It was a return to home ice and different opposition from the game in Rochester, but it proved a case of déjà vu for the Toronto Marlies on Saturday night versus Hartford.
Toronto gave up two first-period goals and ultimately fell to a 3-2 defeat for the second consecutive game. Sheldon Keefe threw his lineup into the blender and Garret Sparks returned from suspension, but it made little difference to the outcome.
It took over two minutes for the Marlies to find their way across the Hartford blue line as the visiting Wolf Pack began brightly and owned the majority of possession. In typical Rich Clune fashion, he battled behind the Hartford net and set up Andrew Campbell for the Marlies‘ first real chance, but Magnus Helberg turned it aside with his blocker.
Toronto was lucky to come out unscathed after taking the first of 13 penalties in the game. Niklas Jensen and Adam Tambellini combined, with the latter robbed by a right pad save by Sparks.
The Marlies went on a powerplay of their own shortly after the kill but contrived to gift the visitors a shorthanded breakaway as Matt Bodie sent defenseman Chris Summers in alone on Sparks. Summers averages just a single goal per season through his nine-year AHL career but he made Sparks work to deny him with two excellent pad saves.
Toronto’s poor discipline ensured they were back on the penalty kill in no time, and this time they paid the price. It was far too easy for Hartford’s Justin Fontaine, who had plenty of time to measure his shot top shelf for his second of the season.
As the parade to the penalty box continued for both teams, Dmytro Timashov was stripped of the puck by Steven Fogarty on a Marlies powerplay, with Sparks called on again to prevent a shorthanded goal against.
With the Marlies still failing to heed the warnings, Hartford finally helped themselves to a shorthanded tally with 24 seconds remaining in the first period. Jensen was again the provider off the rush, finding Marek Hrivik, who lifted the puck over the pads of a sprawling Sparks.
Waiting to toss their teddy bears onto the ice at the sight of Toronto’s first goal, the Ricoh crowd was expecting a pushback from their Marlies in the middle frame.
It failed to materialize, with just a single Marlies forward line showing much purpose or intent. It was the unlikely trio of Mason Marchment, Rich Clune and Marc-Andre Cliché that managed to make some inroads offensively 90 seconds into the middle frame, with Clune and Marchment forcing Helberg into a pair of good saves.
A minute later, a turnover from Viktor Loov almost proved costly but Sparks was alert to deny Chris Brown.
Toronto responded with more pressure through Cliché and Marchment, as Keefe rewarded that line some deserved extra ice time.
The Marlies penalty kill was much improved in the second period but the powerplay failed to show any signs of life as another opportunity went to waste at the midway point of the game.
It took until the final five minutes for the action to heat up and for the best scoring chances to materialize. Byron Froese failed to score on two opportunities after some fine work from Tobias Lindberg.
Hartford’s Nicklas Jensen, certainly a standout player for the Wolf Pack in this game, almost extended the lead if not for the post.
The middle frame finished with some rough stuff between the two teams, setting the stage for some 4-on-4 play to start the third.
The game appeared to be dead and buried 3:33 into the third period when Hartford extended their advantage to three. Loov coughed up the puck at the offensive blue line, allowing Cristoval Nieves to race away. Hartford had clearly figured out by now that they should shoot high on Sparks as Nieves put his team up 3-0.
Almost exactly two minutes after the visitors had scored their third, Toronto got themselves on the board. Kerby Rychel drove down the right wing, pulling up, and — in one fluid motion — spinning to slide a forehand pass across the crease. Jumping up into the play was William Wrenn, who outwaited Helberg before chipping the puck in under his arm. There was some debate as to whether the puck had crossed the goal line; only after a video review could the teddy bears be set free from the stands in support of a great cause.
On his second shift after scoring the goal, Rychel drew a boarding call before Hartford went down by two men after shooting the puck out of play. A 5-on-3 for over a minute was the perfect opportunity for the Marlies to draw within one and heap the pressure on the Rangers affiliate. For whatever reason, the Marlies were really negative in possession of the puck and, unbelievably, failed to register a single shot on net throughout the entire powerplay.
With a little over eight minutes remaining, Toronto finally made a man advantage count. Kasperi Kapanen sent a laser beam of a shot from the bottom of the left circle that found its way off the iron and past Helberg.
The push for a tying goal never really gained any sort of momentum until the final three minutes of play. Defensemen Andrew Nielsen and Justin Holl laid some groundwork but no Marlie forwards could find a way to force the puck home on several goalmouth scrambles.
Even with Sparks pulled for the better part of two minutes, the late push proved too little, too late for the Marlies.
Post Game Notes
– A disappointed Sheldon Keefe provided a bit of a state of the union after the game: “We just didn’t compete at the level necessary, not just to win today but to win in general. That’s where we’re at as a team. We’re trying to figure out our identity, who we are, and what we need to do to win. We’re in a bit of a transition period here. Early in the season, goals came easy for us. Coming into the season, I thought the offense was going to be a challenge for us. It wasn’t early, but we got maybe a little bit of a false sense of security there. We’re going through that now. Offense is hard to come by for us as a group. When that’s the case, you have to be that much better away from the puck defensively. You’ve got to be competitive. We’re not quite there yet.”
– Three straight reverses for Toronto is their longest losing streak of the season. The Marlies are now 2-4-0 in games decided by a single goal.
– Defenceman William Wrenn’s goal was his first of the season and also his first point as a Marlie.
– Kasperi Kapanen scored his tenth of the season, surpassing last season’s goal tally achieved in 44 games.
– Brendan Leipsic recorded his 18th assist of the season while Andrew Nielsen reached nine with a helper on the Marlies’ powerplay goal.
– Garret Sparks marked his return with 27 saves. This loss couldn’t be hung on his shoulders as the goaltender was left hung out to dry on many occasions. “I thought he was really, really good. It could’ve been really ugly for us early,” said Keefe.