It’s been a busy post-Christmas stretch for the Toronto Marlies with seven games in 14 days.

A record of 2-4-1-0 has dropped the Marlies below .500, but there is more reason for optimism lately with the team now on a three-game point streak.

One part of the recent turnaround has been improved special teams and penalty differential. A plus-three penalty differential doesn’t seem like much, but it’s in stark contrast to the larger trend this season. The penalty killed tallied on six occasions — a 20% conversion rate — and that’s including eight opportunities missed in one game against Manitoba. The forlorn penalty kill has been operating at over 85% — a far cry from earlier in the season, as is shown by the fact the PK is still not 80% or above overall.

A team struggling to score at even strength, as I emphasized in a recent article, the Marlies have also turned that trend around in their most recent four games. Of the thirteen goals scored, nine have been accrued during even strength play to go along with one shorthanded and three powerplay tallies.

If the improvement continues at even strength, the recent good results will be the start of a positive pattern rather than a flash in the pan.

Despite owning a record one game below .500, Toronto holds the last playoff berth in the North Division. They are at least three wins shy of the nearest rivals above them, but they do have a little breathing space below.

Game Summaries

St. John’s IceCaps 2 at Toronto Marlies 1

Defensive errors was the difference between the two teams as Toronto fell to a narrow defeat against their divisional rivals. After a slow start, the Marlies had the better of the opening period, outshooting the visitors 10-3. Many near misses, including Byron Froese hitting the cross bar, and solid play from goaltender Charlie Lindgren kept the game scoreless after 20 minutes.

The second frame proved a reverse of the first. Toronto began brightly but gifted the east coast team the lead at the six-minute mark. A turnover from Viktor Loov inside his own zone ended up in Toronto’s net after a nice tic-tac-toe play. It was one-way traffic after that as the IceCaps took control of the game, even on a Marlies powerplay four minutes later. Andrew Nielsen was the last man back in his own zone and coughed up possession twice, presenting Jeremy Gregoire a late Christmas present in front of Toronto’s net. Antoine Bibeau was helpless and hung out to dry once more, and he was also the only reason the team wasn’t in an even bigger hole when the second intermission buzzer sounded.

St. John’s was happy to hold onto the lead that they had, only looking to break on Toronto when the home team extended themselves in search of offense. The Marlies struck less than four minutes into the third period when Kerby Rychel slotted home the rebound for a powerplay goal. Froese looked the likeliest player to level the score, but he was luckless in this game — at the midway point, he once again hit the iron with Lindgren beaten.

Despite almost exclusively owning the puck in the IceCaps zone after pulling Bibeau with three minutes remaining, Toronto was unable to find a way past Lindgren and fell to their fifth home loss of the season.

Binghamton Senators 3 vs. Toronto Marlies 1

This was one of the lowest points of Toronto’s season so far as they fell to defeat at the hands of the 30th-ranked Senators.

The Marlies had more than their fair share of excellent chances in the first 20 minutes. After former Marlie Mike Kostka hit the post on a Binghamton powerplay, Toronto opened the scoring on a man advantage of their own as Kasperi Kapanen finished off a set play orchestrated by Brendan Leipsic and Kerby Rychel.

The lead lasted only 90 seconds, and the Senators’ tying goal set the tone for the remainder of the game. Binghamton won two battles when outmanned and Ben Harpur fired home from the right boards on a shot that Garret Sparks wanted back.

The middle period began with a barrage from the Senators, with another familiar face in former Marlie Jack Rodewald causing some havoc. It took just three minutes for the home team to turn their excellent start into a go-ahead goal — Phil Varone fired over the shoulder of Sparks after a series of misplays from Toronto gifted the Binghamton forward time to measure his shot.

The Marlies were gifted an immediate opportunity to respond with 1:40 of 5-on-3 power play time, but Toronto failed to test Chris Driedger between the pipes enough and Binghamton escaped unscathed.

Toronto was fortunate to only trail by one heading into the third period and rarely looked likely to tie the game in the final frame. The Marlies recorded just six attempts on net through the final 20 minutes. Rodewald could easily have helped himself to a couple of goals but it fell to Max McCormick to seal the deal for the home team as he netted an empty net goal to secure a deserved Binghamton victory.

Albany Devils 4 vs. Toronto Marlies 2

The Toronto Marlies closed out 2016 with a whimper after falling to yet another road defeat.

Toronto was outshot 16-7 in the opening period but took an early lead through Colin Greening after a determined piece play from Rich Clune, who win a puck battle in the slot. Toronto hit the crossbar on a powerplay opportunity and that’s as close as they came to scoring again in the first.

The Devils appeared to tie the game on the man advantage but were a little unfortunate to have a goal waived off for goaltender interference. Despite getting heavily outplayed, the Marlies retook the lead with four minutes of the middle frame to play. Andrew Nielsen fired home on the power play, but the advantage was erased inside 60 seconds. Enroth should have easily dealt easily with the effort from Ben Sexton that tied the game.

Albany proceeded to take the lead with a play that was frankly embarrassing from Toronto’s point of view. The home team passed the puck around the Marlies with ease and Carter Camper’s wraparound attempt was put home by John Quenneville for his second of the game.

The Marlies rarely looked likely to alter their wretched record when behind after 40 minutes and managed just seven attempts on goal through the third period. Albany sealed the two points with an empty net goal from Blake Pietila.

Manitoba Moose 2 vs. Toronto Marlies 1

This was a fourth straight defeat for Toronto, but it was a far more promising performance. As the old adage goes, it often takes a “good loss” before a team breaks out of a slump, and this was it.Despite outshooting the Moose 13-4 in the opening period, the Marlies could not find a way through and fell behind early in the middle frame. A mistake from Andrew Nielsen proved costly as Manitoba scored on just their fifth shot of the game.

Despite outshooting the Moose 13-4 in the opening period, the Marlies could not find a way through and fell behind early in the middle frame. A mistake from Andrew Nielsen proved costly as Manitoba scored on just their fifth shot of the game.

Toronto responded 29 seconds later through Colin Smith after some excellent endeavour from Andreas Johnsson and a feed from Kasperi Kapanen. After powerplay marker put the Moose back ahead, Toronto was trailing after 40 minutes once again.

An inability to capitalize on eight powerplay opportunities sunk the Marlies despite a final shot count of 35-16 in their favour.

Toronto Marlies 4 vs. Manitoba Moose 3

Toronto’s offense finally came through despite a less stellar outing than the game before.

The Moose registered more shots in 20 minutes than they managed in the entirety of the last game. Toronto opened the scoring, however, through Dmytro Timashov’s fourth of the season. Too many penalties impeded the Marlies’ cause and they were fortunate to be level heading into the first intermission.

A powerplay goal from the Moose put them ahead in the second period, although it was due in part to poor play from Jhonas Enroth. Toronto’s first man advantage late in the middle frame saw them tie the game up courtesy of Brendan Leipsic. Buoyed by that second goal, Toronto struck twice inside eight minutes of the third period — Tobias Lindberg’s go-ahead marker preceded Kerby Rychel’s tally on the powerplay.

It should have been an easier Marlies victory than the margin suggests, but another Enroth error allowed the Moose to pull within one. Toronto’s goaltender was shaky through the remainder of the final frame, but the Marlies mostly kept Manitoba to the outside and secured their first win of 2017.

Toronto Marlies 5 vs. Rochester Americans 0

The Toronto Marlies recorded their most emphatic victory of the season so far, thumping their North Division rivals at Ricoh Coliseum.

Both teams had opportunities to score, but Toronto took theirs to lead 2-0 through 20 minutes. Rinat Valiev netted a shorthanded marker four minutes in, promptly followed by Kerby Rychel’s eighth of the season.

Back between the pipes, Garret Sparks — after a few spectacular if unconventional saves through the first period — remained solid in the second frame as Rochester looked to fight their way back into the game. The lone goal was tallied by Byron Froese as the Marlies held a 3-0 lead after two periods.

Another goal from Froese just two minutes into the third period effectively killed the game as a contest before Andreas Johnsson netted the fifth late on. Sparks made 24 saves to record his second shutout of the season.

Rochester Americans 4 vs. Toronto Marlies 3 (OT)

After recording back-to-back wins for the first time since November, Toronto came back to earth with a disjointed and sloppy performance.

Despite playing their third game in as many days, the Amerks began brightly and opened the scoring through leading scorer Nick Baptiste. A gift from the Amerks spotted the Marlies a foothold in the game and they responded by scoring twice in four minutes. A misplaced pass allowed Kasperi Kapanen to skate in alone uncontested from his own blue line and the 20-year-old confidently finished off his 15th goal of the season. Colin Smith notched the go-head marker, but it was a goal created by Dmytro Timashov, who ran an Amerks defenceman ragged behind his own net.

Rochester surged back ahead in the middle frame, striking twice. An early powerplay goal set the tone before Toronto lost a faceoff battle and Antoine Bibeau arguably should have done better on the Amerks’ go-ahead tally. Despite the best efforts of Brett Findlay, the Marlies trailed after 40 minutes of play and struggled to manufacture consistent offensive pressure in the third period.

Finally awarded a powerplay by the officials, Toronto tied the game up while up a man. Kapanen was calmness personified in picking his spot amid a huge scramble in front of the visitor’s crease. In the remaining three minutes of regulation, the Marlies were the dominant side but were unable to find a way past John Muse in net.

Rochester secured the extra point on their first shot of OT despite Toronto having owned the lion’s share possession up until that point of extra time.

Player News

Frank Corrado joined the Marlies on a conditioning stint and impressed during the two games in Manitoba. Although he was less impressive in the pair of home outings against Rochester, Corrado showed he’s got offensive abilities at this level, including an above average shot and good puck distribution skills.

Kasperi Kapanen continues to be the leading light on the Marlies roster. Three goals and four assists take his season tally to 32 points, ninth best in the AHL, despite missing games through injury. Selected for the AHL All-Star game, Kapanen is on pace to hit 30 goals this season having reached 16 with a brace in his most recent outing.

Brendan Leipsic has also missed playing time due to injury but he still managed to put up five points when back in the lineup. Toronto’s second representative at the upcoming AHL All-Star game also has 32 points in three fewer games than Kapanen.

Andrew Nielsen remains potent offensively despite his defensive deficiencies. Three of his five points were assists in the 4-3 victory over Manitoba, and his lone goal takes his season tally to six.

Kerby Rychel continued his upward trend of production with three goals in his last seven. Now at eight goals for the year, he’s fifth among Marlies scorers.

Andreas Johnsson also helped himself to four points, taking his season total to seventeen. A goal versus Rochester broke a six-game drought.

Brett Findlay was Orlando’s leading scorer at the time of his call-up to the Marlies. Yet to record a point for Toronto in four outings, he’s been solid and could easily have assisted on a pair of goals in the last game with a little more luck.

– Since his recall in early January, Tony Cameranesi has made a positive impact with his all-action style of play. His speed down the middle is something Toronto has lacked and he impressed Sheldon Keefe enough to earn some PK time.

– Rookie Trevor Moore made his return from injury, having not played since December 2. The college signing is very much in the mould of a Cameranesi and has been a consistent pest for opponents.

– The goaltending carousel continues. After a spell with the Leafs, Antoine Bibeau made his return for Sunday’s loss to Rochester. Not at his absolute best — perhaps due to a lack of game action recently — Bibeau will now have to fight for AHL playing time with the Leafs having claimed Curtis McElhinney.

Garret Sparks, meanwhile, marked his comeback with a 24-save shutout — his second of the season — and the 22-year-old now sports a .922 save percentage. He’ll have the chance to garner more playing time with Toronto facing plenty of back-to-back games and a three-in-three in the next few weeks.

Mason Marchment has been returned to Orlando, Jeff Glass was released from his PTO, and Frederik Gauthier remains with the Leafs.

Toronto Marlies Player Stats – January 11

28Kasperi KapanenRW31161632-214909317.2
19Brendan LeipsicLW2892332-314417611.8
6Andrew NielsenD3461824-83130758
10Byron FroeseC3114620510418316.9
36Kerby RychelLW3281119-135460819.9
9Colin SmithC3461319-21400708.6
11Andreas JohnssonLW348917524506612.1
37Tobias LindbergLW32581353220549.3
38Colin GreeningC315611021115010
3Rinat ValievD3327917011563.6
41Dmytro TimashovLW2743712200626.5
8Travis DermottD210774800250
2Andrew CampbellD34077102600390
23Brooks LaichC1615651000147.1
4Justin HollD32156-31600521.9
46Trevor MooreLW1832506001618.8
18Milan MichalekLW15235-22000258
5Viktor LoovD3114523100323.1
17Richard CluneLW1713404200119.1
33Frederik Gauthier (X)C1713461200195.3
26Nikita Soshnikov (X)RW61231610119.1
24Daniel MaggioRW41121900520
7William WrennD151012800128.3
45Tony CameranesiF3011000050
22Marc-Andre ClicheC13011-4600140
21Eric Faille (X)RW1000000000
29Ty StantonD3000100010
27Frank CorradoD40000200130
16Brett FindlayC4000-300070
32Josh Leivo (X)LW50001600110
20Mason MarchmentÊ(X)LW6000-340070

Toronto Marlies Goalie Stats – January 11

40Garret Sparks95402182.032140.922
31Jeff Glass2110042.05440.917
30Antoine Bibeau177713432.554160.906
1Jhonas Enroth3210093.03850.904
35Karri Ramo30300113.8810.88