The Toronto Marlies faced a daunting task on a rare Wednesday night tilt at Ricoh Coliseum.
Wilkes-Barre Scranton sits atop the AHL standings, leading the league in goals and winners of 25 of their 35 games. They’ve won four straight in 2017 after having a seven-game win streak snapped at the end of last year. Among their ranks is the hugely impressive Jake Guentzel, who scored twice in his NHL debut and is the AHL’s leading rookie scorer with 38 points.
The speed and puck pressure of the Pens saw them own the opening ten minutes of the game in terms of zone time, but Toronto battled well to keep them to the outside.
The first real chance of any note took over eight minutes to transpire. A long-range shot from Tom Kostopoulos produced a juicy rebound off of the pads of Garret Sparks, with the puck falling into the wheelhouse of Dominik Simon. Toronto’s goaltender redeemed himself with a fine right pad save to deny the WBS centreman.
Slowly but surely, Toronto found their feet offensively, creating a couple of half-chances at the midway mark. Colin Greening had the first real opportunity with seven minutes remaining in the period but fired wide from in tight. 60 seconds later, the Marlies were indebted to Sparks, who scrambled to deny Josh Archibald and Simon again.
Kasperi Kapanen was involved in Toronto’s two best openings to end the period — first, he fired a wicked wrist shot from the high slot but the rebound eluded his teammates. Kapanen then led an odd-man rush, but Greening fluffed his lines in front of goal.
Much like the opening frame, WBS came out strong in the second and really should have pulled ahead inside three minutes, but Sparks turned aside Ethan Prow from the slot and then Ryan Haggerty from the right circle.
Toronto’s first opportunity of the period came courtesy of crisp passing from Greening, Andrew Nielsen and Kapanen, with the latter robbed by Tristan Jarry.
Less than 60 seconds later, the home team caught a break after getting caught napping. WBS transitioned with speed and the trailing man, Jake Guentzel, rang his effort off the post.
After almost half a game without a penalty, three infractions were called in the span of less than five minutes. Toronto’s first powerplay saw them come close through Colin Smith and Dmytro Timashov, but the latter waited too long to shoot.
WBS struck the iron for the second time on their first powerplay. It was Simon again, whose effort clipped the top of the crossbar and bounced high into the netting.
Toronto wasted their next man advantage and almost allowed a shorthanded goal in the process. Nielsen was guilty of giving the puck away with a casual drop pass, allowing Haggerty in on goal, but Sparks came to the rookie defenseman’s rescue.
The first goal of the game came from an unlikely source but there was no luck about the finish. A shot from Frank Corrado was deflected behind the net and Tony Cameranesi reacted the quickest to regain possession. Curling around the net to the left of the goal, Cameranesi let fly from the bottom of the circle and beat Jarry with a great bar-down shot.
Toronto could have doubled their lead a minute later, but Andreas Johnsson failed to test Jarry with a backhand effort on a partial breakaway.
Another powerplay opportunity for Toronto lasted just 12 seconds after Nielsen got caught the wrong side of Blueger following a giveaway.
The visitors carried the play during the 4-on-4 time to finish the period, but Toronto held onto a narrow lead through 40 minutes.
Handing the league leaders a powerplay 89 seconds into the third period wasn’t part of the game plan set out during the second intermission, but Toronto’s penalty kill was excellent and they came close to scoring shorthanded. After Leipsic led the rush down the left and chose a pass over a shot, Cameranesi’s outstretched stick was unable to deflect the puck toward goal.
In a real dagger blow, just seconds after the PK unit did its job, Toronto handed the visitors a tying goal. Battling in the corner of his own zone, Travis Dermott went through the middle rather than up the wall; the only player there was the Penguins’ Guentzel, who had time to stroll uncontested into the slot area before firing past Sparks for his 20th goal of the season.
The Marlies responded with a fine shift but were unable to cash in. Greening failed to hit the target on two occasions before relieving the pressure for the Penguins with a misplayed pass.
Toronto’s penalty kill went back to work with nine minutes on the clock and once more shut down the Penguins powerplay. They could have scored shorthanded, and it’s possible that they actually did. After the livewire Cameranesi picked off an errant pass before racing away in alone, Jarry slid across and fell into a heap in the crease to make the save. No one could be sure as to whether the puck crossed the goal line. With no official positioned behind the net, it seemed like common sense to use the review system, but a review never came and play continued.
If the Marlies couldn’t catch a break from the officials, they were getting some more help from the iron as WBS hit the post again with seven minutes remaining.
With three minutes left in regulation, Toronto’s propensity for breakdowns cost them once again while the Penguins showed why they are the AHL’s best by pouncing on the opportunity. Greening coughed the puck up cheaply in the offensive zone, allowing Derrick Pouliot to gather the puck with speed through the neutral zone. Viktor Loov went for an ill-advised hip-check just outside the blue line, taking him out of the play and creating a 2-on-1 against. Pouliot dished off to Tom Sestito, who buried his shot high to give the Penguins a late 2-1 lead.
With just three minutes left to play, Toronto did all they could to salvage at least a point, but WBS weren’t giving up much in terms of scoring chances or second opportunities. The Marlies‘ best chance came in the dying seconds of the game, as Smith drove to the net from the left side but he saw his effort denied and Tobias Lindberg was unable to corral the rebound.
This was a decent performance from the Marlies against a very good hockey team, but once again they threw away points because of avoidable individual errors.
Post Game Notes
– Tony Cameranesi scored his first goal of the season and continues to make a case for an extended stay with the Marlies.
– Frank Corrado recorded his first assist of the season.
– Dmytro Timashov led the way with five shots but is still struggling to find the twine this season (4 goals in 28 games).
– Garret Sparks gave up a few big rebounds but otherwise made some important saves and was certainly not at fault for the two goals on 34 shots.
Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe
Game Sheet – Penguins 2 vs. Marlies 1