Only time will tell if this win will prove to be a turning point in the Toronto Marlies season.
In what was arguably their best home performance of 2016-17 so far, the Marlies recorded their largest margin of victory in a 5-0 thumping of Rochester.
Slow beginnings have been a consistent feature during the Marlies struggles, but after surviving one early scare, the home team got itself off to the start it wanted.
After a turnover presented the puck to Nick Baptiste just 40 seconds in, Rochester’s leading goal scorer was denied by the pads of Garret Sparks. Toronto responded with an effort from Travis Dermott that was redirected wide, but a poor shift from Brendan Leipsic ended with the winger in the box and the Marlies down a man for two minutes.
Toronto allowed just one chance — a shot from Baptiste that Sparks did well to deal with — before scoring their fourth shorthanded goal of the season. After Byron Froese won an offensive zone faceoff back to Rinat Valiev, Froese went straight to the front of the net to provide the screen in front of Ullmark and Valiev’s shot whistled by both men to open the scoring.
What followed was an intense two minutes of play that emphasized the narrow margins in hockey and how important it is to be on the right side of the bounces. A shot from Brady Austin was stopped by Sparks, but the Toronto netminder was down and out on the play, with no clue as to the whereabouts of the puck. Resorting to a snow angel position on the ice, somehow Sparks found a way to prevent Daniel Muzito-Bagenda from leveling the proceedings.
The Marlies headed straight back the other way, with Frank Corrado unleashing a wicked effort that hit Ullmark flush on his mark with the rebound not falling kindly for the home team. Justin Holl, who had one of his better games offensively, led a rush and dropped a perfect pass back for Andrew Nielsen, who tested Ullmark with one of his trademark one-timers.
130 seconds after opening the scoring, Toronto doubled their lead. Kerby Rychel’s strong forecheck along the boards freed up the puck for Colin Greening to take control on the right side. After waiting for his linemate to crash the net, Greening delivered the perfect backdoor feed for Rychel to score on the second attempt.
Trevor Moore almost made it 3-0 inside a minute later, but Ullmark kept his team in the game before they set about halving the deficit. Rochester’s best chance was created by Cole Schneider, who stripped Andrew Campbell of the puck behind Toronto’s net. Evan Rodrigues was the recipient of Schneider’s pass out front but Sparks reacted sharply to the one-time effort from the slot.
A wraparound attempt from Tim Kennedy was the Amerks last opportunity to get themselves on the board, but Toronto held onto a well-earned two-goal lead through 20 minutes.
The Marlies easily could have put themselves out of sight in the first six minutes of the middle frame had they been more clinical in front of goal. Greening and Froese both missed the target before Andreas Johnsson was denied after some excellent work from Colin Smith.
Toronto tried to be too cute on their first powerplay of the game and created just one opportunity as the penalty expired. Dymtro Timashov was afforded some space by Rochester but his measured shot from the left circle found the iron.
A poor line change from Toronto then handed the visitors a great chance and altered the momentum of the period for the better part of ten minutes. A 2-on-0 break was lead by Baptiste, who dished off to Cal O’Reilly on his left. A goal looked certain if not for Sparks stretching way out to his right, getting enough on the attempt from Rochester’s captain to steer the puck wide of goal.
Toronto became sloppy in possession of the puck, inviting pressure in their own zone. Rochester wasn’t able to create much in the way of goal-scoring opportunities, spending most of their time on the perimeter despite dominating the run of the play. Schneider ultimately had the only other Amerks chance of note in the period on an odd-man rush, but Sparks denied his five-hole attempt.
A third Marlies goal put Toronto firmly in control with five minutes remaining in the second period. He didn’t receive an assist on the goal, but a great play from Travis Dermott denied the Amerks an opportunity to clear their zone. The result was Tobias Lindberg recovering a dump-in from Campbell behind the Rochester net before finding Froese to the left of the goal. Froese looked to be passing to Leipsic instead of shooting, but whatever the intent, the puck found its way into the net off of an Amerks player in the crease.
A poor clearance from Ullmark almost allowed Froese to tally his third point in 40 minutes, but Lindberg was unable to beat Ullmark after he recovered his ground.
With victories so infrequent of late and the team low on confidence, the Marlies were in no mood to coast heading into the final 20 minutes of regulation. Not even a minute in, a bullet shot from Rychel ricocheted off the post after a nice drop pass from Greening.
The home crowd was celebrating again at the two-minute mark of the period. Froese blocked an attempted clearance up the wall and dished off to Leipsic before accepting a return pass. Froese beat Ullmark over the glove for his second of the game.
For all intents and purposes, the game was now dead as a contest and it was only a matter of Toronto staying focused and maintaing their structure as the final 18 minutes played out. Six minutes passed before the Amerks registered their first shot of the opening frame, and Sparks was certainly dialed in as he turned aside Rodrigues.
Froese was robbed of a hat trick after being unselfishly picked out by Leipsic before Leipsic played provider again for Lindberg, who was also denied by Ullmark.
Rochester’s Kyle Bonis was turned aside after Sparks spilled a shot from the blue line. It was the one piece of luck the goaltender needed in the final frame en route to recording his second shutout of the season.
With four minutes to play, Johnsson was frustrated about getting sent to the box for a retaliation penalty after receiving at least two cheap shots in front. Toronto killed the penalty with ease and the officials put their whistles away for the rest of the game despite both teams bending the rules somewhat.
A fifth Marlies goal certainly wasn’t undeserved on the balance of play and had Johnsson feeling much better about life. Trevor Moore tee’d up Tony Cameranesi, but Ullmark denied the rookie forward from scoring his first AHL goal of the season. Johnsson was following up on the play and put home the rebound for his eighth of the season.
Kasperi Kapanen almost added a sixth with a backhand effort, but more importantly, Toronto locked the door for their fifth shutout of the season.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto recorded consecutive wins for the first time since November 6th and 11th.
– After the shots favoured Toronto 18-12 through 20 minutes, they played a far more solid game defensively for the remaining two periods. The final shot count favoured Toronto 42-24.
– Garret Sparks made 24 saves in recording his second shutout of the season. His best outing since suspension, the number one job with the Marlies is his for the taking should he step up to the plate.
– A second three-point game of the season for Byron Froese, who rebounded after failing to record a shot or a point during the two games in Winnipeg. He’s now tied with Kasperi Kapanen in goals, with both having hit the twine on 14 occasions this season.
– Every single Marlies skater recorded at least one shot on goal. Dymtro Timashov led the way with five for the second time this season.
– For the first time this season, Kerby Rychel has scored in consecutive games and now has 13 points in his last 14 games. He and Andreas Johnsson both took their goal tally to eight.
– With no Brooks Laich, Rich Clune, Milan Michalek, Marc-Andre Cliché or Daniel Maggio in the lineup, Toronto dressed seven defensemen and a fourth line of Trevor Moore and Tony Cameranesi. The two aforementioned rookies both had a positive impact on the game and have added some much need speed and energy to the lineup since their return.
Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe
Game Sheet – Marlies 5 vs. Amerks 0