By Stan Smith

While I have watched the occasional Toronto Marlies game in the past, this is the first season I have watched all of their games. I have to say they are just as frustrating to watch as the Maple Leafs. They seem to have talent but struggle with consistency in their game. Game in and game out you never know what you are going to get from them. 

Neither the Marlies nor the Maple Leafs are having a festive Christmas. The Maple Leafs are 1-4-1 in their last six while the Marlies saw their losing streak extend to four games this past week. 

Related: Surprising Maple Leafs D-Men Depth Forces Tough Choices

Belleville Senators 4, Marlies 2

This game had similarities with the Ottawa Senators and Maple Leafs game. While each game got to 2-2 in different ways the winning goal by both Senators’ teams had a bit of an aroma to them. The Belleville goal was an attempted backhand pass across the crease by Zack Ostapchuck that bounced off of Marlies’ goalie Luke Cavallin and into the Toronto net. 

Both games ended with an empty net goal by the Senators.  

In both games, the Toronto team outplayed, outshot, and out-chanced the Senators. However, they were undone by errors and came out on the losing end of a 4-2 score. 

Kieffer Bellows, now with the Toronto Maple Leafs

The Marlies opened the scoring at 3:27 of the first period when Logan Shaw and Kieffer Bellows broke in 2 on 1. Shaw fed a nice saucer pass over to Bellows and Bellows found the five-hole on Senators’ goalie Kevin Mandolese. Matthew Highmore and  Ostapchuck made it 2-1 Belleville at the end of the second period. Joseph Blandisi tied the game just 2:27 into the third period after Kyle Clifford beat out a Marlies’ dump-in and fed the puck to Alex Steeves behind the Belleville net. Steeves found Blandisi alone in front of Mandolese and Blandisi went backhand, forehand, backhand to beat Mandolese’s glove side. At 8:49 of the third, Ostapchuck scored the goal I wrote about earlier to give the Senators a 3-2 lead. Roby Harventie would add the empty netter to round out the scoring. 

Cavallin, who the Marlies signed to an AHL contract in the Summer of 2022, was making his first Marlies and AHL start. He was 9-3-2 with a 2.88 Goals-Against-Average and a 0.918 Save Percentage in 14 games with the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers this season before being called up to the Marlies.  Cavallin stopped 19 of 22 shots to take the loss. 

Cleveland Monsters 3, Marlies 2

While the Marlies might have deserved a better fate than the 4-2 loss to Belleville, a 3-2 score while losing to the Cleveland Monsters probably flatters the Marlies. Cleveland dominated the majority of this game. While stats such as High-Danger Scoring Chances are not published for AHL games, I lost count of the dangerous chances early in the second period. By the time, they were about 10-3 for the Monsters. Cleveland’s 33-26 shots in the game were also flattering to the Marlies.  

If it weren’t for the play of Dennis Hildeby, the score would have been a lot more lopsided.  

Cleveland opened the scoring when Mikko Kokkonen got his stick on an attempted pass from Owen Sillinger but could not control it and was bodied to the ice by Carson Meyer. Corson Ceulemans picked up the loose puck and fired it past Hildeby. The official scoring had the goal as unassisted, but both Meyer and Sillinger played key roles in the goal. 

Joseph Blandisi scored just 1:01 into the second period to tie the game up when he corralled his own rebound after Monsters’ goalie Jet Greaves stopped his initial shot. Blandisi brought the rebound from his forehand to his backhand before flipping it over a sprawling Greaves. 

That tie lasted just 38 seconds when Hildeby whiffed on a shot from an angle by Trey Fix-Wolansky.  I have to say I think it is only the second bad goal I can recall Hildeby allowing this season.  

Cleveland would go ahead 3-1 when Sillinger would get his stick on a shot/pass from Cole Clayton and deflect it past Hildeby at 2:16 of the third period.  

Related: Marlies Weekly Report:  Split Last Two Games Before Christmas

Ryan Tverberg would get the Marlies back to within one when he took a Kieffer Bellows shot that rang off the post and deposited it behind Greaves.

That was as close as Toronto would come. The Marlies pulled Hildeby with just over two minutes left in the game but managed only one shot on the Monsters’ net while Cleveland had five failed attempts to pot the empty net goal.  

Once again a great performance by Hildeby turned into a loss due to lack of goal support. 

Belleville Senators 3, Marlies 2

The Marlies came out on fire in this game and had the majority of the excellent scoring chances. They capitalized on two of them to take a 2-0 lead.  

Joseph Blandisi scored his third goal in as many games when he opened the scoring at 4:02 of the first period. Zach Solow made it 2-0 at the 12:15 mark of the period. The shots in the period were 10-7. However, the majority of the Marlies’ shots were of the high-danger variety while the Senators’ were mostly from the outside.  

The second period was a low-event, evenly played, scoreless affair. Neither team managed much in the way of offence. The Marlies seemed intent on preserving their 2-0 lead.

Dmitry Ovchinninkov would take a questionable tripping call at 1:20 of the third period. The subsequent Belleville power play sent the game in a different direction. Just nine seconds into the power play, Roby Jarventie would pick off an attempted clear by Tommy Miller, take a few strides toward the corner to the right of Dennis Hildeby and fire a bad angle shot that caught Hideby off guard. The puck slid under Hildeby into the net to make the score 2-1 Marlies. 

At 11:59 of the third period, Egor Sokolov deflected a Tyler Kleven point shot past Hildeby to tie the game at two. The third period would end tied.

At the 4:20 mark of the overtime Sokolov and Cole Reinhardt would find themselves in alone on Hildeby. Sokolov would dish the puck over to Reinhardt in tight. Hildeby sprawled in an attempt to make the save but failed. 

Added Notes About the Marlies Three Games

All three games this week would have ended 3-2 for the opposition if not for an empty-net goal by
Belleville in the first contest.  

Joseph Blandisi had a productive week. He scored three of the six goals the Marlies scored and assisted on a fourth goal. Ryan Tverberg and Kieffer Bellows each had a goal and an assist. Logan Shaw added two assists. 

Joseph Blandisi, now with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization

Dennis Hildeby gave up six goals on 65 shots in his two starts to give him a 0.908 Save Percentage for the week. Luke Cavallin, in his first start in the AHL, stopped 19 of 22 shots giving him a 0.863 Save Percentage. 

The two losses to the Senators were costly for the Marlies. They fell to fourth place in the AHL’s North Division one point behind Belleville. They are tied with the Rochester Americans with 31 points, 12 points behind the first-place Cleveland Monsters. 

What’s Next?

The Marlies are home for three games this week. They take on the first-place Cleveland Monsters on Wednesday night and then play two games against second-place Syracuse Crunch. One on Saturday afternoon and the other on Sunday afternoon. All three games have a 4:00 pm start.  

It will be interesting to see if Ilya Samsonov clears waivers and gets a start in one of the games. As I was writing this, the Maple Leafs announced the call-up of Hildeby. That leaves the Marlies with Cavallini and Keith Petruzzelli along with Samsonov if he clears waivers. 

Related: Samsonov’s Fall Prompts Maple Leafs to Make Radical Move

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