“I thought we played well other than the first few minutes… We scored the big goal in the third [to tie the game at 2-2] and had a lot of momentum, which got taken away by those penalties… There are a couple of plays that cost us… It’s a game of inches. They took advantage of their opportunities. We didn’t.”

Toronto Marlies head coach John Gruden

“Frustrating” is a word I’ve overused when describing the Toronto Marlies this season. The Marlies matched Syracuse throughout this game, and for notable spells, they were the better team in terms of their chance generation and overall structure.

The Marlies’ process has been excellent in recent weeks, but they continue to find ways to lose tight games due to individual mistakes and defensive breakdowns. A record of 6-7-11 in one-goal games tells the story.

Toronto should have taken at least a point — probably two — in another “hard luck” loss against a division rival.

First Period

The Marlies survived an excellent opening push from the Crunch as Dennis Hildeby made four quality saves inside two minutes to keep the game goalless. Toronto grew into the period from that point onward and should have established a healthy lead.

Dylan Gambrell missed the net from close range with Hugo Alnefelt way out of position after good work from Kieffer Bellows. Alex Steeves rifled an effort off the post and then looked set to score on the same shift before a Syracuse stick deflected his shot high.

The opening goal arrived at the 11-minute mark on an innocent-looking play. Defending a rush down the wing with numbers in support, Marshall Rifai backed too far off the Syracuse captain, allowing Dumont to cut into the slot and score. Hildeby might want that one back, although Rifai’s stick may have disguised the release.

The goal turned the tide as the Marlies registered seven of the next eight shots in the following four minutes. Hildeby shrugged off the first goal by making some good saves, including one to deny Cole Koepke from the high slot.

Toronto struck with 18 seconds remaining in the frame to level the score. Jonny Tychonick was afforded some space at the left point as Syracuse collapsed back deep. The defenseman stepped in and scored with a seeing-eye shot aided by an excellent screen from Clifford and Blandisi.

There was still time for Toronto to create one more scoring chance through Grant Cruikshank, who stole possession down low, but his finish in tight wasn’t good enough to beat Hugo Alnefelt.

Second Period

Buoyed by the late tying goal, Toronto carried the momentum into the first four minutes of the second frame. They fired six shots without response, creating four grade-A scoring chances in the process. Cameron Gaunce, Ryan Tverberg, Steeves, and Clifford couldn’t capitalize on excellent scoring opportunities.

Those misses were compounded when a turnover behind the Marlies’ goal handed the Crunch a second go-ahead goal. After Rifia was too casual in possession behind Toronto’s net, the puck was behind Hildeby a couple of seconds later. Daniel Walcott was presented with a tap-in courtesy of Maxim Groshev.

Clifford and Bellows spurned Torono’s best opportunities to tie the game afterward, leaving the game at 2-1 Syracuse entering the second intermission.

Third Period

Toronto wasted two power plays searching for a tying goal, but they proved more effective at five-on-five.

After Roni Hirvonen’s relentless puck pursuit forced a turnover, Toronto owned the offensive zone in the subsequent sequence. After a couple of near misses for the Marlies, Blandisi outfought two Syracuse players to win a battle along the wall, springing Clifford free in the left circle, where Toronto’s tough guy wired his shot past Alnefelt to tie the game at 2-2.

There was little to choose from between the teams the rest of the way at five-on-five, creating the distinct feeling that special teams were going to decide the game.

Clifford engaged in some fisticuffs by the bench to earn four minutes for roughing. That was compounded by Logan Shaw’s hooking penalty, handing Syracuse a two-man advantage for 70 seconds. 

Alex Barre-Boulet smacked the crossbar and Gage Concalves somehow fired the rebound high over the net as Toronto rode their luck. With 24 seconds left in Shaw’s penalty, the Marlies’ luck ran out; Dumont scored his second of the game from all alone in the bumper spot.

There were over six minutes left for Toronto to mount a comeback, but a lack of finish continued to sink the Marlies.

Steeves fired wide of the target on a one-timer from the slot after excellent work by Shaw. A power play with 3:23 remaining didn’t lead to enough scoring chances, although Gambrell was presented with an open net and missed from an acute angle. That was as close as Toronto came to tying the game as it was far too easy for Syracuse’s goaltender in the final five minutes.

Post Game Notes

– The Marlies have lost all five games to Syracuse this season, earning just a single loser point. This defeat ended a six-game point streak (3-0-3).

Kyle Clifford broke a five-game slump with a multi-point haul (1G/1A).

Jonny Tychonick scored his first AHL goal in just his third game at this level. He’s adapted well thus far to the step up and has shown poise in possession and confidence in his puck movement. It’s early days, but the preliminary signs are promising for the Calgary native.

– Aside from the lack of scoring from the line as of yet, the trio of Kieffer BellowsDylan GambrellNick Abruzzese is showing promising signs of chemistry and is worth sticking with.

– Friday’s lines vs. Syracuse:

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

Rifai – Kokkonen
Gaunce – Niemelä
Tychonick – Villeneuve


Post-Game Media Availability: Tychonick & Gruden