“It is great to start this road trip off right. We went through some struggles in the first half of the year. The boys seem to be feeling like we’ve turned a corner and things are looking up.”
– Keith Petruzzelli
“At times, we’ve found ways to lose. Now, we’re finding ways to win. It’s only two [victories], but it’s a start in the right direction.”
– John Gruden
For just the second time this season, the Toronto Marlies beat the same opponent in consecutive games. The timing could not have been better; if they hadn’t swept Charlotte this weekend with this 4-1 victory on Sunday, the Marlies would have found themselves at the bottom of the North Division.
The opening 20 minutes was a snoozefest, perhaps the byproduct of a 1 p.m. start and the teams playing for the second time in under 24 hours.
Charlotte held the upper hand in a low-event first frame, but they could not turn it into scoreboard superiority.
Keith Petruzelli had a couple of nervous moments with the Checkers swarming his net, but he turned aside the eight shots he faced. Toronto generated nothing approaching a legitimate scoring chance, but they remained solid defensively, which kept them in the game.
After excelling in Saturday’s victory, Toronto’s penalty kill continued the momentum early in the middle frame, limiting Charlotte to one shot.
The Marlies then broke the game open with their best shift of the game inside the five-minute mark. Left on his own in the slot, Alex Steeves was picked out with a perfect pass from the point by William Villeneuve. Steeves faked a forehand shot and beat Spencer Knight with the sweetest of backhand finishes.
After working hard to take the lead, it was disappointing when an avoidable defensive breakdown gifted Charlotte a tying goal. Surrounded by three Toronto players, Wilmer Skoog scored from the slot on a feed from Jake Wise.
The middle frame turned into a special teams battle as the physical element ramped up and the animosity grew by the second.
Toronto’s clicking power play from the day before could not score during an 88-second two-man advantage, but the Marlies did not allow frustration to set in.
Robert Mastrosimone broke clear on a breakaway inside the final three minutes, but he was hauled down as he was about to shoot. On the ensuing penalty shot, the winger appeared to have Knight beaten but struck the post with his effort.
14 seconds later, Toronto restored their lead as the top line connected.
It was a weird sequence for Dylan Gambrell, who recovered possession in the Charlotte zone and found himself in alone on Knight after a give-and-go with Shaw. Gambrell made a dogs’ dinner of his first shot and the rebound, but he redeemed himself with a cross-slot feed to Shaw. The captain also initially fanned on the puck, but it worked to his advantage as Knight bit on the whiffed shot, allowing Shaw to lift the puck over the prone goaltender.
Puck recovery was the key once again when Toronto struck with 44 seconds remaining in the period. Ryan Tverberg was in the middle of it, winning a couple of battles before attempting to tee up Joseph Blandisi in the slot. Blandisi couldn’t connect on the pass, but the puck fell to Villeneuve, who made a terrific quick feed to Kieffer Bellows in the right circle.
Toronto’s leading 5v5 scorer this season buried his one-time shot by the Checkers netminder, giving the Marlies a 3-1 lead through 40 minutes.
Toronto played an almost perfect third period with the lead.
Gambrell should have made the points safe inside four minutes, but he whiffed on a shot from the doorstep following a well-worked movement by Nick Abruzzese and Shaw.
Gambrell proceeded to compound the mistake by taking a needless hooking penalty, which led to a couple of nervous moments watching from the box. Petruzzelli made a solid save to turn aside Skoog, while Lucas Carlsson rattled the crossbar from the left circle.
After Charlotte recorded just two shots through 11 minutes, Toronto scored a decisive insurance marker to extinguish the Checkers’ remaining hope for a comeback. Steeves scored a trademark one-time shot from the right circle as the power play connected on its fourth opportunity of the game.
The weekend sweep will give the Marlies some confidence as they head to Cleveland on Wednesday to face the North Division leaders.
Post Game Notes
– Alex Steeves took his season tally to 15 (30 games) with a pair of goals. It capped off a four-point weekend (3G/1A) for the winger, who is back in scoring form after a barren spell.
– Kieffer Bellows is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. He recorded a goal and an assist for his eighth multi-point haul of the campaign. With nine points (5G/4A) in his last six games, Bellows is sitting at 29 points (16G/13A) through 28 games and is on course to obliterate his previous single AHL season-high of 31 points (52 games).
– Sunday’s lineup:
Abruzzese – Shaw – Gambrell
Bellows – Tverberg – Blandisi
Steeves – Cruikshank – Ellis
Mastrosimone – Slavin – Solow
Lajoie – Miller
Kokkonen – Niemelä
Gaunce – Villeneuve