The Toronto Marlies poor form on the road continued as — much like the Maple Leafs on Wednesday night in New Jersey — they threw away a big lead after an excellent first-period performance and eventually fell by the same 5-4 scoreline.

Up 3-0 before the halfway point of the game, this loss to a Crunch team depleted by injuries and callups should serve as a wake-up call for the Marlies.

First Period

The first 20 minutes gave no indication as what was to follow as Toronto dictated the flow of the game. After Kasperi Kapanen almost opened the scoring inside the opening seconds, Kerby Rychel fired just wide off of the ensuing faceoff before Rinat Valiev tested Kristers Gudlevskis.

The first goal wasn’t long in coming. With just 3:41 on the clock, Colin Greening drove forward across the blue line, cutting from right to left across the ice and rounding the net. He drew a crowd in the process and made a heads-up play to find Kapanen waiting at the backdoor. The Finnish forward’s easiest finish of the season put Toronto up 1-0.

Colin Smith should have done better than a weak shot on net after good work from Tobias Lindberg before the Marlies‘ fourth line almost doubled the lead. Marc-Andre Cliché led the rush before dishing off to Rich Clune, who spotted Trevor Moore as the trailer on the play and placed the puck on the rookie’s tape. Gudlevskis denied what would have been a goal worthy of the highlight reel.

More offensive zone pressure drew the first penalty of the game, but it was short-lived as a bad penalty from Dmytro Timashov ended the Marlies powerplay. Adam Erne almost scored on a wraparound before Toronto increased their advantage when play resumed at 5v5.

Brendan Leipsic found Byron Froese at the back door after some strong work along the right wall. All alone thanks to Timashov creating havoc in front of net, Froese converted on a relatively easy finish to put Toronto up 2-0.

The Marlies drew two more powerplays to end the first period but were unable to capitalize due to some overly complicated puck movement and a smattering of good saves from Gudlevskis. The Marlies were indebted to Antoine Bibeau, who made a terrific save to deny a shorthanded breakaway from Joel Vermin and preserve the 2-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Second Period

After putting together as fine of a period as they’ve played on the road all season, Sheldon Keefe was looking for some consistency to the 60-minute effort from his team heading into the middle frame. What ensued was undoubtedly infuriating for the Marlies coaching staff, as three penalties were called against the Marlies in a span of 2:41 and four goals were scored in under six minutes.

The chaos started with Erne, a constant threat to Toronto throughout the game, drawing a penalty 49 seconds into the period. What followed immediately thereafter was a shorthanded Marlies goal borne of sheer desire and determination. Rich Clune drove down the right side like a man possessed, crashing the crease behind the Syracuse defense. Despite an initial pad save, the rebound fell kindly for Greening, who put the Marlies up 3-0.

After another penalty put Toronto down by two players for over a minute, a former Marlie dealt the first blow for Syracuse — Jeremy Morin was gifted too much time in tight to pick his spot and went bar down on Bibeau.

Cameron Darcy would have pulled the home team within a goal if not for Bibeau’s excellent glove save on another breakaway. It only delayed the inevitable, as the Crunch soon netted another on the power play through a one-time effort from the right face-off dot by Vermin.

Back at even strength, it took a rampant Syracuse team a mere 35 seconds to tie the game at threes. Michael Bournival’s low shot beat Antoine Bibeau under his glove; a goal the Marlies goaltender really should have had and would certainly want back.

It took until the midway point of the second period for the Marlies to finally get their feet under them and halt the one-way traffic from Syracuse. With seven minutes remaining, more clever play from Clune and Moore tee’d up Andrew Campbell pinching into the play, but Gudlevskis made an excellent save to keep the score level.

Toronto regained lead with exactly five minutes left to play in the second. The Marlie powerplay finally produced, with Kerby Rychel netting his third of the season.

It took just 23 seconds for Crunch to even the game up again. Matt Taormina’s low shot appeared to catch a tip or deflection in front, but either way, he should never have been allowed so much space to measure his shot from the slot.

Third Period

The final 20 minutes Toronto produced were reminiscent of their poor play on Tuesday in Albany as they allowed Syracuse to heavily out-work and out-shoot them.

The Crunch took control once they killed off another penalty heading into the third period. Through fifteen minutes, they forced Bibeau into two excellent saves, hit the post and had several near misses.

Toronto didn’t help their own cause when Andrew Nielsen and Viktor Loov both took undisciplined penalties. The third-period shot clock favoured Syracuse 12-1 before Toronto finally notched their second shot of the frame, as Tobias Lindberg forced Gudlevskis into a fine save after a long stretch of inactivity for the goaltender.

The final three minutes were certainly entertaining as both teams exchanged rushes and chances before Syracuse was handed another powerplay opportunity with 1:17 to play. Toronto held firm to force overtime, securing a point in the process.

The Marlies proceeded to kill the penalty in extra hockey and really should have gone on to win the game immediately after. Leipsic jumped out of the box and received an outlet pass as his penalty expired, but he failed to score on the breakaway. Toronto generated possession deep in the Syracuse zone afterwards but lacked finish on three more golden opportunities.

It was almost inevitable that Syracuse was going to grab the winner the other way, which they did by way of defenseman Dylan Blujus’s first of the season. It was with some merit that the Crunch took home the extra point as they were by far the better team in the overall balance of play.

Post Game Notes

– Toronto has won only one of their last five games and now sit 3-4-1-1 on the road.

– After leading 12-5 and 24-15 in shots after 20 and 40 minutes, Toronto was out-shot 33-30.

– Toronto’s record when leading after 20 minutes is now 6-3-0-0.

– Kasperi Kapanen and Byron Froese both scored their ninth goals of the season.

– Colin Greening put up a goal and an assist for his second multi-point game of the season.

– Two primary assists for Brendan Leipsic takes his points tally to 21, keeping him atop the AHL scoring race.

– Brooks Laich and Milan Michalek were healthy scratches, while Marc-Andre Cliché played just his second game of the season.

– Frederik Gauthier and Travis Dermott both missed the game with injury.

Sheldon Keefe Post Game

Crunch 5 vs. Marlies 4 (OT) – Game Sheet

Campbell, AndrewD00211
Valiev, RinatD01001
Holl, JustinD01021
Loov, ViktorD00211
Nielsen, AndrewD0021-2
Wrenn, WilliamD0001-1
Smith, ColinC0002-2
Froese, ByronC10010
Johnsson, AndreasLW0001-2
Clune, RichardLW01021
Leipsic, BrendanLW02220
Cliche, Marc-AndreC00000
Kapanen, KasperiRW10251
Rychel, KerbyLW10020
Lindberg, TobiasLW0002-1
Greening, ColinC11232
Timashov, DmytroLW00240
Moore, TrevorLW00000