“It’s little mistakes that cost us. What [Syracuse] get is what we give them. Unfortunately, tonight we gave them too much.”

– Logan Shaw

This was the Marlies‘ fifth successive defeat at Coca-Cola Coliseum, leaving Toronto with only two wins in 10 home games in 2024. Only the San Diego Gulls (7) and Manitoba Moose (8) have won fewer games on home ice this season than Toronto (9).

After some strong form on the road in which they outplayed their divisional rivals, the quality of this performance was concerning from the Marlies‘ perspective.

First Period

Dominated by Syracuse in the season series to date, the Marlies spotting the Crunch a 1-0 lead inside the opening minute certainly wasn’t in their pre-game script. Not for the first time, a lackadaisical start marked by lost battles in the defensive zone set the stage for an ideal start for the visitors. The Crunch opened the scoring through Gage Goncalves.

The Crunch were then up by two goals inside nine minutes. A lazy hooking penalty by Nick Abruzzese in the neutral zone was punished as Gabriel Fortier netted on the power play.

Toronto found a quick response thanks to a rare mistake by Syracuse. Logan Shaw, the recipient of a misplaced clearance, sent an inch-perfect feed to Kyle Clifford, who took a cross-check in front as he redirected the puck into the net.

The Marlies‘ wastefulness in front of the net for the remainder of the period ultimately cost them.

Abruzzese made up for his earlier indiscretion with a wonderful set-up for Dylan Gambrell on the doorstep. It was a good save by Matt Tomkins, but the chance falls in the “has to score” category, and too many of those types of grade-A chances have not been bulging the twine for the Marlies lately.

A late power play presented Toronto with the opportunity to tie the game heading into the intermission. Alex Steeves appeared set to score with a one-time shot while Tomkins was flailing out of position, but Joseph Blandis was parked out in front and inadvertently made a huge save for the Crunch.

Second Period

Late penalties in the first period led to Toronto facing 5-on-4 and 5-on-3 penalty kills. Those infractions were egregious, to say the least, and the mood of the Marlies bench did not lighten at the six-minute mark.

Marshall Rifai was high-sticked, leading to a pool of blood on the ice. The defenseman had to leave the bench to get fixed up, but no call was forthcoming from the officials. They did, however, send Zach Solow to the penalty box for 10 minutes for protesting.

The Marlies lost focus at this point and were a little fortunate that Syracuse played with a “prevent” attitude rather than going for the throat.

The penalty count was evened up somewhat late in the frame with consecutive infractions against Syracuse. It was painful to watch as the Crunch stood Toronto up at the blue line and the Marlies had no answer on their entries.

Back at five-on-five, there was time for the Marlies to generate one of their better-scoring chances of the game (and the only one of note in the second period). Mikko Kokkonen teed up Josiah Slavin between the hashmarks, but the towering forward failed to make Tomkins work.

Third Period

Given the circumstances of the game and the standings, the expectation was for Toronto to come out flying in the third period in search of a tying goal. Instead, they were as flat as a pancake and gave up a goal inside 45 seconds.

Waltteri Merelä beat both Max Lajoie and Rifai on their outside before teeing up Gabriel Dumont for a tap-in. 

It might have been worse if Jack Finley’s shot hadn’t cannoned off the post and stayed out at the four-minute mark.

Chasing a game they badly needed to take something from, Toronto mustered one shot from below the goal line in 13 minutes and just five in total.

The home fans did receive something to cheer about with five minutes remaining. It was a weird, broken play and a bouncing puck, but credit Shaw for staying with it and firing a low shot on the turn. It produced a rebound for Blandisi to finish off. 

The comeback was never truly credible as Toronto failed to register a shot on target in the remainder of regulation. Cole Koepke iced the game with an empty netter, securing Syracuse a well-deserved two points and completing the weekend sweep of Toronto.

Post Game Notes

–  The Marlies have slipped to fifth in the standings with Utica and Laval four points back.

–  Defensive mistakes ending up in Toronto’s net, allied with a lack of clinical finishing at the other end, killed the Marlies in their losses to Cleveland and Syracuse on Friday. The lines looked decent, enough scoring chances were generated, and most of all, Toronto was competitive. John Gruden’s decision to put the forward lines in a blender for this game didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Some of the new combinations didn’t work after tinkering with some combinations that showed signs of chemistry.

–  Luke Cavallin was handed the start in net in a somewhat surprising decision. I’m not sure whether it speaks to the fact he has earned that right (IMO, he has) or that there is little trust in Keith Petruzzelli at this time (likely a factor). Either way, Cavallin produced a solid performance despite the lack of help in front of him. 

–  Joseph Blandisi extended his point streak to five games (6G/2A) with his 20th goal of the campaign. He’s the third Toronto player to reach the milestone this season. 

–  Logan Shaw (2A) and Kyle Clifford (1G/1A) both recorded two-point hauls as they feasted on rare lapses by Syracuse. I would still like to see Shaw with wingers who bring more speed and creativity so he could hopefully utilize his shot more. 

– Saturday’s lines vs. Syracuse:

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

Rifai – Lajoie
Gaunce – Niemelä
Kokkonen – Villeneuve


Game Highlights: Crunch 4 vs. Marlies 2

Post-Game Media Availability: Shaw & Gruden