“I liked our response after not a very good start… I liked our possession game [in the second and third period]. We started moving the puck quicker, and we just couldn’t get it by [Rochester’s] goalie.”

– John Gruden

This was yet another game in which the Marlies found a way to beat themselves against a more opportunistic opponent. So much of Toronto’s often dominant play at five-on-five has been undone by mistakes at key moments. While Rochester made the Marlies pay for their mistakes, Toronto frittered away a plethora of grade-A scoring chances at the other end. 

First Period

The Marlies could not have dreamed of a more perfect start to the game. Nick Abruzzese carried the puck with speed in transition and cut the Rochester defense open with one forward pass. From a tight angle, Logan Shaw beat Devon Levi with the first shot of the game just 24 seconds in.

The goal proved to be a false dawn. Poor puck management, especially in the offensive zone, hurt Toronto as Rochester frequently attacked with speed in transition.

Dennis Hildeby robbed Graham Slaggert on a 2v1 play, but a tying goal felt inevitable and arrived at the six-minute mark following the first media timeout. The Marlies‘ sloppy turnover was followed by some loose defensive coverage, and Mason Jobst could not miss from close range.

The first period devolved into a dog’s breakfast for the Marlies. Their execution on both sides of the puck was junior quality. The Marlies were outworked and spent long spells chasing their tails inside the defensive zone. The only surprise was that it took Rochester so long to take the lead in the first period. 

Again, as Amerks transitioned with speed, Toronto was out of sorts defensively. They collapsed toward Hildeby, leaving Nikita Novikov with all the time in the world to measure a shot from between the dots that comprehensively beat the Marlies netminder.

Very much against the run of play, Toronto should have tied the game up shortly after allowing the go-ahead goal. With a better scoring chance than the one he scored on, Shaw didn’t bury from the side of the net as Levi flung himself to his right to make the save.

Second Period

Given Toronto’s perilous position in the standings and that they were facing a North Division rival, their first-period performance was completely unacceptable.

I imagine a similar sentiment — phrased inside some harsh words — was offered during the first intermission. Whatever was said, it had the desired effect in terms of Toronto’s second-period performance.

The Marlies generated five grade-A chances in the first four minutes but failed to capitalize on them. Alex Steeves and Abruzzese whiffed on one-timers from the slot. The latter tried to redeem himself with a fantastic pass to tee up Kieffer Bellows, but #20 fluffed his lines, allowing Levi to make a save diving away to his left. Kyle Clifford had consecutive chances from the slot but buried each into the midriff of Levi.

Toronto continued to control the pace of the game and dominate the lion’s share of possession. Excellent work from Zach Solow and Joseph Blandisi teed up Clifford in the slot, but Toronto’s tough guy couldn’t solve an in-form Levi.

Bellows generated a breakaway for himself following a brilliant defensive play. His weak shot into the pads of Levi was a disappointing end to another strong shift.

Ryan Tverberg struck the post with a rasping shot inside the final four minutes as a tying goal continued to elude the Marlies. 

As if to rub salt into the wound, Rochester struck on their third shot of the frame with 39 seconds remaining. Abruzzese didn’t engage on a loose puck battle along the boards before a fortuitous bounce favoured the Amerks. Jiri Kulich scored a trademark one-time shot on a feed from Novikov to give Rochester a 3-1 lead.

Toronto struck back immediately to cut the deficit to one heading into the second intermission. Tverberg rounded the net and sent a perfect cross-seam pass for Roni Hirvonen to finish off.

Third Period

The wind was taken out of Toronto’s sails 91 seconds into the final frame when Isak Rosén scored from an acute angle with a shot that appeared to enter the net via Hildeby’s helmet.

Before this game, Rochester owned a 17-0-1 record when leading after two periods this season and never looked likely to record their first regulation loss.

On a rare power play, Toronto struggled to sustain zone time but did generate two chances of note. Neither Shaw nor Abruzzese was clinical when it mattered before the game was fully taken away from the Marlies.

A give-and-go through the neutral zone resulted in Viktor Neuchev bearing down on goal down the middle of Toronto’s zone. With three skaters back, Mikko Kokkonen failed to close down the Rochester forward, who delivered a wrist shot that beat Hildeby on his blocker side.

With a three-goal cushion, the Amerks sat back and invited pressure. Toronto out-shot Rochester 14-1 in the remaining 11 minutes but remained wasteful in front of goal. Josiah Slavin’s tally in the final seconds was too little, too late as Toronto began a three-in-three weekend in the worst possible fashion.

Post Game Notes

–  The Marlies are now 0-3 against Rochester this season in the six-game series. The Marlies find themselves in sixth place and five points back of the Amerks following this defeat.

Logan Shaw’s goal was his third against Rochester this season and his fifth point. His frustration with the way this game panned out was evident in his body language. I can only imagine the current level of exasperation in the room as Toronto continues to lose games they should win.

–  The AHL trade deadline passed Friday afternoon with Toronto making no transactions of any kind.

– Friday’s lines:

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

Lajoie – Kokkonen
Rifai –  Villeneuve
Gaunce – Niemelä


Post-Game Media Availability: John Gruden