By Stan Smith

The Toronto Marlies traveled over 4,000 km and played five games in eight days to finish off the month of March. They won three of the five games they played, but the team did little to solidify a playoff spot in the North Division.

Related: This Week’s Marlies Report: Marlies Gain Five Of Six Points

Marlies 2 – Rochester Americans 1. SO

After combining for 18 goals in their two games last weekend each team could only manage one goal each in regulation and overtime in this game.  

It was a tight-checking game with few scoring chances throughout the first three periods. The Marlies got on the board first late in the first period. In a scramble around the Toronto net, the Americans failed to score. Then Tate Singleton, in just his second game with the Marlies, Dylan Gambrell, and Max Lajoie broke up ice 3 on 1. Singleton showed patience with the puck, carrying it down low and drawing the Rochester player back on the play. He then dished it off to Gambrell, who made no mistake burying the puck behind Americans’ goalie Michael Houser. 

After that, neither team was able to beat either goalie until the 17:16 mark of the third period. With nothing much going on for either team, it started to look like this game might end 1-0. However, Linus Weissbach got behind William Villeneuve and Marshall Rifai. Ryan Johnson hit Weissbach with a stretch pass sending him in alone on Dennis Hildeby. Weissbach beat Hildeby high on his glove side to tie the game at one. That was how regulation time ended.

There might have been more scoring chances in the overtime than in the first 60 minutes of this game. Both teams went end-to-end. However, both goalies made some miraculous saves to send the game to a shootout.

The shootout was kind of funny. The first five shooters dipsy-doodled and stickhandled like crazy; but, they failed to beat either goalie. Then Nick Abruzzese simply picked up the puck at center, skated straight up ice into the Rochester zone, and fired a shot that beat Houser five-hole to win the game for the Marlies. 

While the Marlies won the game, Rochester benefited the most from this game going past regulation. They were three points up in Toronto going into the contest. With each team getting a point the Marlies only gained one on them in the standings. 

Marlies 5 – Hartford Wolf Pack 1

The Marlies stepped out of their division on March 23rd as they welcomed the Atlantic Division’s Hartford Wolf Pack.  

Neither team had much going on until the 19:44 mark of the first period. Former Marlie Mac Hollowell intercepted a clearing attempt by Grant Cruickshank and fed a pass out front of the Toronto net to Karl Henriksson. Luke Cavallin stopped Henriksson’s shot. However, the rebound went to another former Marlie Nic Petan. The Marlies goalie had no chance to stop Petan’s shot from going in. 

After failing to score on their first 13 shots on Harford goalie Dylan Garand in the first 33 minutes of the game, the Marlies potted five goals on their next eight shots starting at 13:37 of the second period. Five different Toronto players scored a goal apiece. They were Josiah Slavin, Topi Niemela, Dylan Gambrell, Nick Abruzzese, and Alex Steeves.

Laval Rocket 4 – Marlies 1

After beating the Rocket by lopsided scores in five of their previous six meetings and outscoring Laval by a total score of 27-4 in those five games, it is possible the Marlies took the Rocket a bit lightly going into this game. After a scoreless first period, Alex Steeves put the Marlies up 1-0 at the 1:45 mark of the second period. Laval would score twice in 58 seconds and add another goal with just over 2 ½ minutes left in the second. They took a 3-1 lead into the locker room at the end of two. They would add an empty-netter with 58 seconds left in the game to round out the scoring. 

Related: Marlies Report: Three Points In Three Games

Marlies 2 – Manitoba Moose 1  OT

Much of the AHL scheduling doesn’t make sense at the best of times. It is not a balanced schedule. To keep travel to a minimum and to keep costs down, the teams play the vast majority of their games within their division. However, they venture out for the occasional games in neighbouring divisions. Even within the division, the schedule is not even. The Marlies play the Belleville Senators ten times this season but only face the Rochester Americans five times and the Utica Comets six times. 

I find it puzzling why the Marlies’ schedule would include two games in Winnipeg, a 4,400-kilometer round trip. But it does.

The first two periods of this game were like watching paint dry and could have been packaged as a cure for insomnia. The shots at the end of two periods were 13-13. I can honestly only remember seeing three good scoring chances over the first 40 minutes.

The Marlies had one of them and scored on it. Tate Singleton got the last wack at the puck in a wild scramble in front of the Manitoba net that beat Moose goalie Thomas Milic. Manitoba would score once on two good chances. Their goal would come off of a blocked cross-crease pass by Max Laloie that would reverse back the original passer. Marlies goalie Dennis Hildeby slid across the goal to face where he thought the shot was coming from. Because of that fortunate bounce, Moose forward Jeffrey Viel had a wide-open net. He scored.

Manitoba would find their legs in the third and it seemed like the whole period was played at the Toronto end of the ice. The shots were 15-2 for the Moose. However, Hildeby would come up big stopping all 15 of the shots he faced to send the game into overtime.

The OT was the polar opposite of the third period. Logan Shaw, Alex Steeves, and Topi Niemela swarmed the Manitoba goal and had three great scoring chances on the same shift. Quickly, Shaw smoked a one-time past Milic to win the game at the 57-second mark of the extra period. 

Manitoba Moose 4 – Marlies 3

After the way their first game started, it was hard to tell these were the same two teams in the first period of this one. This game started with both teams going end to end and trading dangerous scoring chances.  After exchanging 26 shots in the first two periods of game one, the two teams exchanged 30 shots in the first period alone in this game.

Despite Manitoba getting 17 of the 30 shots, the Marlies got goals from Zach Solow and Logan Shaw to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. Max Lajoie would make it 3-1 Toronto just 34 seconds into the third period. 

That two-goal lead lasted only 28 seconds. The Moose would come down the ice and score on the next shift.  Manitoba added a goal later in the second, and the game went into the third period tied at three. 

The Marlies had a glorious chance to go back up by two when Roni Hirvonen showed a lot of patience on a play to the left of Moose goalie Milic. He drew Milic right out of the crease before dishing the puck to Alex Steeves on the other side of the net. Steeves was standing on the edge of the crease with the puck on his stick and the goalie was completely out of the crease. He had the whole net to shoot at and somehow rang the puck off the post.   

That miss would come back to haunt the Marlies. The Moose would tie the game up later in the second period and take a one-goal lead they would not relinquish early in the third period.  

Individual Marlies Performances

Defenseman Topi Niemela led the way with five points over the five games. He scored one goal and added four assists. Logan Shaw and Alex Steeves each had two goals and two assists for a total of four points. Tate Singleton also had four points (1G, 3A). Nick Abruzzese (1G, 2A) and Dylan Gambrell (2G, 1A) each had three points.

Dennis Hildeby had an up-and-down week. He allowed just two goals in two of the Marlies’ wins, but he also allowed seven goals in two of their losses. Luke Cavallin allowed just one goal in winning the one start he had. 

The AHL Standings

The Marlies still find themselves in a precarious position in the North Division standings. They are in fourth place, one point up on the Laval Rocket, two points up on the sixth-place Utica Comets, and three up on the last-place Belleville Senators. There are nine games left in the regular season. The top five teams in the division make the postseason with the 4th and 5th place teams playing a three-game “play-in” series. The winner of that series moves on along with the top three finishing teams.  

What’s Next?

The Marlies play four home games over eight days starting Wednesday morning when they host the Springfield Thunderbirds. The Utica Comets are in town for games on Saturday and Sunday. The following Wednesday the Marlies host the Belleville Senators.  

Related: Marlies Report:  Marlies Find Their Scoring Touch

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