TORONTO - For the Toronto Marlies, Wednesday's shootout loss to the Chicago Wolves can be chalked up to a learning experience.
The Marlies (17-13-0-4) had stifled the American Hockey League's No. 2-ranked offence all night in front of 4,019 fans at Toronto's Ricoh Coliseum, but lost the game with tentative play late.
Toronto held a 2-0 lead on second-period goals by Darryl Boyce and Christian Hanson with seven-and-a-half minutes to play. But Ryan Garbutt and Jason Krog scored late in the third for the Wolves (19-15-2-1) to force overtime and win in the shootout. Krog's game-tying goal came with just 26 seconds to play in the game.
Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins spoke of how his team sagged on the bench as soon as Garbutt whacked a rebound past netminder Jussi Rynnas at the 12:29 mark of the third period to end a goal-mouth scramble.
"For 53 minutes we played a perfect team game," said Eakins. "We turned over a puck and turnovers end up in the net sometimes. I wasn't even worried about the goal they scored, I was more concerned that we didn't take that step forward and re-establish how we'd been playing. Instead we stepped back and got tentative."
The victory was the third in three nights for the Wolves, the Marlies were coming off a Boxing Day shootout win of their own.
The Marlies took what looked to be control of the game in the second when Boyce broke the ice 7:14 into the frame with a tip in of a Keith Aulie shot while the teams were playing 4-on-4.
Hanson then made it 2-0 five minutes later during a 5-on-3 power play when he tipped in a Matt Lashoff point shot past Wolves goaltender Drew MacIntyre, who made 32 regulation saves for the victory. Marlies netminder Jussi Rynnas stopped 30 of 32 shots.
The Marlies looked happy to play it safe in the third period, pushing forward but careful not to turn the puck over in the neutral zone. That, however, proved to be the wrong strategy and the momentum change was noticeable once Garbutt scored.
"If the score had been 1-1 and we scored to make it 2-1, we would have been in a great frame of mind," Eakins said. "But for some reason everyone was like 'oh no, they're coming.'
"We took a big step backwards and tried to defend. You can't do that. You have to go on the offence and forecheck hard."
However, the Marlies did take some positives away from the game. Although only 1-for-7 on the power play themselves, Toronto held the AHL's top power play scoreless in six opportunities, including a 5-on-3 mid-way through the third period and a goaltender-pulled, 6-on-4 situation with under three minutes to play.
"(The scouting staff) did a great a job breaking that down and we really went over it tightly before the game," said Eakins. "The guys were well prepared and they executed."
With two of the AHL's top-five scorers in Krog and Darren Haydar on the ice for Chicago, along with other top offensive talents, it's a matter of learning how to control emotions for the Marlies.
Hanson admitted there was some of that fear Eakins talked about once Garbutt scored, but said it's something players must learn to suppress.
"It's just a mental thing," the 24-year-old said. "We outplayed them for 50 minutes and then they net a goal like that and you just need to take a deep breath and realize we're still in the lead."
Krog's eighth goal of the season off a rebound with the goalie pulled and just seconds to play all but put a dagger in the Marlies. The feeling of dread was palpable in the arena.
And when the extra frame settled nothing, Chicago's MacIntyre stoned all four Marlies he faced in the shootout, while Andrew Kozek and Nigel Dawes scored for Chicago to seal the victory.
The Marlies will have to bounce back quickly; their next game is Thursday at home against the Rochester Americans. Toronto then embarks on a three-week, nine-game road trip beginning New Year's Eve in Grand Rapids against the Griffins.
"As a coach I told them that what I am concerned about is taking the negativity of seven minutes of a hockey game and carrying it over into tomorrow," Eakins said.
"These things snowball."
Notes: Centre Nazem Kadri was sent to the Marlies from the parent Maple Leafs on Wednesday but did not play due to a two-game AHL suspension…Heading into the game, Chicago was the AHL's top team on the power play and it's worst killing penalties...the game's three stars were Boyce (third), Rynnas (second) and MacIntyre (first).