaway, sending the puck off both posts and in behind Hutchinson to give Toronto a 4-0 lead.
Hildeby only needed to make two saves in the time remaining to secure a second shutout in as many games.
Post Game Notes
– Dennis Hildeby became the first Marlies goaltender to record consecutive shutouts and is now 2-1-1 in four starts with a .950 SV%. Hildeby was only required to make 23 saves for his second shutout, but he made several key stops on high-quality scoring chances. At this stage, he should be carrying the majority of the workload between the pipes.
– After a second three-point game this weekend, Grand Rapids will be glad to see the back of Nick Abruzzese. The winger is now second in scoring on the active roster with 11 points (3G/8A) in 12 games.
– The Marlies may want to secure Kieffer Bellows to an AHL contract sooner rather than later if he agrees to terms. Since signing a PTO, the 25-year-old has scored four goals and produced seven points through five outings. This was his second multi-point haul (1G/1A) in three games.
“We have a guy who can score, and having some familarity with him, I still think there is growth in his game where he can take it to the next level as far as dominating games,” said Gruden. “All in all, he has been a great addition.”
– Alex Steeves extended his point streak to nine games by scoring the insurance marker. His streak is the longest of any AHL player, and with 14 points (8G/6A) in 12 games, the winger is currently seventh in overall league scoring.
– Tate Singleton was the next call-up from Newfoundland to make an AHL debut this weekend. The complete opposite of Keenan Suthers, Singleton is a smaller, skilled forward who is deceptively quick. It’s easy to see why he has produced 12 points (5G/7A) in 11 games for the Growlers. A solid debut and there is plenty of room for growth in the rookie’s game.
– Saturday’s lines:
Steeves – Gambrell – Abruzzese
Bellows – Blandisi – Ovchinnikov
Clifford – Slavin – Mastrosimone
Singleton – Suthers
Kokkonen – Villeneuve
Lajoie – Niemelä
Pietroniro – Miller