“We have got to try and work ourselves out of this [losing streak]. It’s up to us and the leadership group to get us back on track.”

– Logan Shaw

“We took a penalty and then we gave up a soft goal. That started [Belleville’s] momentum and we were just never able to regroup.”

– John Gruden

John Gruden’s message to his team before the game could not be misconstrued: “We have got to treat this as a playoff game.” 

For around 30 minutes or so, the Marlies played with the intensity that was sorely lacking in recent losses, but they proceeded to unravel in the final frame. Gruden’s attempt to mix up line combinations worked to a degree until it didn’t as Belleville snatched two points and overtook Toronto in the standings.

First Period

Toronto got off to a rough start as Logan Shaw took a tripping penalty on the opening shift, but the Marlies responded with a strong penalty-killing effort and built from there.

Ryan Tverberg was wiped out by a horrific knee-on-knee collision courtesy of Jarid Lukosevicius, but thankfully, he bounced back up none the worse for wear. Alex Steeves went after the Belleville forward, and even if he came out worse in the altercation, it was encouraging to see the kind of response and pushback that has been sorely lacking of late.

The Marlies made the Senators pay on the ensuing power play as Joseph Blandisi netted his eighth of the campaign. Logan Shaw was denied on the initial effort from the slot after a good pass by Nick Abruzzese before Blandisi deposited the rebound.

Toronto continued to create some good looks at five-on-five, but the final pass or shot was just off the mark.

The turning point of the period arrived with eight minutes remaining.

Belleville looked set to tie the game up, but Dennis Hildey produced a wonderful full-stretch save to turn aside Josh Currie. Tommy Miller was completely burnt on the play and owed his goaltender for bailing him out. After the Marlies immediately surged the other way, Zach Solow redirected a point shot by Marshall Rifai to double the advantage.

Toronto could have immediately made it 3-0 on a broken play, but Kieffer Bellows produced an unconvincing finish from the slot.

Belleville finished the frame with extended time in Toronto’s zone but could not find a way past Hildeby.

Second Period

Belleville found their shooting boots in the middle frame, recording 10 shots on net, but they still couldn’t solve Hildey.

For the most part, Toronto did an excellent job of keeping the Senators to the outside, and their goaltender was only called on to make two saves of note: Lukosevicius capitalized on a Toronto mistake in the neutral zone to create a partial breakaway, and Hildeby also stopped Tyler Klevin’s second attempt seconds later from the right circle.

The Marlies‘ netminder was also their best penalty killer, making solid saves and preventing any second opportunities with his rebound control.

Toronto didn’t threaten as much offensively in the second period. Their best looks fell to players not noted for their scoring abilities — Kyle Clifford and Josiah Slavin squandered a pair of scoring chances.

Third Period

As much as Toronto was completely outworked in the third period, they didn’t have much puck luck, either. It’s not as though they earned it, though, and it was at least nice not to hear any hard-luck sentiments during the post-game interviews.

The softest of tripping penalty calls on Dmitry Ovchinnikov handed Belleville a power play 90 seconds into the third period. A seeing-eye shot by Roby Jarventie snuck under Dennis Hildeby, who would like to have that one back.

Despite struggling at five-on-five, Toronto generated four scoring chances to reestablish their two-goal lead: Nick Abruzzese struck the crossbar during four-on-four action. On a power play, Alex Steeves flubbed on a shot from the slot, Kyle Clifford should have done better from in tight, and Kieffer Bellows wired a shot wide from an acute angle with Kevin Mandolese out of position.

Hildeby quickly shook off the soft goal by making some good stops, including a quick double save to rob Tyler Boucher and Lukosevicius.

There was little the Toronto netminder could do to prevent Belleville from tying the game with eight minutes remaining. Kleven’s point shot was redirected by the elevated stick of Egor Sokolov past Hildeby. The Sens forward made a big point of showing the officials it was not above the height of the net, but after rewatching the play numerous times, I would argue that Belleville was the beneficiary of another generous call.

The Senators looked more likely to claim a regulation victory throughout the rest of the third period. Mandolse only needed to make one save of note to turn aside Bellows while Hidleby was busier at the other end, pulling off a double save inside the final 10 seconds to at least preserve a point.


Belleville held possession of the puck for the first 80 seconds of three-on-three but did very little with it. 

Toronto should have won the game with their first touch of the puck after creating an odd-man rush — Abruzzese dished off to Shaw — but their captain produced a disappointing finish into the chest of Mandolese.

It was fitting that the game-winner came through Belleville outbattling Toronto for a puck on the wall. Cole Reinhardt was the beneficiary of the play, left with a tap-in to secure the extra point.

Post Game Notes

– Toronto’s inconsistent performances this season are summed up by their results since mid-November: A three-game winning streak followed by six consecutive losses and then a five-game winning streak followed by the latest run of four consecutive losses, made worse by the fact they all came against division rivals.

– To borrow from Anthony Petrielli’s notebook format, here are “Five Things I Think I’d Do” heading into 2024:

1.  Stick with the third line that built offense off of hard work and effective checking. A combination of Kyle Clifford, Joseph Blandisi, Zach Solow, and/or Josiah Slavin. Give them an identity and a purposeful role.

2.  I would be tempted to move Dylan Gambrell into the third-line role mentioned above because he’s good in the dot, plus he’s struggled to produce enough offense to warrant a consistent top-six role. Promote Blandisi for a few games if required.

3.  The defensive pairings need a shakeup. Tommy Miller has never been an AHL defenseman, in my opinion, and is easily replaceable. Jonny Tychonick is leading the Growlers in scoring at the time of writing with 28 points (4G/24A) through 29 games, making him a viable call-up option. Mikko Kokkonen has struggled defensively of late, and I would be tempted to slide him down the lineup for a few games.

4.  Reunite Nick Abruzzese, Logan Shaw, and Alex Steeves. For me, it’s a no-brainer and gives Toronto a true number-one line.

5.  The second line would then be a combination of Kieffer Bellows, Gambrell/Blandisi, and Ryan Tverberg. The rookie has also shown he can play center, which makes me feel more comfortable sliding Gambrell down.

Last but not least, thank you for reading and for your support of MLHS in 2023. I wish you and your loved ones a very Happy New Year and best wishes for 2024.

– Saturday’s lines:

Clifford – Shaw  – Tverberg
Bellows – Gambrell- Steeves
Abruzzese – Blandisi – Ovchinnikov
Mastrosimone – Slavin – Solow

Kokkonen – Niemelä
Gaunce – Villenuve
Rifai – Miller


Game Highlights: Senators 3 vs. Marlies 2 (OT)

Post-Game Media Availability: Shaw & Gruden