By Stan Smith

The Toronto Marlies had a good week leading up to the AHL All-Star break. They picked up five out of a possible six points on the road. Those three games capped off a grueling nine-game three-week-long road trip in which they visited seven different cities in Canada and the US.  It was a very successful trip for the Marlies; they finished it with a 5-3-1 record.  

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Marlies 4, Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguins 1

This game opened pretty slowly with neither team creating much offense in the first period. The Marlies had a 9-4 edge in the period, but it ended scoreless. The shots were not indicative of the play as it was a pretty evenly played period. 

The Penguins came out strong in the second. They were all over the Marlies in the first four minutes of the first period. On their first foray into the Wilkes Barre/Scranton zone Toronto got a lucky bounce off of Zach Solow’s head. A point shot from just inside the Penguins’ blue line by Robert Mastrosimone hit Solow in the head, and he dropped to the ice. Before the referee had a chance to blow the play dead the puck fell to Josiah Slavin’s feet and he shoveled it past Penguins’ goalie Joel Blomqvist into the net. Solow jumped right back up and joined Slavin and Mastrosimone in the celebration. He also picked up the primary assist on the goal. 

That was the only goal scored in the second, a period in which Dennis Hildeby had to be sharp as the Penguins outshot the Marlies 15-7.  

Marlies’ head coach John Gruden’s son Jonathon Gruden tied the game up at 7:22 of the third period when he shoved a rebound of a Marc Johnstone shot over the goal line before Hildeby could get his glove on it. Hildeby almost made a miraculous save on the play, stretching out to catch the puck but it was ruled the puck crossed the line.  

The tie lasted only 18 seconds. On the next shift, Nick Abruzzese and Logan Shaw executed a perfect give-and-go. As Abruzzese broke between the face-off circles in the Penguins zone, he dished the puck off to Shaw who was standing to the right of Blomqvist. Shaw gave the puck right back to Abruzzese who slid it past Blomqvist into the net. It was clear on the play that Blomgvist expected Shaw to take the shot. 

The 2-1 score lasted until the 17:28 mark of the third. With the teams playing four-on-four, the Penguins decided to pull Blomqvist for an extra attacker when they had possession in the Toronto zone. Joseph Blandisi tried and failed to hit the Penguins’ net from inside the Toronto zone and failed, but Logan Shaw beat out the icing as the puck bounced off the backboards right out to Shaw in front of the empty net.  

With the score 3-1 Toronto the Penguns won the faceoff at center and carried the puck into the Marlies end. Blomqvist once again headed for the bench. This time Solow intercepted a pass right in front of Hildeby and tried to backhand the puck blindly out of the zone without icing it. He got too much wood on it and it went the length of the ice but just happened to be on goal making the final 4-1.

After struggling in his previous four starts since being sent back down from the big club, Hildeby clearly had his game back and was inches from posting his fourth shutout of the season.  


Note: I want to send a shout-out to the play-by-play person of the Penguins. I do not know his name. I googled it but I am not sure what I saw was correct and I would not want to publish the wrong name. They spoke well, were knowledgeable, and were up to date with statistics on the players of both teams. The thing that impressed me the most was his enunciation of the names of the European players. He sounded like a native Swede or Fin when naming those players. Usually, announcers in the NHL tend to butcher the names of European players. It was refreshing to hear their name pronounced properly. 

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Marlies 4, Utica Comets 0

This was a crucial game for the Marlies. They entered it two points up on Utica in a fight for the last playoff spot in the North Division.  

The fourth line came through again scoring not only the first goal, they scored two goals in the first period to put the Marlies up 2-0 after twenty minutes. The first goal was scored right after Utica had a long shift buzzing in the Toronto zone. Josiah Slavin managed to get control of the puck and skated it into the Utica zone. He then dropped it off to Topi Niemela in between the face-off circles. Niemela completely sold Comets’ goalie Akira Schmid on the shot before hitting Zach Solow backdoor. Solow had the wide-open net to tuck the puck into.  

That goal went right to the Marlies’ legs as they started to carry the play. Just over three minutes later the fourth line finished an extended shift in the Utica end of the ice with Robert Mastrosimone deflecting a Max Lajoie shot past Shmid. 

The Marlies went up 3-0 at 8:21 of the second once again after an extended shift by the Comets in the Toronto zone. Dylan Gambrell intercepted a pass, skated the puck into the Utica zone, and fired a wrist shot on Schmid. Schmid stopped the shot but couldn’t control the rebound. The puck went right to Alex Steeves. Schmid got a piece of Steeve’s shot but the puck trickled through him into the goal.  

Ryan Tverberg would close out the scoring at 10:44 of the third scoring a power play goal on a rebound of his original shot.

The Marlies played a great defensive game allowing only 20 shots over the three periods and Dennis Hildeby stopped all 20 of them to record his fourth shutout of the season.

Utica Comets 6, Marlies 5

For the third game in a row, the fourth line opened the scoring. Josiah Slavin showed some nice hand-eye coordination knocking a waist-high flip-pass from Robert Mastrosimone down to the ice and firing it past Utica goalie Isaac Poulter all in one motion. 

After getting shutout 4-0 the day before giving up the first goal seemed to bring Utica to life. They dominated the rest of the period and outshot the Marlies 13-5 in the period. They tied the game less than three minutes after Toronto opened the scoring when a slapshot from Robbie Russo went wide of the Toronto net, hit the backboards, and came out the other side of the goal right onto the stick of Timur Ibragimov. Before Marlies starter Keith Petruzzelli had a chance to react to the bounce the puck was behind him. 

The second period was a wild one that saw six goals scored. Unfortunately for Toronto, four of the goals were scored by the Comets. Nick Abruzzese and Logan Shaw replied for the Marlies as the game went into the second intermission with the score 5-3 Utica.

Alex Steeves and Robert Mastrosimone would each score in the third period to send the game tied 5-5 into overtime. Nothing was settled in the extra frame. Justin Dowling and Graeme Clarke would score on their shootout attempts while Steeves and Kieffer Bellows would both fail on theirs to give the Comets the win 6-5. 

Fourth Line Superb

The fourth line carried the load for the team this week scoring six goals and totaling 14 points. All three of Solow, Slavin, and Mastrosimone scored two goals while Solow added three assists to lead the Marlies with five points over the three games. Slavin and Mastrosimone each had two assists to give them four points apiece for the week. 

Other Skater Stats

Steeves regained sole possession of the top spot in team scoring. He tallied two goals and an assist to give him 18 goals, 19 assists, and 37 points, one more point than Joseph Blandisi. Blandisi had two assists in the three games. 

Logan Shaw (2G, 1A), Nick Abruzzese (2G, 1A), and Topi Niemela (3A) all had three points for the Marlies over the week. 

Hildeby Is Back

After struggling in his previous four starts and giving up 15 goals in ten periods of work, Hildeby was literally inches away from pitching back-to-back shutouts this week. The only goal he gave up was getting his glove on, but the referees ruled the puck over the line. The AHL does not have the same multi-angle video replays the NHL has so we will have to take the referee’s word for it that the puck was indeed over the line on the play.  Hildeby didn’t argue the call either which gives us a good indication it was the right call. 

Regardless, stopping 50 of 51 shots over the two starts means the Hildeby from earlier this season is back.  

Hildeby is sixth in Goals Against Average in the AHL of goalies with at least 20 appearances with a 2.30 GAA and 12th in Save Percentage at 0.914. 

What’s Next?

The Marlies finally get to play a game at home. It has been just a few days shy of a month since they last played before a home crowd. They finished their three-week nine-game road trip with a 5-3-1 record before last week’s All-Star break. 

Alex Steeves and Dennis Hildeby might not have gotten a lot of rest during the All-Star break. They both played on Saturday evening in Utica, New York, before travelling across the United States to San Jose for the skills competition on Sunday and the rest of the celebration along with the three-on-three games on Monday. They then had to fly back to Toronto midweek and ready to play Friday night. 

The Marlies play two games at home against the Laval Rocket this weekend. Game #1 goes at 7:00om Friday night while game #2 has a 5:00 pm start Saturday. They then face the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at 11:00 am on Wednesday. That 11:00 am game time is no typo. 

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