“I don’t think we were good enough for enough of the game, and our power play sucked.”
– Alex Steeves
It was hardly the most eloquent post-game analysis by a frustrated Alex Steeves, but it was certainly an accurate one. After gifting the Moose a 2-0 lead, the Toronto Marlies stumbled through the majority of this 4-2 loss, showing only flashes of the performance level they’ve upheld for much of the season.
The Moose were playing their third game of the weekend, their fifth game in nine days, and were thumped by Toronto on Saturday evening. Still, they had far more juice in their legs from the opening puck drop than the Marlies, who appeared complacent in every aspect of their play.
Toronto’s lackadaisical approach should have seen them fall behind within two minutes. After fumbling a 3-on-1 rush, the Marlies were flatfooted and needed Keith Petruzzelli to bail them out with a fantastic save on Artemi Kniazev.
That sequence set the tone, and it was no surprise when Manitoba broke the deadlock almost eight minutes into the game.
There was a deal of good fortune for the Moose on a broken play, but Toronto’s loose defensive coverage provided Nicholas Jones with room in the slot. It was a tremendous top-shelf finish with a bouncing puck to contend with, giving Petruzzelli no chance.
The Moose doubled their advantage in the second half of the frame when Petruzzelli was caught overcompensating at his left post and almost conceded a wraparound goal. That was defended well by Nick Abruzzese, but he lost sight of the puck and nobody else reacted quickly enough before Brad Lambert scored.
Toronto earned the first power play of the game but wasted the opportunity, registering just one shot on goal.
The period began with some four-on-four action, although the Marlies quickly found themselves on the penalty kill after Joseph Blandisi was guilty of a lazy tripping penalty.
The Toronto PK came up trumps, and as Blandisi was about to exit the box, Alex Steeves raced away on a breakaway of his own making. There wasn’t an ounce of hesitation to the finish as Steeves went forehand to backhand and roofed his shot into the net.
The goal sparked some energy for the Marlies, who drew two consecutive penalties to give themselves a 5-on-3 power play for 48 seconds. Clueless would be the best way to describe Toronto’s effort with two extra skaters. There seemed to be no coherent plan.
A second goal at this juncture could have altered the course of the game and the final result. Instead, the Moose scored on their next shot on target. C.J. Suess was afforded far too much time in the right circle, where sent a perfect shot into the far top corner.
A late goal from who else but the red-hot Kieffer Bellows gave the Marlies hope of a comeback. The newest member of the squad battled hard in front to score during a scramble in the blue paint following Tommy Miller’s initial point shot.
It was at least a better effort from the Marlies in the final 20 minutes. Toronto’s cycle game was somewhat in sync, and they controlled the lion’s share of possession. Manitoba defended with a great deal of discipline and resolve, making Toronto work for any space inside the dots. The result was the Marlies posing little scoring threat in the offensive zone.
Toronto’s best opportunity to tie the game arrived at the three-minute mark when Mikko Kokkoken sprung Josiah Slavin on a breakaway with a perfect stretch pass. Unfortunately, the forward’s finish didn’t match the defenseman’s setup as Slavin fired wide of the target.
The Marlies became more frustrated as time wound down, with their last chance of note arriving with five minutes remaining. Steeves carved out a partial breakaway but was hooked as he attempted to slide the puck past Collin Delia.
I’ll remind you of Steeves’ post-game comments posted at the beginning of this article. Toronto recorded one shot with the extra skater as their last opportunity to tie the game passed them by.
Nikita Chibrikov’s empty-net goal put the Marlies out of their misery, securing a hard-fought victory for the visiting Moose.
Post Game Notes
– Alex Steeves extended his goal streak to four games (5G) and point streak to 11 games (11G/5A).
– By scoring his fifth goal of the campaign, Kieffer Bellows extended his point streak (5G/6A) to seven games. “He is a goal scorer with a knack for the net,” said John Gruden. “He has a good release. He is inside and battling. He is a strong guy who is tough to contain.
“It is good to see him be rewarded. There is still more to his game that he can grow, but again, he is understanding where he is most effective.”
– Sunday’s lines:
Bellows – Shaw – Ovchinnikov
Abruzzese – Gambrell – Steeves
Blandisi – Holmberg – Ellis
Suthers – Slavin – Solow
Lajoie – Niemelä
Kokkonen – Villeneuve
Pietroniro – Miller