“I think we got probably our most consistent effort from all four lines and six defensemen today. We stuck to the process and got rewarded for it in the third period.”

– John Gruden

The All-Star break came at the perfect time for the Toronto Marlies. With time to recuperate after more than two weeks on the road, Toronto produced one of their best performances of the season on home ice.

The captain will grab the headlines for his scoring contributions, but it was a full team effort in which secondary scoring provided a key element in the outcome.

First Period

Toronto got off to the perfect start by scoring on the power play inside four minutes. After Joseph Blandisi let fly from just above the hash marks, Clifford fought hard in front for the rebound, tying up his man in the process and allowing Shaw to swoop in and bury the loose puck.

The Marlies‘ lead lasted all of 14 seconds. It was a moment to forget for Dennis Hildeby, who misplayed a pass out front from below the goal line. Mitchell Stephens pounced on the gift to tie the game at 1-1.

As I’ve mentioned before, Hildeby is a level-headed character and did not allow the early mistake to define his performance. At the seven-minute mark, Jared Davidson cut inside Toronto’s defense and Hildeby made a sharp shoulder save to deny the Laval forward.

A big hit by Logan Mailloux on Ryan Tverberg drew the ire of the home crowd and also Blandisi, who responded by dropping the gloves with Laval’s defenseman.

With Blandisi assessed 2 + 10 for instigating, the Marlies‘ penalty kill went to work for the first time. It was an excellent effort, limiting the Rocket to just one shot from the top of the right circle.

After the kill, Toronto generated two shorthanded scoring chances. Josiah Slavin was turned aside on a breakaway, and as the penalty was about to expire, Kieffer Bellows led an odd-man rush where he dished off to his right to Robert Mastrosminone, who was also stopped by Jakub Dobeš.

Alex Steeves had the next opportunity to give Toronto the lead late in the frame. After settling down a long stretch pass by Tommy Miller, Steeves beat one defender and opted to pass instead of shooting from the middle of the slot. The feed intended for Tverberg was broken up. 

Although a penalty was drawn on the play, Toronto was unable to score on the man advantage for a second time and headed into the intermission tied at 1-1.

Second Period

Toronto got off to a strong start to the middle frame, generating two excellent scoring chances inside four minutes. Neither Steeves nor Mastrosimone could capitalize, and the Marlies found themselves on the penalty kill shortly afterward.

The Marlies were justified in feeling hard done by with the officiating in the second period. They were called for two soft penalties while the Rocket somehow went unpunished despite at least a handful of clearcut infractions.

At five-on-five, Toronto generated three more excellent chances but couldn’t capitalize. The first fell to Slavin after excellent work by Mastrosimone, but the centreman was not able to finish on a pair of shots.

With six minutes remaining, it finally appeared as if the Marlies were going to make their breakthrough. Roni Hirvonen led a 3v1 and slid the puck across to Steeves on his left, but the winger’s scoring touch deserted him in this game. Steeves’ low shot didn’t pack nearly enough punch to beat the right pad of the Rocket netminder.

Hildeby came up with a huge save late in the period during the penalty kill to deny Laval a go-ahead tally. Davidson again escaped in behind Toronto’s defense in the dying seconds of the Marlies’ power play, but Hildeby made another timely stop.

Third Period

The game may have taken on a different complexion if Laval had taken advantage of one of their two grade-A chances early in the final frame. Hildeby turned aside Davidson and Gabriel Borque, while Toronto also frittered away some good looks in the opening eight minutes.

Mastrosimone fired wide from the left circle, Clifford whiffed from the slot on an empty net, and Tverberg dithered on a breakaway. 

The Marlies finally and deservedly broke the game open with three goals in less than three minutes.

The fourth line continued its impressive form, creating the eventual game-winner. Slavin won a puck battle along the wall in the defensive zone and sent Zach Solow away on the left wing to create a 2v2. Mastrosimone drove hard to the net to occupy the other Laval defenseman, allowing Solow to pick out William Villeneuve as the trailer on the play. The defenseman’s finish was a confident one — certainly not indicative of a player who had scored just once so far this season.

The fourth line also created the third goal after winning a neutral-zone faceoff. Mastrosimone fired wide from the right circle, but Slavin kept the play alive along the boards, sending the puck back up to Marshall Rifai at the point. As the defenseman positioned himself to shoot, both Solow and Mastrosimone created a screen that took the eyes away from Dobeš, and Rifai’s shot beat the unsighted Rocket goaltender.

With the ice now firmly tilted, the Marlies’ first line struck to make it a 4-1 game. Nick Abruzzese appeared to have a partial breakaway, but he pulled up in the left circle and measured an inch-perfect cross-seam pass that dissected three Laval defenders and found Logan Shaw at the far post. The captain made no mistake to score his second of the game. 

After Laval opted to pull their goaltender early, Blandisi made the two points secure with his 12th goal of the campaign.

The sixth and final goal for Toronto featured a perfectly weighted stretch pass by Mikko Kokkonen during four-on-four action. It sent Shaw in alone, and he was never going to miss the chance to record his first hat-trick of the season. 

Post Game Notes

Logan Shaw scored the second hat-trick of his Toronto career, and his first was also against Laval last season. It looked like the time off served its purpose, which is a good sign for the team down the stretch.

“[Shaw’s] game is getting better,” said Gruden. “He is doing a great job of being a really good leader. He is asked to do a lot: power play, penalty kill, and five-on-five minutes against top players. I am glad he is getting rewarded with some points.”

– This was the 800th career AHL game for Cameron Gaunce, who marked it with an assist, his fourth point for Toronto. After the game, Gaunce noted that he enjoyed the experience and spoke of how well he’d been treated while on a PTO with the Marlies.

“With what [Gaunce] brings to the locker room, what he brings to the younger players, how he embraces and helps them out, he really, truly pulls for his teammates,” said Gruden. “I can see how he has played 800 games. I told him he has another 800 to go.”

– A 31-save performance from Dennis Hildeby included a nice display of resilience after the early mistake that cost his team the lead. The Swedish netminder has won his last three starts, posting a .980 SV% in the process. 

“[Hildeby] was outstanding,” said Gruden. “He looked comfortable, and [the early goal] didn’t rattle him. That’s what I like about his game: He doesn’t get too shaken.”

Josiah Slavin continues to be rewarded for winning battles and making simple but effective high-percentage plays. A pair of assists extended his point streak to four games (2G/4A). 

“We started [the Mastrosimone – Slavin – Solow line] for a reason,” said Gruden. “We don’t come out of that road trip with the record we did without that line. It’s not like the other lines weren’t doing their job, but they deserved that opportunity. They keep getting better and better. They bring energy, and it is contagious for the bench.”

– Friday’s lineup vs. Laval:

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

Kokkonen – Villeneuve
Rifai – Niemelä
Gaunce – Miller


Post-Game Media Availability: Gaunce & Gruden

Game Highlights: Marlies 6 vs. Rocket 1