“It’s never good when you are down 2-0 to start, but I think that made us play more urgently. I thought we played a pretty good 55 minutes after that and gave ourselves a chance to win. We didn’t get the result, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
– John Gruden
After a horrid start, the Toronto Marlies might have snapped your hand off if you offered them a point after 20 minutes. Syracuse took their foot off the gas after building an early advantage, allowing the Marlies to gain a foothold in the game. Toronto generated enough scoring chances to win the game in regulation, but wastefulness in front of the net cost them a point.
Any fans expecting a big response from Toronto were left sorely disappointed in the opening frame. The Marlies were outworked, outplayed, and fortunate to only trail by two after the opening eight minutes.
The defensive ineptitude of the third period on Saturday was prevalent as the Marlies rolled over to hand Syracuse a lead inside four minutes.
The Crunch transitioned defense into offense with two passes through the middle as Waltteri Merelä broke in on goal down Broadway. The Syracuse forward brushed off the attention of Kyle Clifford before delivering a deft finish over the shoulder of Luke Cavallin.
Eight minutes into the period, the Crunch’s fourth line was hungrier than the Marlies, especially Maxim Groshev, who spun from below the goal line and through the right circle, splitting three Toronto defenders before sending a low shot toward goal. Cavallin was unsighted due to a screen in front but would have been disappointed after the puck trickled through his five-hole and into the net.
Toronto held a 12-6 shot advantage through 20 minutes due to three power-play opportunities. The Marlies wasted some good looks by either overpassing, missing the target, or firing tentative shots on Hugo Alenfelt.
There was one incredible missed chance that summed up Toronto’s play of late.
A pass from Nick Abruzzese resulted in a 2-on-0 led by Joseph Blandisi where the latter dished off to Alex Steeves, who had half an empty net to aim at. It was a chance the winger would have sunk without a doubt during his elongated points streak, but he sent the puck into the midriff of Hugo Alnefelt.
Steeves is one of a plethora of Marlies overthinking it right now as 11 games without a goal was starting to take its toll.
Steeves continued to rue his luck early in the middle frame on the power play, where his one-time shot from the right circle struck the post flush and bounced away to safety.
The Marlies dominated possession and offensive-zone time for the opening handful of minutes without turning it into quality scoring chances. Syracuse almost made them pay on their first attacking foray at the six-minute mark after defensive coverage resulted in a wide-open Gage Concalves in the slot, but Cavallin made the save.
The Marlies needed a spark and it came from a familiar source. Kieffer Bellows, one of Toronto’s most consistent performers at five-on-five this season, scored twice in six minutes to tie the game.
The first was a point shot that found its way through a screen to beat Alnefelt. Huge credit goes to Ryan Tverbeg for creating the screen in front, where he outbattled the defender despite a size mismatch.
Bellows’ second goal was a little fortuitous, but you could also look at it as creating your own luck. After battling on the wall and then taking a pass from Max Lajoie, Bellows’ attempted cross-crease pass deflected off Sean Day and into the net.
Neither team was able to capitalize on late power plays and the game was there for the taking at 2-2 through 40 minutes.
On a broken play, Kyle Clifford had two opportunities to score from close range inside the opening two minutes. Neither was converted, and Syracuse took control for the following six minutes, firing a handful of shots without response and dominating possession.
Cavallin stepped up to the plate to rob Groshevm, who was wide open from the slot, but the netminder would be beaten shortly afterward.
Syracuse struck just seven seconds into a power play. Cavallin made a blocker save on Gage Goncalves’ shot, but he was given no support as Joe Carroll slotted home the rebound.
The Marlies should have responded immediately from the restart of play. With Allnfelt prone on his stomach, Arbuzzese, Blandisi, and Tverberg all couldn’t bury.
Cavallin continued to give Toronto a chance to take something from the game, making a good double save to turn aside Devante Stephens and Jack Finley.
The Marlies rewarded their goaltender by tying the game on the power play. The monkey was firmly thrown off Steeves’ back as the left-winger ripped home a one-time shot from the right circle.
Toronto felt that should have gone to another power play in regulation when Felix Robert tackled Blandisi to the ice in a headlock and threw a couple of punches in the process. It was baffling to see no call forthcoming from an official standing within a few feet of the incident.
Regulation petered out afterward with no shots on goal recorded inside the last three minutes.
The Marlies’ best chances to claim the extra point fell to Abruzzese (shot high) and Alex Steeves, who hesitated and saw his effort blocked.
The nature of the Syracuse game-winner will stick in the craw of the home team. Finley won an offensive-zone faceoff forward to Caroll, who went straight to the net in a set play. It was a nice finish by the Syracuse forward — his fourth goal against Toronto across the weekend — but it came courtesy of another defensive brainfart from the Marlies.
Post Game Notes
– Kieffer Bellows now leads the team in scoring with a pair in this game, taking his season total to 14 in 24 games as his 25-game PTO nears its end.
“That’s why he was drafted where he was (19th overall in 2016),” said Gruden. “He is a goal scorer. Those are two big goals. He is going to continue to build his game and hopefully continue to put the puck in the net… He is a dangerous player who is big and strong with a great release. If he plays in straight lines and uses his body to his advantage, he is only going to get better. The points are there, and hopefully, he continues to do so.”
– Luke Cavallin’s stat line took a hit after allowing four goals on 21 shots. However, this was a better performance from him than his debut. He made some key saves and allowed Toronto to remain in the game in the third period.
“He looked calm compared to Traverse City and the rookie tournament, where he looked a little anxious,” said Gruden. “The experience he has gotten in Newfoundland with the Growlers has helped him. It is only going to help his growth going forward.”
– Sunday’s lines:
Clifford – Shaw – Steeves
Bellows – Tverberg – Blandisi
Abruzzese – Gambrell- Ellis
Mastrosimone – Slavin – Solow
Lajoie – Niemelä
Gaunce – Villeneuve
Rifai – Miller