An exception to the Toronto Marlies’ dominance this season has been their record on home ice against their rivals from St. John’s. Montreal’s affiliate has won three of the four games in Toronto this season, scoring 16 times in those victories.
The only home win for the Marlies in the series came on Boxing Day at the ACC, but this is a much-changed team since then.
There was yet another new addition for Toronto in the shape of Shane Conacher, who was signed to an Amateur Tryout Agreement. The right winger and young brother of Cory made his debut fresh from the NCAA. Joining him was the returning Josh Leivo, reassigned after Brad Boyes reentered the Leafs‘ lineup.
The Marlies fired the opening two shots of the game before the visitors opened the scoring with just 2:27 on the clock. Shortly after Stuart Percy denied Bud Holloway from setting up a certain goal, a long-range effort from Brett Lemour found its way through traffic and past Antoine Bibeau. Just a minute later, Toronto’s goaltender was called on to make a smart save to deny a wraparound effort from Alexandre Ranger.
Toronto weren’t helping their own cause at all, and it should have been 2-0 St. John’s at the six-minute mark. Justin Holl was guilty of some sloppy play in front of his own net, gifting possession to the IceCaps, and was thankful to Bibeau for denying Holloway and Charles Hudon in succession.
A moment of individual brilliance altered the course of the first period. An ill-timed change from St. John’s allowed the Marlies some space as David Kolomatis picked out Colin Smith with a tape-to-tape pass. Faking the shot, Smith had his opponent down and out before driving to the net, going backhand to forehand, and outwaiting Zach Fucale as he went across the crease to slide the puck home.
Toronto were starting to win the small battles as they gained control over the flow of the game. A broken play in the right circle resulted in John Kurtz taking control of the puck before dropping a pass to T.J Brennan. It wasn’t the trademark blast from Brennan so much as a measured knuckleball-type effort as he took a slash in the process of shooting, but the effort beat Fucale five hole.
The Marlies were good value for the lead at this juncture, but having not taken their chances at times in previous games it was relieving to see Toronto claim a third goal on yet another sharp finish. Another drop pass, the time from Mark Arcobello, found Josh Leivo trailing the play. After his first effort hit a skate and flew up into the air, the winger batted the puck out of midair and into the net over the shoulder of Fucale.
Toronto’s flourish to the end the opening 20 minutes carried over into the second as they increased their advantage just two minutes in. The goal was all about Sam Carrick, who has returned from injury like a man on a mission. He outfought and outworked two IceCaps opponents with a strong forecheck along the backboards. Winning possession, Carrick handed off to Leivo, whose quick wraparound was too much for Fucale.
It took until three and a half minutes off the second period for the first penalty of the game to be awarded as the Marlies sent their penalty killers to work. Keeping St. John’s to the outside, Toronto saw the penalty out with relative ease and almost scored upon its expiry.
Andrew Campbell took the outlet pass after exiting the box and held up play as Smith joined him. Trying to replicate his earlier move on the tying goal, Smith was hauled down, sending his team to their first powerplay of the afternoon. Despite three efforts on net from Leivo with the man advantage, Fucale was equal to the task.
Toronto dominated the middle frame, outshooting St. John’s 16-7, but they were unable to translate it into more goals. Against the run of play, the IceCaps put themselves back into contention with just under eight minutes remaining in the period.
A shot from Gabriel Dumont was turned aside by Bibeau, but the rebound fell into the wheelhouse of Holloway. The IceCaps leading points producer doesn’t tend to miss those chances, and he reduced the Marlie lead to two.
The home team weren’t bereft of chances to reestablish a three-goal lead as Fucale was forced into action once again with a pair of terrific saves to deny Carrick and Leipsic from the slot, with the latter stop perhaps his best moment of the game.
T.J Brennan drew two penalties in relative quick succession to earn the Marlies 40 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play near the end of the second. A blast from Brennan was the closest Toronto came to pulling further ahead, while Leivo forced yet another good save from Fucale.
The opening seconds of the final frame almost produced a goal for the Marlies’ debutant. Freddie Gauthier bulldozed down the left wing before throwing the puck out in front of the net. Shane Conacher busted a gut to get there, but Fucale once again bailed out his team with a brave save as Conacher crashed into the net.
There was little in the way of action around the net in the following few minutes, with St. John’s appearing a little jaded having played the night before while Toronto looked content to settle the game down.
At the seven-minute mark, a brave shot block from John Kurtz earned appreciation from the home crowd, with the puck ending up back with Fucale at the other end — such was the force of the initial effort.
Kurtz then attempted to drive a little offense as the clock ticked over the midway point. A give-and-go with Tobias Lindberg gave Kurtz a look from the high slot, but his effort was comfortably dealt with by Fucale.
The pace of the period only really stepped up after the IceCaps pulled within one with a goal out of nowhere. Max Friberg sent Hudon away on the left wing, and he released a wicked shot from the faceoff dot that beat Bibeau to make it a 4-3 game. Toronto’s goaltender may have wanted that one back as it beat him through the seven hole.
The response from the home team was almost instantaneous. Drawing a penalty, Arcobello found the iron on the powerplay. Back at even strength, Gauthier once again almost set up Conacher for a debut goal with good work from behind the net, but Fucale pulled off a wonderful save on Conacher’s effort from the slot.
A fifth goal and insurance marker arrived with a little over three minutes to play. Leipsic’s shot took a wicked deflection off the skates of Morgan Ellis, totally hoodwinking Fucale.
A penalty taken by John Scott shortly after that goal put to rest any thoughts of an improbable comeback. Toronto held on for a 5-3 victory that was more comfortable than the scoreline suggests; the Marlies limited the IceCaps to under 20 shots over 60 minutes.
Post Game Notes
– A two-goal game for Josh Leivo takes his seasonal total to 16. Shoot on sight was his motto in this game, leading all skaters with eight shots on net, and he easily could have had a hat trick.
– Four points for T.J Brennan, who moves into second place in AHL scoring on account of his goals total. Chris Bourque has a five-point lead in the scoring race, but you wouldn’t bet against Brennan making a run for the scoring title.
– Shane Conacher had a decent game on debut. He played with Clune and Gauthier and the line proved troublesome for the IceCaps despite getting matched up against some their better players.
– Although missing a few games through illness recently, Mark Arcobello extended his individual points streak to four games.
– 23rd win of the season for Antoine Bibeau, although it wasn’t his best effort with just 16 saves on 19 shots.
– The victory was Toronto’s 47th of the season, leaving them one point shy of 100. They are just ten points shy of the franchise record, which was set over an 80-game season.
Sheldon Keefe Post Game
Marlies Player Stats — Toronto 5 vs. St. John’s 3