There’s no place like home for the returning Toronto Marlies.
Many teams struggle in their first game back at home after a long road trip.
With the Marlies back at the Ricoh after seven games away from Toronto, the above was certainly true as they were scrambling early to contain a buoyant Rochester team that had pulled out a big win on Friday evening.
The Amerks had certainly come to play, firing five shots toward Garret Sparks inside the opening five minutes. In fact, at one point during the opening period the shot clock favoured the road team 8-1. The Marlies were swimming against the tide.
Against the run of play, they almost took the lead at the eight minute marker with the returning Kasperi Kapanen showing what a terrific shot he owns, but the effort rang back off the right post.
That would have been an undeserved lead and Toronto were fortunate not to fall behind as Kapanen and then Nylander turned the puck over consecutively, with Stuart Percy rescuing the latter from embarrassment on a terrific play to deny the visitors.
A long-range shot from Brennan gave Hyman a rebound opportunity that was crowded out before Soshnikov earned the first powerplay, as Toronto finally began to grow into the game.
Back at even strength, Gauthier should have shot from a great position instead of trying to find Clune on what needed to be a pinpoint feed, and the latter was called for a penalty after a scuffle with Jack Nevins in the crease after the whistle.
After Rochester’s Nick Baptiste should have done better with a tipped effort in front of Sparks during the Amerks powerplay, the game looked to be heading to the intermission scoreless.
That was, however, until the first piece of top notch hockey finally broke the deadlock on a 4 on 2 break for the Marlies with Leipsic in possession on the right wing.
With a fabulous pass, he found the trailer on the play, T.J Brennan, at the top of the left circle, and his wicked wrister nestled under the crossbar with Makarov well beaten.
There’s little doubt Sheldon Keefe read the riot act to his players at the break, and it had the desired affect for the opening six minutes of the middle frame. Frattin teed up Leipsic but the former was unable to get a handle on the puck in tight, while Hyman and Campbell saw their efforts turned aside by Makarov.
The game switched again when Carrick had little choice but to haul down Phil Varone as the Americans broke away on an odd-man rush.
It’d be consecutive penalties for the Marlies after Valiev headed to the box three seconds following Carrick’s exit.
Two big kills, including a huge save from Sparks — who somehow saw the puck through a wall of traffic before hanging onto the rebound — set the stage for Toronto to double the lead.
T.J Brennan intentionally shot the puck wide of the net with the lane to the goal blocked. The rebound off the back boards fell to Panik, who chipped the puck across the crease, possibly between the legs of Makarov, and Nylander was on hand to score the easiest of tap ins standing by the right post.
Rochester roared back from the faceoff following the goal, engineering an outnumbered rush, but Sparks would perform robbery to deny Matt Garbowsky from halving the deficit. That five minute period of play ultimately decided the direction of the two points.
Toronto almost took a three-goal lead into the third with a highlight-reel effort from Brendan Leipsic. Showing off his stickhandling skills and skating ability, a spinorama backhand effort brought out the best in Makarov in order to deny the Marlies left winger.
The home crowd wouldn’t have to wait long for the third goal, however. Just 84 seconds into the final frame, Panik and a Rochester defenseman exchanged possession of the puck before the former Tampa Bay draft pick snuck his shot past a screened Makarov.
Panik would almost turn provider shortly after, but Nylander could only ring his shot off the iron.
Rochester’s last real chance to get themselves back into the game came at the five minute mark, but Cal O’Rielly was unable to find Jerry D’Amigo on yet another odd-man rush for the Amerks.
Brendan Leipsic, later named first star, was having himself quite the game. His shot on the power play was tipped by Frattin for a 4-0 lead six minutes into the final period. The game was dead as a contest from that moment on.
Both teams exchanged chances inside the last third of the period, and Rochester finally tallied with a shade under four minutes remaining. An ultimately disappointing way for Sparks to have his shutout bid broken, Varone was allowed a shorthanded breakaway and he made no mistake.
Brennan took exception to Justin Kea taking a slash at him afterward and earned himself the Gordie Howe hat-trick with the resulting fight.
With Toronto on the penalty kill following the fight, the scoring was finished off by Rinat Valiev sending the puck into the empty net for his first professional goal.
It was a shorthanded empty netter, but a thrill no doubt for the rookie defenseman, sealing a 5-1 victory for a Marlies team that had too much firepower for their divisional opponents to handle.
Post Game Notes:
Garret Sparks improves his record to 8-2-1 and hasn’t recorded a loss in regulation since October 24. The goaltender also recorded a pair of assists, the helpers coming on the Panik and Valiev goals.
Rinat Valiev’s first professional goal and his first multi-point game. He’s chipped in with five points this season.
A pair of points takes Richard Panik back to PPG pace through 15 games.
Brendan Leipsic recorded two assists and led the team with five shots, unlucky not to score in two straight games against Rochester.
William Nylander extended his point streak to nine games and has four goals in his last six outings.
Kasperi Kapanen made his return to the team after being out since November 6 with a tailbone injury and looked understandably rusty.
The power play looked poor despite tallying once, with Keefe saying it “lacked urgency” in the post game presser.
Toronto’s biggest crowd of the season — 6,759 — was in attendance, as the bandwagon begins to roll with Nylander leading the way in points and the team continuing to pile up victories.
Toronto Marlies vs Rochester Americans