In the middle of a ten-game stretch against divisional rivals, this past week presented further opportunities for the Marlies to make up ground in the playoff race.
After defeating Rochester and St. John’s, tougher opposition was next on the agenda in the form of the Syracuse Crunch and Utica Comets. Four points from a possible six ensured Toronto’s record rose above .500 for the first time since a week before Christmas.
The Marlies now occupy fourth place in the North Division, three points up on fifth-placed Utica, who have a game in hand. They are the same distance back from St. John’s in third but have two games in hand on the IceCaps.
Special teams played a huge part in the Marlies success this past week. The powerplay netted five times on sixteen opportunities and in doing so improved to an overall strike rate of 24% — third best in the AHL. Toronto’s penalty killing continues to improve on a weekly basis, although the 16 times shorthanded in three games might be of some concern to Sheldon Keefe. The Marlies allowed just two goals while shorthanded, however, and the PK is now ranked 17th at 82%.
Toronto’s +11 goal differential is the best in the North and they now own the best defensive record in the division, allowing an average of 2.71 per game.
Syracuse 5 vs. Toronto Marlies 3
Toronto’s four-game win streak came to a halt last Saturday.
The Marlies trailed for 47 minutes of the game and were often the culprits of their own demise. Down 2-0 with fewer than four minutes played, the Marlies responded by outplaying the visitors for the remainder of the opening period. Toronto managed 22 shots on net and scored twice courtesy of Dymtro Timashov and Trevor Moore.
After reversing the direction of the game with an impressive push back, the Marlies hand wrapped the visitors an early lead in the middle frame. An error from Viktor Loov just 42 seconds in allowed Mike Halmo to put Syracuse up 3-2.
The Crunch dominated throughout the second period but Toronto managed to tie the game up after 40 minutes thanks to a late-period strike from Trevor Moore.
Unable to make the most of their good fortune, Toronto coughed up an early third-period goal. Garret Sparks needed to do better against Cory Conacher in tight.
Syracuse established a two-goal lead for the second time of the game and never looked back from there. The North Division leaders comprehensively shut down the Marlies the rest of the way, limiting Toronto to just five shots in the final frame.
Toronto Marlies 3 vs. Syracuse Crunch 2
Some bad blood from Saturday’s game carried over into the rematch less than 24 hours later. The teams shared 20 powerplay opportunities, with Marlies coming out on top in the special teams battle.
Toronto led 1-0 after one period of play thanks to a powerplay marker from Byron Froese.
It should have been a bigger advantage; the home team struck the iron twice and wasted a host of opportunities on the man advantage.
The middle frame proved a reverse of the first — the Marlies spent eight minutes killing penalties but were resolute while shorthanded. For the majority of even strength play, Toronto was the superior side but was unable to get the puck past Syracuse goaltender Adam Wilcox until the final seconds.
After a spell of prolonged possession in the Crunch zone, the Marlies doubled their lead with 37 seconds left on the clock. Toronto showed patience in possession before Campbell attempted a curl and drag move around his man. The Marlies captain lost the handle but the puck ended up in the wheelhouse of Froese, who fired past Wilcox.
The parade to the penalty box continued unabated in the final frame and Toronto made an early 5-on-3 advantage count — Kerby Rychel’s deft redirect on Travis Dermott’s shot gave the home team a three-goal cushion.
Seth Griffith struck the crossbar on a powerplay before Syracuse responded with a 5-on-3 goal of their own; Tanner Richard scored the first of two Crunch goals in the span of 102 seconds. Sparks was out of position for the second goal on an innocent-looking shot from Adam Comrie that hit the post before rebounding in off of the Toronto goaltender.
The Marlies held firm through a frantic five minutes to secure the two points.
Toronto Marlies 4 vs. Utica Comets 2
In a contest between two teams with the same .500 record, the visiting Comets began brighter and owned the better chances through the opening period.
Utica took a deserved lead on their first powerplay of the game through Darren Archibald, who finished off a rebound opportunity. The score was level through 20 minutes after Toronto also scored on their first powerplay of the game — Kerby Rychel reacted well to a deflected Andreas Johnsson’s deflected shot, one-arm poking the puck past the pads of Richard Bachman.
The Marlies were the far better team in the middle frame and took the lead just 63 seconds in, when Byron Froese made no mistake from the slot. The middle frame turned out to be the reverse story of the first period as Toronto’s good work was undone by a late Comets goal. After an Andrew Nielsen turnover at the Toronto blue line, Utica worked the puck around brilliantly to create a third goal of the season for Colby Rabak.
The Marlies were on their heels somewhat in the early minutes of the third period. After killing two further penalties — during which they created a couple of excellent shorthanded chances — Toronto was awarded just their second powerplay of the game. A piece of brilliant individual skill from Kerby Rychel saw the winger drive to the net from the left side, dance through the Utica defense and finish with aplomb.
A defensively-responsible performance from the Marlies through the last seven minutes of the game ensured Utica rarely threatened to come back. Rich Clune sealed the deal with an empty-net goal to secure a big two points against a divisional rival.
– Byron Froese led the way offensively this week with five points, including his 20th goal of the season. He’s now fifth in league goal scoring and Toronto’s leading points producer.
– Seth Griffith had little luck finding the net but continued to provide with five assists. The former Boston forward has extended his streak of registering a point in every game as a Marlie (eight games).
– Kerby Rychel broke a four-game pointless streak in style: three goals and four points, including game-winner in the victory against Utica. He has moved up to fourth in Marlies scoring with 30 points in 44 games.
– Trevor Moore continues to flourish alongside Byron Froese and Seth Griffith. Another pair of goals along with an assist gives the rookie forward 10 points in his last nine games.
– Three assists for Andreas Johnsson keeps his scoring form rolling along with five points in as many games.
– Frederik Gauthier was reassigned to the Marlies and made a positive impact. Excellent on the PK and in the faceoff dot, he was also able to create a number of scoring opportunities.
– Frank Corrado was back in action for the midweek tilt with Utica. As he did in his previous conditioning stint, the defenseman was a solid addition at both ends of the ice and provided the blue line with a much-needed boost.
– Garret Sparks was far from his best over the course of these three games, especially against Syracuse. An improved showing against Utica saw him make some good saves in the opening period, but he was still a little shaky and prone to scrambling.
– Andrew D’Agostini (Brampton Beast), signed to a PTO, backed up Garret Sparks for the Sunday encounter with Syracuse. Antoine Bibeau was reported to be suffering from an illness. D’Agostini has since been released.
– Viktor Loov was unable to finish the final few minutes of the Utica game after appearing to suffer some kind of upper-body injury.
– Rinat Valiev took no part in this week’s games and is considered to be a long-term absence with his injury.
– Brooks Laich was back practicing with the team and could be available to play a part in the upcoming three-in-three weekend.
– Karri Rämö was officially released from his PTO.
Toronto Marlies Player Stats – February 10
|Nikita Soshnikov (X)||RW||6||1||2||3||1||6||1||0||11||9.1|
|Daniel Maggio (X)||RW||4||1||1||2||1||9||0||0||5||20|
|Josh Leivo (X)||LW||5||0||0||0||1||6||0||0||11||0|
|Mason Marchment (X)||LW||6||0||0||0||-3||4||0||0||7||0|