TORONTO – Joey MacDonald downplayed his performance on Saturday afternoon, but his coach knows how valuable the goaltender is to the Toronto Marlies.
“Mac was excellent,” said Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins after Toronto’s 4-3 shootout win over the Hamilton Bulldogs in American Hockey League play.
“He was real, real good when we needed him. And he was barking at our players, challenging them to play better and harder. That’s a real great thing when your goalie is that involved in the game.”
Josh Engel had the shootout winner for the Marlies (28-30-11), while Phil Oreskovic, Tim Brent and Ryan Hamilton scored in regulation for Toronto, which won its third in a row.
Ryan Russell, Andrew Conboy and Brock Trotter replied for Hamilton (46-15-9), which clinched the North Division by earning a single point despite losing for the first time in four games.
MacDonald stopped 42 shots in regulation and overtime for the victory. At the other end, Bulldogs netminder Cedrick Desjardins made 19 saves.
“They fired a lot of pucks on net, kinda from everywhere,” said MacDonald. “But that’s how good teams win and we need to learn from that. Bad angle shots are tough for goaltenders.”
The Marlies got off to a quick start after Oreskovic scored on the game’s first shot 13 seconds into the first period. A hard forecheck off the opening faceoff ended with the puck on Oreskovic’s stick at the point and he blasted it home.
The Bulldogs dominated much of the period, however, outshooting the Marlies 11-4, but MacDonald was strong in goal and Hamilton couldn’t convert on two power plays.
“I thought we were a little slow out of the gate,” said Eakins, despite Oreskovic’s quick goal. “It took us a long, long time to get going.”
Toronto had not played for a week, and Eakins thought that hurt his team’s ability to get into the game.
“We practised for a full week,” Eakins said. “And when you do that sometimes your team doesn’t come out as well as you’d like them to. I think we’ll be much better (on Sunday).”
Russell tied the game midway through the second when he stole a bouncing puck at his own blue-line and led a short-handed 3-on-1 rush the other way.
The Bulldogs again outshot the Marlies 11-4 in the second, but only Russell was able to get one past MacDonald.
“There’s a sense of calm about (MacDonald), he’s not going to get frazzled or off his game,” Eakins added. “When things are going wrong we know were going to get a save, especially today.”
Brent scored his ninth of the season 1:20 into the third period to give Toronto a 2-1 lead.
Conboy tied the game for the Bulldogs midway through the period, but Hamilton quickly replied to restore Toronto’s lead.
Trotter scored his 31st of the season less than two minutes later tie things up once again.
The Marlies finished 0-for-2 on the power play, while Hamilton went 0-for-6 with the man advantage.
The Marlies host the Abbotsford Heat on Sunday. Hamilton is off until a road game at the Manitoba Moose on Tuesday.
Notes: This was the Marlies’ first game in a week after a three-game road trip. … Jesse Blacker, 18, made his pro debut with the Marlies after his Ontario Hockey League season with the Owen Sound Attack ended. … Sunday’s 1 p.m. Marlies matinee versus Abbotsford will be televised live on CBC.