It was the third consecutive three-in-three weekend and, thankfully, the last until March.
Utica Comets 5 vs. Toronto Marlies 4 (OT)
A trip to Utica is never an easy task, but the Marlies came out on top with a fine all-round performance despite a penalty-ridden game.
A third straight shutout for Jonathan Bernier ensured a single goal would prove crucial.
That came with nine minutes remaining thanks to Leivo with a heads up play from behind the net, giving Panik an easy chance to beat Richard Bachman, who was equally as good in the home team’s net.
Utica never really looked like tying the game up until pulling Bachman for the extra attacker with 1:45 to play. Hemming the Marlies in their own zone, Utica forced the visitors to ice the puck. Winning the resulting offensive zone faceoff, the puck was laid back to defenseman Jordan Subban but his effort rang off the post.
An empty net goal from Rich Clune sealed the two points.
Toronto Marlies 4 vs. Syracuse Crunch 3 (OT)
Saturday night in Syracuse saw the return of Antoine Bibeau for his first start since November 29.
Toronto made a fast start, dominating the home team but on their first rush of the game it was the Crunch who scored. Bibeau made two successive stops but the defense in front of him failed to clear the loose puck before Tye McGinn slotted home.
Toronto’s persistence saw them tally three times in just over two minutes late in the period: T.J Brennan blasted one home on the power play, Matt Frattin and Andrew Campbell all finding a way past goaltender Andrei Vasilevsky, down on a conditioning stint from Tampa.
The middle frame saw plenty of possession for the Marlies but not a great deal in the way of scoring chances. To the credit of a struggling Syracuse team, they produced a third period comeback that began with a power play marker three minutes in.
It was a procession of Marlies players to the box but the penalty kill stayed firm, despite having to cope for almost a minute down by two men. Firing 17 shots in the final twenty of regulation, the home team would tie the game at three, though would have to wait for a video review to confirm. The delay for the dry-scrape before overtime began, probably favoured the Marlies who had time to re-group after allowing their two-goal lead to slip.
Bibeau would produce his 31st and 32nd saves of the game before Rinat Valiev pounced on a rebound from Kapanen’s shot to clinch the extra point two minutes into the extra frame.
Toronto Marlies 2 vs. Utica Comets 0
Back home against the Utica Comets on Sunday afternoon, Jonathan Bernier’s shutout streak was broken eight minutes into the first period. Matt Frattin scored a ridiculous backhand goal on the powerplay to ensure the game was tied after twenty minutes.
The first of many mental lapses saw the Marlies cough up two goals inside the opening two minutes of the second period, one of which was shorthanded. A rush from Viktor Loov ended with Eric Faille scoring on his Marlies debut to pull within a goal shortly after.
Toronto rode their luck as Utica missed some good chances on odd-man rushes and had a goal waived off. William Nylander tied the game late in the second period, and inside four minutes of the third, Mark Arcobello struck on the powerplay to put his team up 4-3.
Despite allowing three straight goals, Utica showed character to fight back and tie the game with one minute remaining in regulation. Jordan Subban scored his second goal of the game as the Comets went with the extra attacker.
A shorthanded goal from Utica 16 seconds into overtime sealed the extra point for the visitors.
Five points from a possible six is still a fine haul. During the last nine games, the Marlies have a 6-2-1 record — a more than respectable effort with such a heavy workload.
Toronto continues to lead the North Division and trail Wilkes/Barre Scranton Penguins by a mere 0.014% for the overall AHL lead.
Twenty wins have now been achieved and twelve of those are on the road, where the team has an impressive 12-1-1 record.
The 100-goal barrier was broken through — 106 goals in 27 games.
The powerplay is producing but not quite at the rate you might expect (3 for 18 this weekend).
It’s the penalty kill that continues to excel, allowing just one goal on 17 occasions through the last three games and is running at 95% since leaving St. John’s at the end of November.
– There were 18 different players that registered at least a point as — despite the obvious standouts in scoring — the team continues to produce as a unit.
– No surprise that William Nylander led the way with four points, and his tally is a league-leading 33 for the season.
– Jonathan Bernier’s conditioning stint was nothing but a positive experience for him and the Marlies.
– Despite the result on Sunday, it was an overall success for the goaltender, with everyone seemingly forgetting the three shutouts he posted after allowing five.
– The real judgement will be made back in the NHL but he’s in a far better mindset than when he left the Leafs.
– With a three-point weekend, Richard Panik surpassed twenty for the season and is currently riding a five game point streak.
– Andrew Campbell picked up yet another goal, his seventh on the year, but what’s often not talked about is his shot blocking ability, especially on the penalty kill. Brave to the point of absurdity at times.
– Antoine Bibeau made 32 saves for the win on Saturday and this was a well-needed confidence boost for him after losing two straight in St. John’s and not seeing a tonne of action of late.
– T.J Brennan’s lone goal gives him outright lead in defenseman for goals scored and into a tie for points.
– Mark Arcobello is continuing a strong points production rate in December, seven points in six games.
– He also leads the team with four power play goals.
– Jack Rodewald and Éric Faille were called up and featured in Sunday‘s game, with the latter scoring on his Marlies debut. Both have returned to Orlando with Ryan Rupert joining the Marlies.
– Kasperi Kapanen has joined Team Finland for the World Juniors. The call on William Nylander is expected later this week.
– Nikita Soshnikov and Freddie Gauthier are both currently injured, but Sheldon Keefe insinuated neither has a serious problem.
The schedule becomes a little easier, but not much as Toronto face three road games in four days.
The weekend games should be very interesting, with a visit to AHL leaders WBS Pens and the team chasing them in the Atlantic Division, the Hershey Bears.
Toronto at Binghamton –Wednesday, December 16, 7:05 pm EST
Toronto at W-B/Scranton — Friday, December 18, 7:05 pm EST
Toronto at Hershey — Saturday December 19, 7:00 pm EST