Another road loss for the Toronto Marlies would have seen them drop out of a playoff position — an unthinkable proposition after winning six of seven to begin the season.
After a 4-3 reverse to the Providence Bruins on Friday night, Sheldon Keefe was looking for a response from his team. With goaltending an issue for the Marlies of late, Jhonas Enroth was called on for his Marlies debut in the hope that he could provide some much-needed stability behind a fragile team.
Enroth made his first save 90 seconds in, but neither team could find a rhythm to their play, with fleeting time spent in the offensive zones.
The first action of note came with 5:30 on the clock when Enroth made his first and only real error of the game. Instead of holding onto the puck at the side of the net, the Swedish netminder tried to keep play moving and presented Tommy Hughes with a great chance in the slot. Enroth redeemed himself with a fine save before Toronto opened the scoring 25 seconds later.
From down low on the right wall, Brooks Laich dished the puck to debutant Daniel Maggio in the right circle. Affectionately known as “The Sheriff,” Maggio wasted little time firing on net and Colin Greening was on hand to put home an easy rebound opportunity.
Upon the restart, Kasperi Kapanen, Byron Froese and Justin Holl all come close to doubling the lead before a penalty halted Toronto’s momentum. Mat Bodie had the Wolf Pack’s best chance on the man advantage, darting between two Toronto players, but Enroth kept the Marlies in the lead.
At the midway mark, a fantastic transition play from the Timashov-Smith-Johnsson line was deserving of a goal. After some good puck movement, Smith was turned aside by Hartford goaltender Brandon Halverson.
Enroth continued his impressive start by making two excellent saves to keep Hartford off the board. The first denied Cristoval Nieves after a bad turnover from Justin Holl; on the second, Matt Carey blew by Andrew Nielsen down the right side and cut to the net with speed, but the Marlies‘ debutant goaltender stood tall.
A physical altercation changed the balance of play toward the tail end of the period. Richard Clune and Tanner Glass reacquainted themselves before eventually dropping the gloves. In the first of many curious decisions from the three-man officiating crew, Clune was awarded a 10, 5 and 2, while Tanner was assessed only a fighting major.
It was far too easy for Hartford to tie the game on the ensuing powerplay. Ryan Graves flipped a perfect backhand dish to Bodie, who was somehow allowed in behind three Toronto penalty killers, and Bodie squeezed the puck under Enroth.
It could have been worse for Toronto, who needed to kill another penalty that carried over into the middle frame. What followed, however, was one of the Marlies‘ best second-period performances in a long time.
Inside the first two minutes, Johnsson hunted down a dump-in from Smith. After stripping Halverson of the puck, Johnsson teed up Smith to score into an empty cage.
Toronto allowed just two shots on goal in the first 12 minutes of the period as they took a stranglehold over the proceedings.
Maggio almost helped himself to a wraparound marker after excellent work from his veteran linemates Greening and Laich. Timashov should really have shot instead of looking for Smith as that line continued to shine and cause the Wolf Pack problems every time they hit the ice.
Toronto had to wait until the 12:27 mark for the floodgates to finally crack open. After Greening sent Laich on a breakaway, Laich looked to have done enough but his effort was brilliantly turned aside by Halverson. Following up was an alert Daniel Maggio, who scored his first goal as a Marlie on debut.
Two minutes later — and not for the first time this season — Kapanen smashed home a wicked one-timer from the left circle that gave Halverson no chance.
What followed was a shambles from the officials. Kapanen was called for “unsportsmanlike conduct,” seemingly for his goal celebration. Straight from the faceoff, Michael Joly was hooked on a partial breakaway and the officials awarded a penalty shot. Joly — the same Joly that the Leafs invited to their rookie camp the past two years — halved the deficit.
The shenanigans continued as Carey tried to engage Travis Dermott to the side of Toronto’s goal. The rookie wanted nothing to do with the altercation but somehow ended up with a roughing penalty. At least Carey ended up with a roughing double minor, sending the Marlies to the powerplay.
Johnsson was denied after Kapanen picked out the Swedish winger in the slot before Rychel potted the easiest of rebound to put Toronto up 5-2.
The parade to the penalty box wasn’t over there, however. After Joly was called for interference with ten seconds remaining, all hell broke loose at the intermission buzzer. Tanner Glass was on the rampage, looking for any dance partner he could find. Nielsen ended up as the unwilling participant; fortunately, no damage was done after he was dragged down to the ice. Glass was justifiably assessed five for fighting and a game misconduct for some foolish and potentially dangerous antics.
The final frame was a bit of a letdown as far as the Marlies were concerned. With a long powerplay to start, including an initial two-man advantage, the Marlies couldn’t put the game completely to bed. Smith and Johnsson came the closest, but Toronto was also thankful to Enroth for denying Philip McRae on a shorthanded breakaway.
After some sloppy play back at even strength, Sheldon Keefe called a timeout to push the reset button. Within seconds of the restart, his charges drew another penalty, but it was another wasted opportunity without a shot on goal.
Clune almost added a goal to his fight after some good work by Cliché, while Maggio had a second goal waved off due to a dubious high-sticking call.
Hartford narrowed Toronto’s lead with a little under three to play, capitalising on a two-man advantage on the powerplay.
There were no thoughts of a collapse from the Marlies, though, as they created a couple more chances with time winding down, one of which hit the post off the stick of Colin Greening.
There’s still one road game left on this trip; in their visit to Rochester on Wednesday night, the Marlies will look to prove they’ve turned a corner and left their prolonged slump behind them. Until then, the team is headed to New York City for some team bonding and Christmas shopping.
Post Game Notes
– Jhonas Enroth was not spectacular on debut (24 saves on 27 shots) but he did more than enough to help Toronto to earn the win. His first-period performance, during which he faced 13 shots, was excellent, especially on key penalty kills.
– I’ve been a firm critic of Brooks Laich and Colin Greening since their demotion, but credit goes where credit is due for this performance. Alongside Daniel Maggio, they produced some excellent shifts and much-needed offense.
– Daniel Maggio has had to wait patiently for his opportunity. Sent down to Orlando for a five-game stint, he made a positive impression, registering two assists in the process.
Given the chance with the Marlies, he rose to the occasion. He kept it as simple as his limited skill set allows, driving hard to the net and using his sizeable frame to his advantage, and he was a handful for opponents. He’s well liked in the room, as proven by Rich Clune’s manic celebration after Maggio’s goal while Clune was still in the penalty box.
– Andreas Johnsson extended his points streak to three games with a pair of assists.
– Colin Smith helped himself to a goal and an assist and also led the team in shots with six. This was his third multi-point game of the season.
– Also with a goal and an assist, Kasperi Kapanen is now on exactly a point-per-game pace through 24 outings.
– Milan Michalek, Brendan Leipsic and Fredrick Gauthier all remained out with injury.
Sheldon Keefe Post Game
Game Sheet – Marlies 5 vs. Wolf Pack