The Toronto Marlies finished 2016 with a whimper, falling to their tenth regulation road defeat of the season.
Despite taking the lead on two occasions, Toronto rarely looked likely to hold off an Albany team that was the superior side over 60 minutes.
Toronto got some early momentum on the powerplay 33 seconds into the game. With Carter Camper in the box, the Marlies had some really good looks but weren’t able to take advantage. 15 seconds after the penalty had elapsed, however, Toronto opened the scoring thanks to the endeavour of one of their hardest working players.
A shot from Travis Dermott hit a flurry of bodies in front before Rich Clune’s determination won possession. After Clune kicked the puck to his right, Colin Greening scored his fifth goal of the season from the high slot.
Albany went to their first powerplay game at the 4:15 mark, but they were denied by four excellent saves from Jhonas Enroth.
Toronto’s best opportunities throughout the game came with the extra man. After Colin Smith drew a penalty halfway through the first, an attempt from Andrew Nielsen took a wicked deflection in front and hit the crossbar. Smith was then turned aside by a fine blocker saver from MacKenzie Blackwood as the final seconds of the powerplay ticked off.
Milan Michalek took an undisciplined penalty on the same play, leading to the tying goal a minute later. John Quenneville beat Enroth with a one-time effort from the right circle for his ninth goal of the season.
Upon the restart, Brendan Leipsic tee’d up Nielsen, but his booming shot was turned aside and the Marlies immediately found themselves on the wrong end of an odd-man rush the other way. Jan Mandat scored as the trailer on the play, but the goal was waived off due to goaltender interference.
Toronto was unable to take advantage of their good fortune as Albany drove the play and hemmed the Marlies in their own zone. A turnover from Viktor Loov almost proved costly, but Toronto somehow held on to ensure the score was level after 20 minutes despite getting outshot 16-7.
Little changed during the opening exchanges of the second period, with the home team generating all kinds of opportunities to take the lead. Colin Smith was the next to turn the puck over in front of his own net, but Enroth robbed Quenneville of his second of the game. From the resulting faceoff, Brian Gibbons unleashed a wicked wrist shot that fully tested Toronto’s goaltender.
A horrifying moment for all who witnessed it early in the second period: Reece Scarlett attempted to nail Andreas Johnsson in the neutral zone but the Swedish winger evaded the hit. In flying over top of Johnsson, Scarlett was flipped up in the air, where his skate caught Viktor Loov in the face. Thankfully, Loov was able to return to the game later with a full cage and a bunch of stitches.
It took almost six minutes for Toronto to register their first and second shots of the period before old habits almost cost them 60 seconds later. Nielsen gifted the puck to Ben Thomson in front of Enroth and was relieved when Thomson fired wide of the far post.
More composed play from Toronto led to them drawing a penalty halfway through the period. Nielsen showed his offensive skills with a pair of wicked efforts, the second of which was tipped agonisingly wide of the post by Kerby Rychel.
After killing a penalty taken by Clune, Toronto put themselves up 2-1. Mere seconds into another powerplay, an Albany player broke his stick, enabling Toronto a little more breathing room. A huge shot from Nielsen found its way through traffic and found the twine for his sixth tally of the season.
The lead was shortlived as the Marlies found themselves behind after allowing two goals in under 60 seconds. Ben Sexton was the recipient of an offensive zone faceoff win but Enroth should have stopped the effort.
A lack of compete from the Marlies then reared its ugly head as Albany made a mockery of the visitors in their own zone. It was all too easy as Carter Camper fired across the crease on a wraparound attempt and Quenneville went unchallenged as he tapped home at Enroth’s left post.
Albany’s struggling powerplay continued to stumble as they failed to score on their fourth man advantage late in the middle frame.
Toronto’s record when behind after two periods has been awful all season. Having managed just one win in 11 attempts when trailing entering the third, the Marlies never looked likely to buck that trend.
For the second straight period, it took the Marlies five minutes to register an effort on net as Blackwood was equal to a pair of shots from Tobias Lindberg.
A fifth powerplay at the midway point was Toronto’s last real chance to take anything from the game, but they failed to set up the zone, let alone test Blackwood.
Toronto managed just seven shots on net through the third period before the Devils deservedly sealed the two points with an empty net goal. Blake Pietila, who was unfortunate not to have scored previously in the third period, was delighted to secure Albany’s 17th victory of the season with his eleventh goal of the year.
Toronto will be hoping for much better in 2017.
Post Game Notes
– Jhonas Enroth stopped 31 of 34 shots but really should have denied Albany’s second goal of the game.
– Kasperi Kapanen and Brendan Leipsic both have points in each of their last two games since returning from injury.
– Toronto is 1-8-1-0 in their last ten road games.
– The Marlies offense has dried up considerably, with just eleven goals in their last six games. Toronto managed to register just 24 shots on net during this game.
Sheldon Keefe Post Game
Game Sheet – Devils 4 vs. Marlies 2