It was supposed to be a week that saw Sheldon Keefe put his group through rigorous drills after some poor play of late.
That was turned on its head somewhat as Keefe’s best laid plans were put on hold with the Dion Phaneuf trade, injuries and call-ups, leaving the Marlies down to the bare bones.
Gone were Casey Bailey, Ryan Rupert and Matt Frattin, although the latter was returned on loan from Ottawa to the Marlies in a transaction not often seen since the American Hockey League expanded to thirty teams.
Brendan Leipsic and Jeremy Morin were both called up to the Leafs, joining the recently-recalled Mark Arcobello.
Garret Sparks headed to Orlando for one game before returning with Rylan Schwartz in tow, as Toronto signed the centerman to a PTO contract for the second time this season. Making their debuts were Tobias Lindbergh (acquired in Phaneuf trade) and T.J Foster, who received his first recall from Orlando this season.
Whatever form the week of practise actually took, it proved beneficial as the Marlies played some of their best structured hockey in a long while in a visit to St. John’s.
Toronto’s domination of the weekend is perhaps no better than encapsulated than the 79-51 advantage they had in shots over the pair of games. The 46 shots fired in Sunday’s game is a season high.
As they’ve done all season long, the IceCaps won the special teams battle, scoring twice on four opportunities while the Marlies went fruitless on eleven attempts.
Toronto’s powerplay looked far more potent in Sunday’s game, and with a little more luck it would have registered. It’s something to work on, but Sheldon Keefe was pleased with the overall effort.
This marks the end of regular season games between these two teams in Newfoundland this season. Toronto actually fared quite well despite their overall struggles, ending with a 3-2-1 record in St. John’s. There are just two games left in the twelve games series, due to be contested over the Easter period at the ACC and Ricoh Coliseum.
Sunday’s opening tally marked the 200th goal of the season for the Marlies. To put that into context, they managed just 207 in the whole of last season.
St. John’s IceCaps 3 vs. Toronto Marlies 1
Saturday evening saw their best efforts thwarted by the IceCaps’ two best players: Zach Fucale was outstanding in net, making 32 saves, while leading scorer Bud Holloway put together a three-point game.
It began promisingly for Toronto as Andrew Campbell scored his ninth of the season, putting home his own rebound after a nice pass from Kasperi Kapanen.
Toronto’s inability to take advantage of powerplay chances came back to haunt them as St. John’s tied the game up early in the second period. Holloway weaved his way past two Marlies players before Victor Bartley was credited with banging home his rebound.
The final frame of regulation saw the Marlies dominate the IceCaps, but they were unable to solve Fucale.
With five minutes to play, and on just their fifth shot of the period, the IceCaps scored on the powerplay. Charles Hudon reacted quicker than any Toronto player to score on the rebound from Holloway’s initial effort.
A giveaway from T.J Brennan with Antoine Bibeau on the bench presented Holloway with the easiest of opportunities to seal the game late one and he duly took advantage as Toronto fell to a 3-1 defeat.
Toronto Marlies 2 vs. St. John’s IceCaps 1
Far from downhearted after an unwarranted loss the day before, Toronto bounced back with an even better performance in Sunday’s matinee game.
The first period was evenly fought for the most part, with Toronto’s momentum halted by two undisciplined penalties. Garret Sparks made a couple of important saves and watched in delight as his teammates ripped St. John’s apart in the middle frame.
The Marlies fired 19 shots during the second period and hit a post but only scored once thanks to the brilliance on Eddie Pasquale between the pipes.
The lone goal came from a piece of brilliance from Kapanen, as the Finnish winger found Brett Findlay with a perfect pass coming down the middle of the ice and he sniped past Pasquale.
For the second straight game the Marlies were unable to convert numerous powerplay chances, but their lead was doubled three minutes into the third period. Findlay was unable to connect with a cross-crease feed from Matt Frattin but didn’t give up on the play. Corralling the puck from the back boards, he banked in a shot off the backside of Pasquale, who was slightly out of position.
Despite out-shooting St. John’s by a margin of 2:1 in the third period, a clinching third goal never came for Toronto and the IceCaps gave themselves hope with just over three minutes to play. It was Holloway again, this time with a blistering shot from the left circle on the powerplay.
The IceCaps net remained emptied for the final two minutes of play, but the Marlies held on for a 2-1 victory that could and should have been more emphatic.
– Kasperi Kapanen has gone from strength to strength since scoring that gold winning medal goal at the World Juniors. Ten points in his last nine outings, including a pair of assists this weekend.
– Andrew Campbell scored his ninth goal of the season, breaking a fourteen game barren spell. He’s just three points shy of surpassing his best ever points haul in a single season.
– Tobias Lindberg did not have a spectacular debut on a line with Nylander and Kapanen, but was far better in Sunday’s game when paired with Soshnikov and Gauthier as we caught a glimpse of why he was included in the Phaneuf deal.
– T.J Foster was the other debutant this weekend and fared well despite some unlikely linemates in the form of Rylan Schwartz and David Kolomatis. All performed well despite being probably the weakest looking fourth line Toronto has had all season — far from a liability.
– Brett Findlay recorded his first multi-goal game in the AHL and he could have had a hat-trick. He’s found some chemistry centred between Matt Frattin and Connor Brown in this depleted lineup. Orlando might be a distant memory for him this season.
– Matt Frattin fired eights shots on net in Sunday‘s game, equalling a career high. It’s a stretch to say this trade and loan has sparked him into life, but he looked much improved this weekend. He easily could have recorded a multi-point weekend instead of the one sole helper.
– Garret Sparks looked far more like his old self. Coming out on top in what turned out to be a goaltending battle in his one appearance for Orlando, Sparks made 29 saves back with the Marlies and denied a couple of breakaway chances at crucial moments of the game.
– Some good news on the injury front as Sam Carrick returned to training, albeit in a red jersey. Carrick hasn’t featured since January 8.
Friday February 19 — W-B/Scranton at Toronto, 7:00 p.m. EST
Saturday February 20 — Portland at Toronto, 1:30 p.m. EST (ACC)