Just 24 hours after putting on their best road performance of the season, the Toronto Marlies came crashing back down to Earth.
The Marlies are undoubtedly the bar many teams are aiming at around the league and that places a big target on their back. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms have loaded up with offensive talent for this season and were intent on making a statement on the way to a fifth straight victory.
The opening ten minutes set the tone as — despite Toronto owning a fair chunk of possession — they accomplished little with the puck and failed to capitalize on a couple of breakaways. Not only were Tobias Lindberg and Milan Michalek unsuccessful in all alone on the goalie, they were unable to register a shot between them.
After various chances, thanks in part to some turnovers from Toronto, the Phantoms finally found a way past Antoine Bibeau on their first breakaway of the game. After a slapshot from Brendan Leipsic was bravely blocked by Colin McDonald, the puck fell to Scott Laughton who wasted no time sending Taylor Leier in on a breakaway. There was some back pressure on the Lehigh forward, but he gave Bibeau no chance with a top notch finish.
The opening goal was timed at 9:54 and it took another minute for Toronto to register their first shot on net, with William Wrenn forcing Anthony Stolarz into a save. Kasperi Kapanen, Colin Smith, Kerby Rychel and Brendan Leipsic all had opportunities they couldn’t turn into goals before the Phantoms made them pay for the second time inside five minutes.
A defensive breakdown allowed Reece Wilcox to pinch in, swing around behind the net uncontested and throw the puck on net. Toronto lost the battle in front as Danick Martel and Cole Bardreau both showed more determination on the play, with the latter credited for the final touch.
Inside the final minute of the period, Rinat Valiev inexplicably coughed the puck up in front of his own net and had to take a slashing penalty to deny what looked to be a certain third goal for the hosts.
Toronto finished the opening period down by a pair but fell a further goal behind 12 seconds into the middle frame. It was far too easy for Lehigh on the powerplay, as Chris Connor and Jordan Weal combined to give Greg Carey an easy backdoor finish for his seventh goal of the season.
It would have been 4-0 shortly after if not for Bibeau denying Weal on yet another grade-A opportunity for the Phantoms.
The Marlies finally got their feet moving and got themselves on the board at the four-minute mark. After Tobias Lindberg made a move around the back of the net and threw the puck on net, a deflection from a Phantoms stick deflected the puck into the path of Byron Froese, who wasted no time rifling a shot past Stolarz.
The goal certainly gave Toronto some impetus; for the remainder of the second period, their performance was more reminiscent of Friday evening. Efforts from Andrew Nielsen and Andreas Johnsson were well held by Stolarz, who came up big in this game when required.
A Toronto powerplay seven minutes into the period presented the road team with a handful of decent looks but no second goal. Back at even strength, Brooks Laich’s snap shot found the crossbar instead of the twine behind Stolarz. Johnsson then should have hit the net during an odd-man rush, but Toronto was lacking a clinical touch during their best moments of the game.
The home team was getting heavily out-shot until they were awarded a fortuitous powerplay 13 minutes into the period. To the Phantoms credit, they poured pressure on the visitors and would have extended their lead if not for Bibeau.
Toronto survived the barrage and finished the final four minutes well on top back at even strength, but once again they failed to make their dominance count.
If the opening period was filled with turnovers and defensive breakdowns, that was nothing in comparison to Toronto’s frailties in the final 20 minutes. An error from Rinat Valiev a mere 30 seconds in almost gave Lehigh the perfect start, but the hosts only had to wait three more minutes to extend their advantage.
It was the only goal for which you could level some criticism at Bibeau, as the goaltender failed to hold onto a shot from T.J Brennan. The Phantoms showed more desire and desperation than Toronto in front of goal and Colin McDonald claimed the last touch to make it 4-1.
Toronto was able to halve the deficit less than 45 seconds later after some fine work from Trevor Moore. His endeavor provided a chance for Michalek in the slot and the experienced forward made no mistake with a fine finish.
It proved a short-lived reprieve from the Marlies as they would cough up two further goals in the space of 2:40 to leave them down 6-2 with ten minutes still to play. Scott Laughton is undoubtedly a class act at the AHL level, but three Toronto players stood and watched in awe as he skated around them before teeing up Leier for his second of the game.
Yet another turnover turned into an odd man rush for Lehigh, with Johnsson winding up the last man back for the Marlies. The Swedish winger could do nothing to prevent Radel Fazleev from scoring his first professional goal on a feed from Corban Knight.
In the remaining time, it’s no exaggeration to say that the Phantoms could have embarrassed Toronto further and gotten close to hitting double figures with better luck or without some fine saves from Bibeau. Some late penalties left Toronto down by two men and Jordan Weal couldn’t miss when left unguarded to score his team’s seventh goal with 21 seconds remaining on.
This was a harsh reminder for the Marlies youngsters that the American Hockey League is full of improving teams and that you’re required to bring your A-game every night to compete.
Post Game Notes
– Sheldon Keefe after the game: “I don’t know if this is as talented of a group as we had last year. We’re going to have to earn everything. If you want to be competitive, you’re going to have to work every day.”
– Brendan Leipsic’s lone assist was his 13th of the year, extending his point streak to five games, and he continues to lead the AHL scoring race.
– Milan Michalek scored his first Marlies goal, which was his second point of the weekend.
– Trevor Moore was back in the line-up for the first time since October 29. The rookie replaced Colin Greening and was noticeable for the right reasons. He’s riding a three-game point streak and his performance will make it tough for Sheldon Keefe to leave him out for the next outing.
– Toronto’s road record is now 3-3-0-1.
Sheldon Keefe Post Game
Phantoms 7 vs. Marlies 2 – Game Sheet