“I don’t think we played hard enough. We’ve got to compete a little harder. The last couple of games have been embarrassing for us and the organization.”

– Logan Shaw after a 6-1 loss to WBS

The Toronto Marlies‘ captain did not mince his words or make any excuses following another indefensible performance on Wednesday against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The lack of effort at a critical juncture in the season should greatly concern the coaching staff.

First Period

Neither team was able to sustain offensive-zone time in the opening frame but for different reasons. While the Marlies were simply outworked, the Penguins lacked sharpness in their execution as passes went astray with regularity.

The Marlies recorded a paltry three shots on goal in the first period, only one of which represented a scoring chance. It came off of an individual effort as Joseph Blandisi stole possession from Peter Abbandonato before making a spin-o-rama move past a second defender. His backhand shot didn’t match the quality of the move that preceded it, and Penguins goaltender Joel Blomqvist made a comfortable pad save.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton took advantage of non-existent defensive coverage to open the scoring with 5:30 remaining. A wide-open Jonathan Gruden slammed home a one-time shot from the right circle after the Penguins carved the Marlies open.

Abbandonato should have doubled the lead 90 seconds later on almost a carbon-copy play, but he sent his effort wide.

Second Period

A fantastic diving play by Topi Niemelä snuffed out on a 2-on-1 for the Penguins just 30 seconds into the middle frame. It appeared to be a turning point at the time as Toronto scored shortly after.

On a broken play, the puck twice fell kindly for Kyle Clifford, who teed up Dylan Gambrell for a tap-in at the side of the net.

The Marlies stayed in the game by killing off a 5-on-3 for 85 seconds, with Keith Petruzzelli making four solid saves. Toronto should have fallen behind back at 5v5, but Joshua Jagger missed the target while in alone on Petruzzelli.

The Marlies wasted two power plays in the middle frame, recording just one shot with the extra skater as they were clearly outworked by a hungrier penalty kill.

Toronto’s fourth line showed up the rest of the team with some strong shifts and generated two quality scoring chances in the second period. The first came courtesy of a forced turnover after a strong puck pursuit by Robert Mastrosimone, who missed the net with a shot on the turn.

The second was another effort by Mastrosimone, this time tipped by Josiah Slavin parked out front. The puck hit the post and bounced into the back of Blomvist, who somehow kept it out.

In between those chances, the Penguins took the lead. A faceoff win resulted in a weak wrist shot from Jack St. Ivany that Petruzzelli should have swallowed up.

Third Period

The Marlies registered 10 shots through 40 minutes and took over five minutes to add another to the shot clock in the third period.

By that time, Toronto had fallen further behind. A turnover at the Penguins’ blue line resulted in a 1v1 heading back the other way, and Petruzzelli was beaten cleanly by Corey Andonovski’s shot from the right circle (another goal he would want back).

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton made sure of the two points with a little under eight minutes to play. Toronto stood around puck-watching as Alex Nylander scored his 15th goal of the campaign. At this point, a Friday night crowd rather than a school day audience might have voiced their displeasure at the effort (or lack thereof) from the home team.

Gambrell had the opportunity to make the score somewhat respectable when he was the beneficiary of another broken play. For someone entrusted with top-six minutes, Gambrell has been an incredibly poor finisher this season, and he again failed to score while alone in the slot.

Former Marlie Radim Zohorna tacked on an empty-net goal and St. Ivany made it 6-1 with another goal that Petruzzelli would want back.

The final scoreline reflected the chasm between the two teams in every category. If anything, the Marlies were a little fortunate it wasn’t a heavier margin of defeat.

Post Game Notes

– The 2023-24 Toronto Marlies are wildly inconsistent.

At their best, they have gone toe-to-toe with the best teams in the AHL this season. In the previous outing, they stunk up the joint with a 7-1 loss to a weak Laval team. You would expect a response in the next game, but Toronto followed it up with a no-show against a proficient Atlantic Division outfit on Wednesday afternoon.

With every point so critical in a tight North Division, it’s baffling how this group isn’t motivated to compete in every game. The Marlie have conceded 13 goals in the last two games, both on home ice.

“If you are not willing to fight for every inch of ice, it is going to be a long game, whether it’s in the offensive zone or defensive zone,” said John Gruden. “It has crept in and it has been two in a row now. We have to find it. We have to fix it.”

– It was a rough outing for Keith Petruzzelli. He is playing like a goaltender short on confidence. He allowed five goals on 31 shots, and three of those should not have found the net. He has to be better while Dennis Hildeby is up with the big club.

“[Petruzzelli] has to fight through it, too,” said Gruden. “This game is a humbling game. It can knock you to your knees. The ones who keep their heads high, fight, and find their way through are the ones who survive.”

– Wednesday’s lineup vs. WBS:

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

Kokkonen – Niemelä
Gaunce – Miller
Rifai – Villeneuve


Post-Game Media Availability: Logan Shaw & John Gruden