By Stan Smith

I am going to start with a little rant. In the past, the only Toronto Marlies games I was able to watch were broadcast by Leafs TV. Leafs TV was discontinued just before the 2022 hockey season. This season I purchased the AHLTV package to be able to watch Marlies games. That also required me to purchase a VPN as AHLTV is not available in Canada. 

I find it curious that Americans can watch all of the games involving Canadian AHL teams but Canadians cannot without some chicanery to get the US feed. The Marlies home games are available on the Maple Leafs’ app; but, as far as I can see the Toronto Maple Leafs’ app is not available on Smart TVs or the Amazon Fire stick. I much prefer to watch games in the comfort of my recliner on a big-screen TV than on my phone or tablet. Plus, that is only the home games. I still need to subscribe to AHLTV and a VPN to watch the road games.

While the broadcast of the Marlies’ games on Leafs’ TV was not the same calibre as NHL games it was still a quality broadcast. Watching games on AHLTV can be challenging at times.  

The camera placement, picture quality, and lack of lighting can make it difficult to follow the play and see the player’s numbers. I could not read the jersey numbers on the Providence game I reported on below. 

On top of that, the information on the box on the screen sometimes has no relevance to what is happening in the game. The shots are often incorrect and do not match what the announcers are stating. Sometimes the clock on the screen stops when a play is blown dead. At other times, it doesn’t. Sometimes it doesn’t start when the play does. The penalty clock will show no time left on a power play long before the player has returned to the ice or will show some time remaining despite the teams being back to five on five. Many times the announcer is explaining a replay that they are somehow seeing but we don’t see. The most annoying thing is having the sound delayed about two seconds after whatever is happening on the ice.  

All of the above can make watching Marlies’ games extremely difficult.  

Rant over.

Related: Nick Robertson Would Shine in the Maple Leafs’ Top-Six? So?

Marlies 8 – Providence Bruins 2

Both the Maple Leafs and the Marlies seemed to have found their scoring touch at the same time. While the Maple Leafs scored five goals in the third period against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday and then followed it up with seven goals against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday, the Marlies scored eight goals of their own in Providence on Friday night. 

Logan Shaw and Dylan Gambrell each scored twice while Keiffer Bellows, Topi Niemela, and Mikko Kokkonen added single goals. Also scoring was defenseman Tommy Miller with his first American Hockey League goal coming in his 60th game, and Matteo Pietroniro with his first goal of the season.

Topi Niemela, Maple Leafs defenseman

Gambrell added two assists to his two goals to give him four points in the game. Also having multi-point games were Joseph Blandisi, Bellows, Nick Abruzzese, Alex Steeves, and Kokkonen all with two points each. DennKokkonen also finished the game with a plus-4 in plus/minus. 

Alex Steeves set a Marlies franchise record by scoring points in 14 consecutive games and has amassed 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 17 games played to lead the team in scoring both goals and points. 

Dennis Hildeby stopped 32 of the 34 shots he faced to raise his record to 6-3-2 with a 0.929 Save Percentage and a 1.82 Goals-Against-Average. 

Marlies 4 – Hartford Wolf Pack 3

I want to start by saying I love the Hartford team’s name the Wolf Pack. It is the perfect name for a hockey team, especially when they are swarming an opposing team’s zone. Also, you don’t have just one mascot with a name like that. Hartford has a number of them scattered throughout their arena. 

To the game.

Unlike the wide-open pace of the game in Providence this game started slowly. Neither team was able to get much offence going throughout most of the first half of the game. The Marlies had two power-play chances midway through the first period but had a difficult time just getting the puck in the Hartford zone.  

Right after the completion of the second power play with the man advantage at 13:27 of the first period, Dimitry Ovchinnikov attempted a wrap-around. It was stopped easily by Hartford goalie Dylan Garand, but Bellows crashed the net and knocked in the rebound to give the Marlies a 1-0 lead. 

Related: Are Maple Leafs Eyeing Ilya Lyubushkin Once More in a Trade?

The Rest of the First Period Was Slow

Everyone seemed to go back to sleep again for the remainder of the first period and the start of the second. Then, after Nick Abruzzese turned the puck over just inside the Wolf Pack blue line Hartford broke out on what would have been an odd-man rush. Fortunately for the Marlies, Mikko Kokkonen managed to get his stick on the puck at center ice and knocked it up to Dylan Gambrell. What looked like an odd-man rush for Hartford turned into a 3-on-1 for Toronto.

With the Wolf Pack defender trying to take away any pass attempt, Gambrell walked in alone on Garand. At the last second, Gambrell dropped the puck to Alex Steeves who then relayed it over to Abruzzese. With the goalie Garand all tied up in knots on the ice, Abruzzese had a wide-open cage in which to stuff the puck to make it 2-0 Marlies at 5:29 of the second period. 

Alex Steeves, Maple Leafs

The Marlies used the momentum gained from that goal to buzz Hartford in their zone for the next half a dozen shifts. Turnovers turned the tide for the Wolf Pack midway through the second period. First, a giveaway by Joseph Blandisi behind his net ended up in the Marlies’ net as Matej Pekar found Matt Rempe breaking in just to the right of Toronto starter Keith Petruzzelli. With Matteo Petroniro and a Blandisi all over him, Rempe somehow managed to get his stick on the puck and bat it over Petruzzelli’s shoulder into the net. 

Just 28 seconds later it was Topi Niemela who was slow at playing the puck and forced to absorb a hit from Alex Belzile. Josiah Slavin attempted to bat the puck over the Kokkone but it was intercepted by Riley Nash. Nash scooped the puck over to Brennan Othmann who quickly relayed it to Belzile to the right of Petruzzelli. Belzile, like Rempe before him, got the puck up and over Petruzzelli’s shoulder into the net. A 2-0 lead was wiped out in 28 seconds. 

Keith Petruzzelli Has Some Strange Habits

I want to note here that Petruzzelli is no small player. He is listed as 6-foot-5 or 6-foot-6, depending on the source. I found on these two plays and at other times, when the play is around the goal Petruzzelli has a habit of crouching down low and making himself appear smaller than he is. I’m not sure if it is to prevent the puck from getting underneath him or what. Hopefully, this is something the coaching staff can help him work on. Petruzzelli is a big enough player that even on his knees he should not have space above his shoulders.

With 2:10 left in the 2nd period, the Wolf Pack would complete the comeback. Adam Edstrom would break in on the Toronto goal to the right of Petruzzelli and try to jam the puck into the net. Petruzzelli stopped the puck but the play froze him. Edstrom picked up his rebound skated behind the net and attempted a wrap-around. Kokkonen, who was a little late to react, tried to stop the wrap-around with his stick but the puck deflected off of Kokonnen’s outstretched stick into the open goal. Petruzzelli never moved on to the play after making the original play. The puck would have probably ended up in the net on the wrap-around regardless of where Kokonnen’s stick was. 

The shots midway through the second period were 18-11 for the Marlies. The period finished with the shots at 21-18 for Hartford. Not only did the Wolf Pack score three goals in the latter half of the first, but they also outshot Toronto 10-0. 

Hartford Carried the Momentum Into the Third Period

Hartford carried their momentum into the third period. A huge save by Petruzzelli and another save by Kokkonen with Petruzzelli out of the net prevented Hartford from putting the game away.

At 5:11 of the third period, Blandisi made up for this giveaway that helped open the scoring for Hartford. Blandisi broke in alone on Garand after creating a turnover of his own at the Hartford blue line. Instead of shooting, Blandisi spotted Zach Solow breaking in behind him. Blandisi dropped the puck to Solow and positioned himself to receive a pass back from Solow. Instead, Solow wired the puck over Garand’s glove hand to tie the game at 3. 

Despite some nice scoring chances by both teams regulation ended 3-3.  

In the Overtime, The Marlies Struck

Less than a minute into the overtime, Petruzzelli made the save of the game when he did the splits to get his toe on what looked like a sure goal by Riley Nash. Niemela picked up the rebound and head-manned it to Abruzzese at center ice. Niemela then used his speed to create a two-man breakaway with no Hartford player even close to the play. With no one between himself and the net Garand, the goalie had no choice but to play the shot. With the goalie committed, Abruzzese dished the puck off to Niemela who deposited it into the empty net. 

Keith Petruzzelli, Maple Leafs goalie prospect

Abruzzese had a goal and an assist in the game giving him five goals and twenty points on the season. Steeve’s assist on Abruzzese’s goal extends his point streak to 15 games. 

With the win, Petruzzelli pushes his record back above .500 to 4-3-1.  His Save Percentage is 0.879% and his Goals-Against-Average is at 3.28.  

The Marlies Power Play Needs Work

If I were to do a “Good, Bad, And Ugly” report like I do for the Maple Leafs’ games I would have to put the Marlies’ Power Play under “Ugly.” They not only went 0-for-4 in this game, but they gave up three quality scoring chances to the Wolf Pack when they had the man advantage. The Marlies have one of the worst power plays in the league. They need to clean up that area of their game. 

With the Marlies now on a four-game winning streak, they have climbed back into sole possession of third place in the AHL’s North Division with a record of 12-7-4 and 28 points. They sit five points behind the Division leading Cleveland Monsters with a game in hand, and four points behind the second-place Syracuse Crunch with two games in hand.  Toronto is one point up on the Rochester Americans with the same number of games played. 

The Marlies don’t get much rest over the holidays. They return home for a rematch with the Providence Bruins on Wednesday night. I expect the Bruins to be out for revenge following the drubbing they received at home from the Marlies. Toronto then travels to Belleville to take on the Senators on Friday night before the Christmas break. They then go right back at it at 2:00 pm on Boxing Day when the Senators are in town. The Marlies leave immediately after the game to travel to Cleveland where they take on the Monsters on Wednesday night.  

Related: Hockey Insider Names Three Problems with the Maple Leafs

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