By Stan Smith

After starting the season with an 8-3-2 record the Toronto Marlies went into this past weekend on a four-game losing streak. Two more games were added to the loss column as they were beaten in back-to-back games by the Syracuse Crunch this past weekend.

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Game One: Crunch 4 – Marlies 3

The Marlies travelled to Syracuse to take on the Crunch in the first game of a back-to-back home-and-home series. The Crunch were just two points ahead of the Marlies in the North Division going into these two games. Two wins for Toronto would put them two points up on Syracuse. Two losses would drop them six points behind them.

Syracuse came out with the jump in this game. They fired six shots on Marlies goalie Dennis Hildeby before Toronto got their first shot on the net. The Crunch thoroughly outplayed the Marlies throughout the period and built a 2-0 lead by the end of the first twenty minutes.  

Just four seconds into a Syracuse power play with Josiah Slavin in the box for tripping, the Crunch cashed in to open the scoring. It was a textbook goal. After a Syracuse faceoff win, the puck back to the right point, over to the left point, and a one-timer past Hildeby. 

Dennis Hildeby, Maple Leafs Prospect in Goal

It appeared the Marlies would get out of the period just down by one goal. That is until a point shot by the Crunch’s Jack Thompson got deflected past Hildeby by Shawn Element with just two seconds left. 

The shots in the period were 14-9 Syracuse. That statistic flattered the Marlies as the Crunch outplayed them by a wide margin. 

The Second Period Was Better for the Marlies

The second period was more evenly played. Neither side mustered much in the way of scoring chances. The Crunch did go up 3-0 on a goal by Gage Concalves. On the play defenseman Phillipe Myers carried the puck into the Toronto zone, circled behind the net, and found Concalves in behind the Marlies’ defense. The shots in the period were 8-8.

The Marlies woke up in the third period and made a game of it. Pontus Holmberg scored twice on almost identical plays. On the first goal, Holmburg was positioned to the left of Syracuse goalie Matt Tomkins with his stick firmly planted on the ice. Nick Abruzeese bounced the puck off of Holmberg’s stick into the net. On the second goal, Holmberg was to the right of Tomkins with his stick on the ice. This time it was Alex Steeves who found Holmberg’s stick with the puck. 

Pontus Holmberg, Maple Leafs

If it wasn’t for Tomkins, the Marlies could have easily won this game. He stopped Steeves on a clear breakaway from center ice and robbed Holmberg of the hattrick by getting across to stop a one-timer.  

The Crunch put the game away with an empty-net goal with 49 seconds left in the third period. Toronto made it interesting when Robert Mastrosimone scored his first goal of the season with nine seconds left on the clock.  Toronto kept Hildeby on the bench for the faceoff at center ice following the goal but nine seconds was not enough time for Toronto to do much.

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Game Two: Crunch 3 – Marlies 1

Back in Toronto, it was announced before the game that Alex Steeves would be out again with an upper-body injury. Steeves had missed a game the previous weekend. It was not stated whether this was due to the same injury or a different one. Either way, the Marlies were without their top scorer.

To make matters worse, Dylan Gambrell left the game with an undisclosed injury early in the first period. Kyle Clifford did return to the lineup after missing time with an injury of his own.

The Marlies did start the game with some jump possibly riding the momentum they gained from their dominant third period in Syracuse. They were unable to beat Crunch goalie Hugo Alnafelt. After an early flurry by the Marlies, Syracuse got on the board first with a power play goal with 3:43 left in the period by Joe Carrol. Carrol was left alone in the middle of the slot and fired a wrist shot past the Marlies’ starter Keith Petruzzelli. 

As they did in Syracuse on Friday night, the Crunch ended the first period with a 2-0 lead as  Mitchell Chaffee scored with just 1:22 left in the period. 

Neither team scored in the second period. The Marlies did outshoot the Crunch 11-7 in the period, but they did not muster much in grade-A scoring chances.  

The Marlies Came Out Flying in the Third Period

As they did in the first game between these two teams the Marlies came out flying in the third period. Logan Shaw got them within a goal just 1:56 into the period when he took a drop pass from Zach Solow and fired it past Alnafelt.  

Alex Steeves, Maple Leafs

With 5:43 left in the third period, it appeared the Marlies would be set for the comeback. With Daniel Walcott already in the box for interference, Syracuse Emil Lilleberg hit Max Ellis from behind driving him face-first into the boards. Lilleberg was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for his actions. That left the Martlies with a 44-second 5 on 3 and five minutes where they could score more than one goal and remain on the power play.  

Unfortunately for the Marlies, the only goal that was scored was a shorthanded one by Syracuse. On an attempted drop pass from Joseph Blandisi to Solow, the Crunch’s Maxim Groshev got his stick on the puck and punched it past William Villeneuve at the point creating a two-on-one for Groshev and Chaffee. Groshev laid a perfect pass over a sprawling Dmitry Ovchinnokov, the only Marlie back, and Chaffee made no mistake beating Petruzzelli cleanly. 

Stan’s Individual Notes

Defenseman Topi Niemela led all Marlies with three points, all assists, and all in the first game of the two. Pontus Holmberg scored two goals, again both in the first game. Logan Shaw and Robert Mastrosimone scored the other goals for Toronto. Abruzzese, Slavin, Steeves, and Solow all had one assist for the Marlies. 

Both Hildeby and Petruzzelli stopped 22 of 25 shots faced in each game. Hildeby’s record dropped to 3-3-3 but he still carries an excellent 1.63 Goals Against Average and a 0.935 Save Percentage.  Petruzzelli’s record also evened up at 3-3-1.  His Save Percentage sits at 0.874% and his Goals Against Average is 3.33. 

Steeves still leads the team in scoring 11 goals, eight assists, and 19 points in 15 games. Abruzzese is second with 14 points. Niemela, Shaw, and Kieffer Bellows are tied for third with 12 points each. 

The Aftermath

The two losses extended the Marlies losing streak to six games and dropped their overall record to 8-7-4. They sit fourth in the North Division standings with 20 points. The Cleveland Monsters lead the division with 27 points followed by the Crunch with 26 points. The Rochester Americans sit third with 24 points.  

What’s Next?

The Marlies play two home games against the Grand Rapids Griffin five days apart this week. The first game is a 7:00 pm start on Tuesday night. The second game goes at 4:00 pm on Sunday. 

The Marlies took the first two meetings with the Griffin 4-0 and 7-3. Ovchinnikov led the way with four goals in those two games including a hat trick in the 7-3 game. Abruzzese had a goal and five assists in the two games. 

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