The Toronto hockey landscape is rarely boring, but never have we seen a goaltending situation quite like the one witnessed in the past week.
I’ll get to that later, but let’s begin with the action on the ice as the Marlies played their second straight three-in-three weekend. The goaltender merry-go-round saw Jonathan Bernier take the start between the pipes and he would be backed up by David Ayres, building operations manager at Mattamy Athletic Centre and occasional zamboni driver at Ricoh Coliseum.
Toronto Marlies 4 vs. Rochester Americans 0
Toronto were too good from start to finish for Rochester, but had to wait until the second period to break this game open. It was the special teams coming to the fore as Nylander struck twice on the power play. With under a minute to play in the middle frame, Soshnikov finally scored his first shorthanded marker of the season after so many chances at 4v5 this year.
Up 3-0 after forty minutes, any Rochester thoughts of a comeback vanished as early as three minutes into the third period, with Soshnikov grabbing a second goal on his own rebound.
From that point on, it was about ensuring that Bernier had every chance to record a shutout, and he duly obliged to the obvious enjoyment of the whole team, who mobbed him after the final buzzer.
Toronto Marlies 3 vs. Manitoba Moose 1
Saturday’s Star Wars themed game against Manitoba saw a patient and controlled performance from the Marlies back at Ricoh Coliseum. Out-shooting and out-chancing the visitors, the breakthrough was 46 minutes in the making. Richard Panik, stationed in front of the net, put the garbage away for his fifth of the season, and with just over five minutes to play Zach Hyman scored what looked like the insurance marker.
Recalled from Orlando, Rob Madore was making his Marlies debut and looking very assured between the pipes. His shutout bid would be denied, however, setting up a tense last three minutes or so. There was no panic from the home team, who stayed true to their game plan and sealed the eventual 3-1 victory thanks to an empty net goal from Stuart Percy.
Toronto Marlies 9 vs. Manitoba Moose 0
The previous game at the ACC saw the Marlies produce a stinker — possibly their worst performance of the season thanks to a lack of discipline among other things against the St. John‘s IceCaps.
The Marlies wiped that slate clean with a nine-goal rout of the Moose on Sunday, dominating the Winnipeg affiliate from start to finish and at no point taking their foot off the gas.
Nine different players hit the net as the Marlies scored three times in the opening period through Campbell, Clune (SH) and a beautifully-worked powerplay goal that was finished off by Arcobello.
Bailey and Leipsic tallied inside the first six minutes of the middle frame, before Leipsic, Panik, Leivo and Gauthier completed the scoring in the third. Leivo ended the game with four points, and it was a second shutout for Jonathan Bernier, who was a passenger for long stretches of the game.
The 9-0 victory is the biggest winning margin of victory in franchise history and only the second time they’ve scored nine goals in a single game. The previous occasion was against Connecticut in February of 2011, but both fall short of the ten goals tallied against Grand Rapids in 2009.
Winning three straight games this weekend propelled the Marlies to the top of the AHL standings, and their 96 goals is far and away the most by any team in the Eastern Conference.
Saturday’s win with Rob Madore between the pipes meant — at that point — the last five victory’s had been gained with five different goaltenders: Sparks, Bibeau, Massa, Bernier, and then Madore.
Friday’s victory was the Marlies tenth win on the road — the most by any team in the AHL.
Special teams were excellent throughout the weekend, proving decisive in Saturday‘s game in particular. The penalty kill was perfect in the nine times it was tested over the weekend, with the power play responding in kind by going three for seven. The Marlies PP has now produced twenty goals this season and is currently ranked tenth in the AHL.
– Slowly but surely, Frederick Gauthier is improving offensively, as he hit double figures in points with a goal and two assists over the weekend. Confidence in front of the net is growing and it’s evident that he’s looking to shoot more instead of looking for a teammate when in good positions. Eleven shots in his last six games as opposed to 13 efforts on goal in the previous 16 outings is a fair measure of that.
– If Jonathan Bernier being sent to the Marlies for a conditioning stint wasn’t enough of a story in itself, an hour before Friday’s puck drop the goaltending situation in Toronto took a turn for the extraordinary.
With Reimer not 100%, the Leafs called up Antoine Bibeau to join Garret Sparks.
Ryan Massa had already been released from his PTO, so Rob Madore would receive the call from Orlando but there was no way he would be able to make the Rochester game in time.
Left with few options, the Marlies signed Dave Ayres to an ATO as Bernier’s back-up for the evening.
It all worked out brilliantly in the end: Bernier bookended the weekend with two shutouts; Garret Sparks — named the AHL goaltender of the month for November, celebrated by recording a shutout on Leafs debut — was awarded the first star for his performance in St. Louis on Saturday. Joining Sparks with first star honours were Madore for the Marlies and Massa in Orlando (28-save shutout) in what was a Saturday treble for Toronto goaltenders.
– Jonathan Bernier looked a different person on and off the ice during this past weekend. Playing with more confidence behind a buoyant team, he was all smiles when interviewed and it’s obvious he’s feeling better about himself already. His pair of shutouts were the 15th and 16th respectively of his AHL career, and the Maple Leafs have indicated he will stay with the Marlies through next weekend, when he’s likely to face more work against stronger opposition.
– William Nylander led the way with five points of which three were goals, extending his lead as the AHL’s top scorer as he continues to do unprecedented things in the AHL at the age of 19.
– Mark Arcobello and Josh Leivo also tallied five points a piece (both 1G/4A) with the latter impressing most in Sunday’s game. Leivo’s problem has been consistency this season, as is shown by his scoring in bunches. He’s now third in Marlies scoring with 21 points in as many games.
– Another to surpass the twenty point mark is T.J Brennan. No goals, but three helpers this weekend saw the offensive defenseman extend his point streak to four games.
– There were 19 different players tallying at least a point this past weekend, with six defensemen getting in on the act. Scott Harrington was among them, recording his first point for the Marlies.
– Toronto’s aggressive penalty kill doubled the team’s shorthanded goals tally, with Nikita Soshnikov and Rich Clune both scoring down a man. The former has been a real threat with his team shorthanded and it was just a matter a time before he recorded a 4v5 goal. His skating ability has seen him generate many opportunities there this season, so it will be a nice confidence boost for him to finally convert on one of those chances.
The final three-in-three weekend of 2015 will see Toronto face two North Division rivals in Utica and Syracuse.
Toronto at Utica — Friday, Dec. 11, 7:00 p.m. EST
Toronto at Syracuse — Saturday, Dec. 12, 7:00 p.m. EST
Utica at Toronto — Sunday, Dec. 13, 3:00 p.m. EST
Toronto Marlies Player Stats
|Ryan Rupert (X)||8||3||1||4||4||2||1||0||7||42.9|
|Byron Froese (X)||4||3||0||3||-1||0||1||0||13||23.1|
|Frank Corrado (X)||7||0||3||3||3||2||0||0||7||0|
|Garret Sparks (X)||11||0||2||2||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jack Rodewald (X)||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
Toronto Marlies Goalie Stats