“I thought [the Marlies] played extremely well for 50 minutes. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the result we wanted. The style of play was good.”

– John Gruden

For the first time this season, I don’t fully agree with the Marlies head coach’s assessment regarding his team’s overall performance. Toronto was out-chanced in the high-danger scoring opportunities through 40 minutes while falling behind 2-0, and the visiting Crunch didn’t even score on their eight quality scoring chances through two periods.

First Period

Lax officiating early in the game resulted in both teams taking liberties, including some largely questionable hits delivered without consequence. The result was Dylan Gambrell heading to the room early and never returning for the remainder of the game.

The Marlies created three good looks to open the scoring on either side of a successful penalty kill. None of Max Ellis, Joseph Blandisi, or Topi Niemelä could make those opportunities count as Toronto’s continued lack of a clinical touch in front of the net cost them dearly. The statistics (35 saves) may lead one to believe that they were ‘goalie’d’ by Hugo Alnefelt between the pipes, but that isn’t entirely accurate.

Pontus Holmberg attempted to generate offense off his own back with six minutes remaining. After picking up speed through the neutral zone, the Swedish centerman burst by the entire Syracuse defense and in on goal alone but sent his shot wide of the far post.

Syracuse was far more clinical at the other end, netting twice in the final four minutes to take a commanding 2-0 lead into the first intermission.

Joe Carroll was left unattended in the bumper spot on the power play as the Crunch once more made hay with the extra skater this weekend.

The second goal was a mess from the Marlies‘ perspective. They were caught running around in their zone, unable to get anywhere near the puck or lay a hand on an opponent before Mitchell Chaffee scored on a backdoor play.

Second Period

The Marlies have not won a single game after allowing the first goal this season, which is a statistic that must be weighing on their minds.

Syracuse was guilty of taking their foot off the gas in the opening minutes, allowing three odd-man rushes. Logan Shaw saw one effort clip off the post and then missed the target on arguably a better scoring chance.

The Crunch killed off two penalties with ease, locking down the backdoor play that Toronto scored twice with Friday evening. An effective Plan B was nonexistent, with Alnefelt easily handling shots from a distance when the Marlies eventually chose to put pucks on net. 

With four minutes remaining, Toronto’s performance was encapsulated in a single moment. An excellent shift from the third line resulted in a gilt-edge chance for the returning Kyle Clifford, who only needed to hit the target. With the empty net at his mercy, he sent the puck wide.

Third Period

Keith Petruzzelli made a key save in the second period to turn aside Maxim Groshev and needed to be sharp to stop Felix Robert early in the final frame. The goaltender was rewarded for keeping his team in the game shortly afterward.

30 seconds after failing to capitalize on another high-quality scoring chance, Logan Shaw finally threw the monkey off his back. Toronto made an odd-man rush count as Zach Solow made an intelligent drop pass to his captain, who responded with a bar-down finish past Alnefelt.

A dumb retaliation penalty taken by Marshall Rifai put the Marlies on the back foot, but Toronto survived and thrived off the resulting kill. A dominating 45-second shift at the eight-minute mark should have resulted in the tying goal. 

Niemelä was left alone by the side of the net, where he should have had a tap-in. It was Alnefelt’s best save of the game by a long shot, but it’s one he should not have been given a chance to make.

Syracuse tried to hand Toronto a lifeline in the final six minutes of regulation. With the Crunch already down a skater, Emil Lilleberg launched Ellis head-first into the boards with an ugly crosscheck. Thankfully, the Marlies forward was able to skate off unaided but left a pool of blood in his wake and did not return to the game.

A 5-on-3 power play for 44 seconds was followed by a man advantage extending into the final minute of the game, but not a single shot was registered by the Marlies with the two extra skaters. Only three efforts were recorded thereafter before Toronto gave up an odd-man rush and Chaffee scored a shorthanded marker. 

It was a calamitous way to finish the game, and it came as a direct result of sloppy puck management — a theme during this losing streak. 

Post Game Notes

– The Marlies’ record when allowing the first goal of the game is 0-7-0. If they lose the next game, Toronto will match their seven-game losing slide set last season between March 17-April 1.

– Overall, the power play has struggled through 19 games, but it’s especially bad on home ice, where the Marlies have scored just three goals in 10 games for a putrid 6.8% conversion rate.

– There were no post-game updates on the status of Dylan Gambrell or Max Ellis. Alex Steeves was absent with an upper-body injury that has plagued him for the last few weeks.

– Captain Logan Shaw snapped a five-game goal slump with his sixth goal of the campaign. His lack of goal production, allied with the absence of Bobby McMann and Steeves, has really hampered Toronto’s offensive output. Shaw also has just one power-play goal in 16 games, whereas last season he tallied 10 in 69 games.

Ty Voit recorded four assists in two games for Newfoundland this weekend, which is a strong start after missing the first two months of the season due to injury.

– Since his reassignment to the ECHL in October, centerman Grant Cruikshank has registered 22 points (10G/12A) in 20 games for Newfoundland.

– Saturday’s lineup:

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

Kokkonen – Villeneuve
Pietroniro – Niemelä
Rifai – Miller


Post-Game Media Availability: Gruden & Miller

Game Highlights: Crunch 3 vs. Marlies 1