“It just wasn’t good enough. The first period went well, but that’s why it’s a 60-minute hockey game.
If I was gifted a few Canadian dollars every time Greg Moore regretted an incomplete 60-minute effort, I’d have more than a few bucks stashed away. I might be able to afford a first-class round-trip flight to Canada – and maybe a ticket to the Leafs playoffs, but I digress.
The Marlies led 3-0 seven minutes into the game and were up 4-1 in 21 minutes, but the Griffins had the bit between their teeth after pulling their keeper back and responding quickly.
A comeback seemed inevitable in the course of play, and the Marlies allowed six straight unanswered goals. Despite a last-five power play for most of the season, the Griffins scored four power-play goals from six chances.
On the other side of the special teams, the Marlies couldn’t take advantage of the Griffins’ 75% penalty kill, which was the worst in the league before this game.
Where to even start with this one?
Grand Rapids started the game as a team lacking in confidence and currently occupying the last place in the Central Division.
Toronto established a two-goal lead in four minutes through Dmitry Ovchinnikov and Nick Robertson. Both were excellent finishes, although the speed and accuracy behind Robertson’s wrist shot was particularly eye-catching.
The penalty problem started with the Marlies taking back-to-back penalties. After killing the first, Toronto scored a shorthanded goal on the second; Joseph Blandisi edged Victor Brattstrom to score on his forehand on a breakaway chance.
The 3-0 lead was short-lived as the Griffins scored on the same power play through Dominik Shine.
The Marlies restored the three-goal lead less than a minute into the middle period when Teemu Kivihalme was left alone to score between the hash marks on a Josh Ho-Sang pass.
After Grand Rapids switched goalkeepers after Toronto’s fourth goal, the momentum of the game changed very quickly. The Griffins were immediately helped into the game by the Marlies, who gave a 4-2 break in which Turner Elson scored his 20th goal of the season just 27 seconds after the 4-1 goal.
Mikhail Abramov fired an iron shot in the third minute, but that was as close as Toronto came to test Kaden Fulcher between the posts.
Grand Rapids’ power play brought them within a point halfway through the game when Riley Barber finished from close range after good work from Taro Hirose and Jonatan Berggren.
The Griffins harnessed the energy of the penalty kill and scored two goals in 62 seconds.
There was little situational awareness from Toronto as a turnover coupled with a line change resulted in a 3-on-2 run. Dan Renouf scored with a low shot that Michael Hutchinson could have done better.
Barber then gave the Griffins the lead with his second goal of the game on the power play. It was again a bad goalkeeper from Hutchinson, who was beaten to his near post from a bad angle.
It looked like the time had come for Toronto to switch goaltenders to give the team a chance to reset, but that wasn’t in Greg Moore’s plans as the Marlies hung on for life in order to only hanging around 5-4 after 40 minutes.
Billy Christopoulos replaced Hutchinson to start the third period, but the damage was done by then.
Barber struck for the third time on the power play to give Grand Rapids a 6-4 lead less than five minutes into the final quarter. Mac Hollowell was stripped of the puck by Hirose in the neutral zone, making it a 3-on-2 for the Griffins. It was another giveaway for Grand Rapids, which went untested in the final 20 minutes as the Marlies registered just six shots on goal.
That’s not to say Toronto haven’t had a chance to make a comeback of their own. They had three powerplays, including one late in the game where they went broke shooting Christopoulos.
Brian Lashoff froze the game with a shorthanded count into an empty net with exactly two minutes left.
Bobby McMann’s 20th goal was nothing more than a consolation prize in the dying seconds.
It was a disastrous night on special teams, with a tough penalty kill that worked way too many times. Asked what can be done about the team’s lack of discipline, Moore replied dryly: “Keep the message out and it will sink in a day.”
In terms of a few positives, Nick RobertsonThe 11th goal was his 20th point of the season (in 20 games). One of the team’s most improved players this season, it was nice to see Bobby McMan register his 20th goal, albeit in forgettable circumstances. It’s the first time in franchise history that two rookies have scored 20 goals in a single season.
– Saturday lines: