The table was set for the Toronto Marlies to establish themselves in third place and open up a five-point gap on Belleville in sixth. Laval was in the same situation, playing their third game in as many days except with additional travel stress.

The Marlies lacked sharpness in their execution in this 4-1 loss. The Rocket established a lead they never relinquished in another frustrating defeat to a division rival.

“I thought the effort was there,” said head coach John Gruden. “I just didn’t think we executed as well when it came time to make the plays that needed to be made. [Laval] did, and we didn’t.”

First Period

The Marlies should have gotten off to the perfect start 40 seconds into the game when Ryan Tverberg created a 3v1 break with Nick Abruzzese in possession, but an attempted pass didn’t work and Kasimir Kaisuso didn’t need to make a save.

That summed up the first frame for Toronto, who registered three shots on target, none of which posed any danger to their former netminder. The Marlies also wasted the only power play of the frame with a passive effort.

Both teams were guilty of missing the connection point on several rushes as there was little structure in a frantic first period.

Dennis Hildeby, the busier of the two goaltenders, made a stunning double save to keep the game deadlocked. William Trudeau and Lias Anderson were denied from close range as Toronto survived a frenzied attack around Hildeby’s blue paint.

Second Period

The Marlies were casual after the restart of play and should have fallen behind inside 40 seconds. Laval didn’t capitalize on a pair of grade-A scoring chances with Hildeby once again called into action.

Out of the blue, Toronto opened the scoring a minute later. With little in the way of passing options available, Alex Steeves curled back to the blue line and threw the puck toward the net through a little bit of traffic. The puck snuck through Kaskisuo in what was frankly a gift to the Marlies.

The Marlies failed to fully exploit their fortuitous break. They generated two high-quality scoring chances after taking the lead, but they buried neither. Moments later Toronto, allowed two goals in 58 seconds.

William Villeneuve and Matteo Pietroniro were outworked on a puck retrieval down low and Grant Cruikshank got caught in between when attempting to support his defensemen, leaving the front of the net open for Riley McKay to score from the doorstep.

Worse was to follow as loose defensive-zone coverage led to Laval’s second goal despite the Marlies’ numerical advantage on the play. Gabriel Bourque scored from the slot, although Hildeby got a large piece of the shot and would have been disappointed not to make the save.

The Marlies were now hanging on for dear life. They killed a penalty and required a fantastic save from Hildeby during 4-on-4 action to prevent a third Laval goal.

The turning point of the game came with three minutes remaining when Steeves didn’t bury a breakaway opportunity and the puck was in Toronto’s net 10 seconds later. Laval’s Sean Farrell scored on a transition the other way as the Marlies failed to pick up the trailer on the backcheck following a partial change.

Third Period

Outside of an early chance for Lucas Condotta, it was one-way traffic toward the Rocket net in the third period as Laval was happy to set up camp and defend their two-goal lead.

The Marlies couldn’t capitalize on chances for Tate Singleton, Ryan Tverberg, and Dylan Gambrell. The worst culprit amid the wastefulness was Steeves, whose breakaway attempt didn’t challenge Kaskisuo enough.

Toronto’s power play was all flash and no finish as the Marlies passed the puck around but never penetrated.

Laval put Toronto out of their misery in the final minute with an empty-net goal to give the game a more lopsided 4-1 finish.

Post Game Notes

–  The bigger picture outlook is that the Marlies took eight of a possible 12 points from consecutive 3-in-3 weekends.

“There are too many good things that have happened over the last five games for me to get too down right now,” said Gruden. “We’ll watch some tape and see how we can be better.”

–  The Marlies travel to Manitoba this week for a pair of games against the Moose. It’s never been the easiest road trip for Toronto (5-5-0 over the last five years) as Manitoba usually reserves its best for the Marlies.

–  Alex Steeves extended his point streak to four games (2G/3A) with his 22nd goal of the season. He led all skaters with six shots and should have scored more than once.

–  Kyle Clifford missed the game with a lower-body injury and is considered day-to-day. 

– Sunday’s lineup vs. Laval:

Abruzzese – Shaw – Tverberg
Singleton – Gambrell – Steeves
Hirvonen – Blandisi – Solow
Slavin – Cruikshank

Lajoie – Kokkonen
Rifai – Villeneuve
Pietroniro – Niemelä


Post-Game Media Availability: John Gruden

Game Highlights: Rocket 4 vs. Marlies 1