“I liked pretty much our [full] 60 minutes. I thought we were on top of them… I thought we deserved better than the outcome… I thought we got great play from all four lines tonight.”

– John Gruden

The Toronto Marlies may have extended their losing streak to three games, but this was a huge improvement over their recent performances. Against the North Division-leading Cleveland Monsters, who have three of the top nine point-per-game producers in the league, Toronto did an excellent job of suppressing the home team’s offense.

First Period

Perhaps a result of watching the game tape from the Marlies‘ last loss against Lehigh, Cleveland attempted to push Toronto around early with an ultra-physical style of play. The Marlies responded in kind, not shying away from the rough stuff while also using their speed and puck movement to solve the Monsters’ forecheck.

The opening frame lacked quality scoring chances, although Toronto would have been content to limit Cleveland to five shots on goal. Neither team could take advantage of a power play apiece, with the two chances of note occurring during five-on-five action.

At the seven-minute mark, a mistake by Mikko Kokkonen led to a 2-on-1 break for the Monsters, but Dennis Hildeby continued his great form with an excellent save on Justin Pearson.

Too many Toronto shots came from the perimeter with little traffic of note, making life easy for goaltender Paval Cajan. It wasn’t until the Cleveland netminder mishandled the puck that he looked at all under duress. Cajan’s misplay with 90 seconds remaining presented Keenan Suthers with the puck, but from a tight angle, his shot flashed across the blue paint.

Second Period

The Marlies opened the middle frame on the power play and drew another penalty immediately afterward. Despite not scoring on either man-advantage opportunity, there were promising signs. Kieffer Bellows, Pontus Holmberg, Logan Shaw, and Dylan Gambrell all came close to breaking the deadlock.

At the other end, Hildeby continued to bail out his team on the rare occasion he was called on. At the five-minute mark, Toronto gave up another odd-man rush, but the Swedish netminder pulled off a good glove save on Owen Sillinger.

The Marlies opened the scoring by netting just their 10th power-play goal of the season. From below the goal line on the right side, Gambrell found Dmitry Ovchinnikov in the high slot, where the Russian forward did not give Cajan a chance to reset by beating him with a perfectly placed one-timer. 

Disappointingly, the Marlies gave it back within five minutes.

A rare turnover by Bellows handed Cleveland possession just inside the Marlies’ blue line, and Jake Christiansen teed up Trey Fix-Wolansky for a one-time finish.

The Marlies ended the frame on the back foot, failing to record a shot in the final nine minutes. After killing off a penalty, the Marlies dodged an even bigger bullet with a little under two minutes remaining.

The worst defensive shift of the game by Toronto appeared to result in a backdoor tap-in for Mikael Pyyhtia, but Hildeby’s outstretched left pad came to the Marlies’ rescue.

Third Period

The Marlies took the game to the Monsters in the third period and were unlucky not to secure a regulation win. 

Joseph Blandisi was left wondering how he didn’t score on a partial breakaway at the six-minute mark. Blandisi then appeared to score on a rebound from Robert Mastrosimone’s shot, but it was waived off despite the goal light flashing.

The craziness continued as Mastrosimone struck the far post with Cajan beaten. Seconds later, Cleveland knocked their net off its moorings. Not only did the Monsters escape a penalty, but the officiating crew opted not to review the Blandisi play where the official behind the net turned the goal light on. It was a baffling series of events, but unfortunately, not particularly surprising or unusual when it comes to AHL officiating.

The Marlies continued to create scoring chances even when shorthanded. Gambrell escaped on a breakaway but missed the target. The former San Jose Sharks forward seems to be suffering from a crisis of confidence in front of goal after one goal in his first 16 games.

Logan Shaw and Zach Solow also weren’t clinical enough with efforts from the high and low slot, respectively, as Toronto’s goal-scoring woes continued.

Nick Abruzzese tried to be the hero late in the period after streaking through the neutral zone and past two defenders before letting fly from the top of the circles. The final shot didn’t match the quality of the move that preceded it as Cajan made another fairly comfortable save.

Despite creating six high-danger scoring chances, striking the post, and outshooting the Monsters 15-7, the Marlies were forced to settle for overtime.


The Marlies dominated the extra frame and created three opportunities to wrap up the extra point in the first 80 seconds. Shaw (twice) and Blandisi were both denied, and frustration appeared to be getting the better of Toronto. 

That was apparent when Cleveland was called for a too-many-men penalty with 2:29 remaining. Toronto fired just one shot during the resulting 4-on-3, looking for the perfect play rather than getting pucks to the net.

Overtime fizzled out, requiring a skills competition to settle the result.

All three Cleveland skaters scored during the shootout, with only Ovchinnikov netting for Toronto. The nature of the celebrations by all the Cleveland players, including goaltender Cajan, was a little over the top, which perhaps spoke to the fact Cleveland knew they were extremely fortunate to keep their winning streak intact.

Post Game Notes

Dmitry Ovchinnikov netted his sixth goal all the season, with all those tallied in his last five games. It was his third tally on the power play, a category in which he leads the team in goal-scoring. A promotion to the top power-play unit might be an experiment worth pursuing for John Gruden and his staff.

– It was yet another stellar outing from Dennis Hildey. There wasn’t a heavy workload (stopped 21 of 22 shots) for the Swedish goaltender, but he came up with several key saves when the Marlies lapsed defensively. He’s allowed 10 goals in seven games and tops the AHL rankings with a .943 save percentage and a 1.42 GAA.

– Friday’s lineup:

Bellows – Holmberg – Shaw
Abruzzese – Gambrell – Solow
Mastrosimone – Blandisi – Ellis
Suthers – Slavin – Ovchinnikov

Lajoie – Niemelä
Pietroniro – Kokkonen
Rifai – Miller


Game Highlights: Monsters 2 vs. Marlies 1 (SO)

Post-Game Media Availability: Slavin & Gruden