“We weren’t very good tonight. There are no excuses. [Cleveland] were better than we were. We were chasing the game… We were a little slow and lost a lot of puck battles.”
“We’ll see what happens after this [game], but unfortunately, we are going to have to change some things to get us going in the right direction.”
– John Gruden
The Toronto Marlies head coach did not mince his words during the post-game interview, giving a frank and brutal assessment of his team’s performance and what might be required to turn the corner.
He wasn’t wrong, either. The 3-2 scoreline flattered Toronto in a listless showing by the Marlies against the North Division-leading Cleveland Monsters, who barely needed to get out of third gear to win this game.
In a high-tempo start for Cleveland, Toronto spent the majority of the opening seven minutes inside the defensive zone.
Dennis Hildeby was called on to stop Mikael Pyyhtia on a breakaway inside 90 seconds. Hildeby then turned aside Jake Christiansen and Luca Del Bel Belluz before Cole Clayton thumped a shot off the crossbar with the Marlies netminder beaten.
Toronto failed to record a shot during their first power play as their struggles with the extra man continued. At the other end, Hildeby was the best penalty killer as Cleveland was kept off the board with their man advantage, but the Monsters soon broke the deadlock late in the frame.
Defending a rush with sufficient numbers back, the Marlies didn’t clear the danger. There was a strong case for interference — albeit inadvertent — which helped Cleveland’s cause as Corson Ceulemans scored with a top-shelf finish. The Marlies attempted to plead their case to the officials, but it’s not a reviewable play in the AHL.
The middle frame began with four-on-four action, where the Marlies made good use of the extra space to score with 1:01 on the clock.
Mikko Kokkonen found Dylan Gambrell driving hard to the net, forcing Jet Greaves into a sharp pad save. The puck popped out to Joseph Blandisi, who outwaited the netminder before sliding home the tying goal.
Toronto conceded only 38 seconds later.
Applying backside pressure, Kieffer Bellows allowed Trey Fix-Wolansky to shrug him off too easily, while Kokkonen’s poke check was never going to cut it. Fix-Wolansky’s shot from the right circle found the roof of Hildeby’s net.
William Villenueve’s delay-of-game penalty did not cost Toronto, but it was indicative of general sloppiness in the Marlies’ performance. Consistent icings and turnovers put Toronto firmly on the back foot, and only excellent goaltending by Hildeby ensured the game didn’t become ugly. The Swedish goaltender was the difference between a blowout loss and a fighting chance for the Marlies as he swatted away four grade-A scoring chances.
The one-way traffic was only halted by a lack of discipline from the Monsters, who were called for consecutive hooking penalties. With the penalties overlapping, the Marlies had 13 seconds of a two-man advantage but mustered just two shots on goal via Blandisi and Alex Steeves.
There was no pushback from the Marlies to begin the final frame. More icings, turnovers, and generally boneheaded decision-making resulted in Cleveland scoring at the two-minute mark.
Cole Clayton’s pass found Owen Sillinger alone in the slot, where the forward couldn’t miss from close range.
Blandisi wired a shot wide from the high slot as Toronto came close to an immediate response, but otherwise, Cleveland was in complete control of the game.
The Marlies failed to threaten until a power-play opportunity with nine minutes remaining. Toronto didn’t gain the zone until the final 20 seconds but generated two quality scoring chances once set up.
Kyle Clifford should have buried a chance from the doorstep, while Bellows struck the post as the penalty expired. The puck rebounded with pace off the iron and Ryan Tverberg did really well to corral the biscuit before scoring past the desperate dive of Greaves.
The Marlies had almost seven minutes remaining to rescue a point from the game. An undisciplined penalty by Gambrell didn’t help them build momentum, but the failure to record a shot on goal through the remainder of the game was a sad indictment of the team’s performance.
Even with Hildeby on the bench for the final two minutes, Cleveland was unbothered as they cruised to a sixth straight victory.
Post Game Notes
– In a season of streaks, Toronto has lost three games on the bounce to divisional rivals. I’ll continue to mention the following because it’s pertinent to playoff qualification: Toronto’s record against teams in the North is 3-6-4, and they’ve played the fewest inter-divisional games. The only other team in the division to own a losing record against the competition in the North is the last-place Laval.
– Not for the first time this season, Dennis Hildeby was Toronto’s first star. He deserved more support at both ends of the ice, turning aside 30 shots in the loss.
– Joseph Blandisi led the way offensively with a goal and an assist. It was the veteran forward’s fourth multi-point haul in his last six games.
– Wednesday’s lineup:
Bellows – Shaw – Tverberg
Clifford – Blandisi – Steeves
Abruzzese – Gambrell- Ellis
Slavin – Solow
Kokkonen – Niemelä
Pietroniro – Gaunce
Lajoie – Villenuve