Special teams once again proved the difference between these two North Division rivals.
In the two sides’ third meeting in eight days, the Comets were far more clinical at the key moments of the game. The loss ends Toronto’s five-game point streak.
There was little flow to the opening ten minutes as both teams struggled to sustain possession and the officials were quick to whistle down plays.
Toronto had the first real chance of any note at the five-minute mark — Frederik Gauthier’s line led a rush, but Comets goaltender Richard Bachman hung onto Kerby Rychel’s one-time blast.
Borna Rendulic orchestrated Utica’s first opportunity at the midway point but waited too long to release his shot on a partial breakaway. The puck fell to Mike Zalewski in the slot, but Garret Sparks was equal to the effort.
Utica headed to the powerplay shortly after, although they failed to generate much of note. A coast-to-coast rush from Colby Robak brought a fine save from Sparks, and Toronto killed off the opening penalty of the game with relative ease.
With the offensive chances beginning to pick up later in the period, Seth Griffith carried the puck down the middle of the Comets zone and forced a fantastic glove save out of Bachman. Utica responded in kind, with Zalewski testing Sparks before Joseph LaBate fumbled the rebound across the blue paint.
A strong forecheck from Toronto led to the opening goal with 3:15 left to play. A misplay from the Comets allowed Andreas Johnsson to pick up the loose puck in the right circle. In top scoring form of late, the Swedish rookie made no mistake for his 14th of the season.
The Marlies drew two penalties inside the final three minutes but were limited to a lot of perimeter passing and failed to test Bachman outside of one effort from Travis Dermott.
In a penalty-ridden middle frame, the Comets came out on top despite taking four of the six penalties handed out.
Johnsson’s last-ditch play denied an odd-man rush before Seth Griffith was tabbed for holding, leading to the Comets’ first goal. A backhand effort from Rendulic beat the glove of Sparks, who was off-balance and lurching forward as the shot beat him top shelf.
Darren Archibald and Wacey Hamilton both should have put Utica further ahead after that as turnovers from Toronto put the Marlies under siege. The home team’s spell of dominance was briefly halted by a penalty, but the Marlies powerplay generated just a single opportunity (Byron Froese denied by Bachman).
Within 60 seconds of the penalty expiring, Toronto was back on the PK themselves. Michael Carcone skated around all four Marlies but his effort was smothered by Sparks in tight. Toronto’s goaltender also stood tall to turn aside a blast from Andrey Pedan.
The next powerplay for the Marlies really should have turned into a two-man advantage but a clear trip on Seth Griffith went uncalled.
Toronto took the lead for the second time of the game during their best spell of even strength play in the second period. The Gauthier line again provided the spark, drawing a delayed penalty. After some swift puck movement, Andrew Nielsen blasted a shot through traffic from the point for his 10th of the season.
Just 20 seconds after the go-ahead marker, Dmytro Timashov burst through the middle of the Comets defense but failed to get a shot away due to a hook by Jordan Subban.
The ailing Marlies powerplay failed to score and — in what was a major turning point in the game — coughed up the tying goal shorthanded. Carter Bancks was allowed to chase down a dump-in down the right side and went unchallenged as he looked to make a play from behind Toronto’s net. The Marlies stood and watched as Bancks picked out Hamilton in space for Hamilton’s seventh of the year.
With the teams deadlocked at two with just over four minutes remaining in the second period, the line of Greening-Laich-Timashov engineered an opportunity for Andrew Campbell jumping into the play. Taking a pass from Timashov in the slot, Toronto’s captain went to his backhand but was denied by a fantastic save from Bachman.
Utica won the resulting faceoff and dumped the puck to the left of Sparks, who had left his net to inform the officials that the net was off its moorings. The officials took little notice, allowing play to continue despite the left post clearly being dislodged. The Comets then worked the puck back to the blue line, where Cody Kunyk’s shot beat an unsettled and out-of-position Sparks.
A strong protest from the road team did nothing to dissuade the four-man officiating crew; the goal stood up, giving the Comets a 3-2 lead heading into the third period.
On a Toronto powerplay that carried over into the third, only one shot from Rychel tested Bachman. Utica’s goaltender had an easy job in the final frame, facing only four more shots after that. Toronto never looked less likely to mount a comeback this season than they did in this game.
Utica all but secured the points with 6:29 to play, when Bancks’ initial shot providing a rebound for Evan McEneny to finish off with a backhand shot that Sparks really should have stopped.
A fifth goal for the Utica came by way of a late powerplay and some abhorrent penalty killing from the Marlies, who allowed Curtis Valk all kinds of space in the slot to score his 14th of the season.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto was outshot 33-24.
– The Marlies went 0 for 6 on the powerplay and gave up a shorthanded goal in the process. The penalty kill allowed two goals on five powerplay opportunities for the Comets.
– Andreas Johnsson now has four goals in as many games.
– Frank Corrado extended his points streak to four games with an assist on Andrew Nielsen’s second-period goal.
– Nielsen went pointless in six games before netting his tenth of the season tonight. The rookie defenseman has now hit the ten-goal and 30-point marks this season in 48 games.
– Alex Gudbranson made his debut after joining on loan from the Minnesota organization. He was guilty of a couple of dangerous turnovers in his own zone and made life tough for his defensive partner, Travis Dermott.
Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe
Game Sheet – Utica 5 vs. Toronto 2