The Toronto Marlies struggles against their nearest cross-border rivals continued on Wednesday night.
The 28th-placed Rochester Americans entered the game having just lost Cal O’Reilly — their best forward and captain — but were the better team in this game regardless. The Amerks now lead 6-2-0 with two games left in the season series.
Travis Dermott striking the crossbar just 10 seconds into the game was the closest the Marlies came to scoring in the opening frame. It took Toronto until 8:30 into the game to register an official shot on goal.
By that time, the Marlies were already behind after getting outworked by Rochester early. 1:45 into the game, Matthew Lane dug in on a messy offensive zone faceoff and eventually kicked the puck into open space in the slot. Mac Bennett reacted first and his snapshot gave Antoine Bibeau no chance.
Daniel Muzito-Bagenda should have doubled the lead on the first power play of the game, but he wired his effort wide. As the penalty expired, Bibeau was equal to Alex Nylander’s wrist shot from a good scoring position.
Toronto’s first go with the extra man at the nine-minute mark was a dismal effort, with neither power play unit able to get itself set up in the offensive zone.
Outshot 8-1 with a little over eight minutes of the first period remaining, Toronto did manage five shots on goal before the intermission — Seth Griffith and Brendan Miller had the best looks — but Amerks goaltender Linus Ullmark stood tall.
The Marlies began the middle frame with a decent spell of offensive zone time, with Johnsson testing Ullmark from the left circle. After an ill-advised penalty from Brett Findlay quelled the Marlies’ pressure, Toronto was fortunate not to concede a second goal, with Rochester creating several good opportunities on the man advantage.
The Marlies’ tying goal five minutes into the second period came from nowhere. Whether it was a hand pass or offside, the officials allowed play to continue before Kerby Rychel tried his luck from the top of the left circle. Ullmark appeared to help the puck into the net with his right pad.
After a blast from Steve Oleksy nearly found its way through Ullmark, the Amerks jumped back in front at the 13:15 mark. Following three stops on Taylor Fedun and Lane (twice), Bibeau was helpless on the ensuing defensive zone faceoff. Brooks Laich won the draw back to Dermott in front of his own goal, where the rookie defenseman inexplicably directed the puck on his own net. The rebound fell perfectly for Jean Dupuy, who only had to elevate the puck for his second goal of the season.
The Marlies were able to respond 56 seconds later thanks to a piece of individual brilliance. Taking a pass from Rychel just across the blue line, Mike Sislo worked his way around one Amerks player before toe-dragging around another. Now one-on-one with Ullmark, a composed finish gave Sislo his first goal in a Marlies jersey.
All the credit went to Bibeau for keeping the score line even through 40 minutes. Careless with the puck in their own end, the Marlies were under constant pressure. All told, Toronto gave up 15 shots in the middle frame.
Brooks Laich coughed up possession at the blue line right from the get-go, but Oleksy was able to avert the danger and send Kasperi Kapanen away to the races down the right side. The Finnish winger let fly and scored up top on Ullmark, giving Toronto the lead just 22 seconds into the period.
Normal services resumed following the goal, with the Amerks again outworking the Marlies. That eventually led to a partial break for Derek Grant, who didn’t score on his first attempt but drew a delayed penalty in the process. Before the extra attacker could even join the play, Derek Grant finished off Cole Schneider’s rebound.
To their credit, the Marlies were able to hang tough after seeing their lead evaporate so quickly. At the midway point, Griffith charged down the left wing before pulling up and finding William Wrenn on the opposite side. The defenseman’s shot rang off the mask of Ullmark and away to safety.
Now exiting the zone cleaner and coming through the neutral zone much easier, the Marlies were getting in on the forcheck and forcing some turnovers. Andrew Campbell, Frederik Gauthier and Griffith all had chances to grab a go-ahead marker. More excellent play from Griffith should have sent Toronto to the power play for the remainder of regulation, but the officials looked the other way on what was essentially a rugby tackle behind the Rochester net. It almost led directly to a goal with Grant sent in alone on Bibeau, but Toronto’s goaltender stood tall.
Overtime looked inevitable until one final mistake from Toronto cost them at least a point — Andrew Nielsen coughed the puck up at his own blue line, allowing Schneider to release Nylander. On an odd-man rush with Nielsen down and out of the play, Nylander ignored his teammate and beat Bibeau five-hole to secure a well-earned two points for Rochester.
Post Games Notes
– Toronto was outshot 32-21. This was a dysfunctional performance by the Marlies and there is work to be done in practice ahead of the trip to Manitoba this weekend.
– Steve Oleksy’s assist on Kapanen’s goal was his first point as a Marlie.
– Brett Findlay and Kerby Rychel both enjoyed two-point games. Rychel’s goal and assist snapped a four-game pointless skid.
– Mike Sislo’s goal was his first for Toronto and just the seventh on the year in what’s been an abormally slow season for him offensively.
– Cal O’Reilly has been loaned by Rochester to Toronto for the rest of the season but did not feature in this game. The Toronto native has appeared in 144 NHL games split between Nashville, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Buffalo, posting 16 goals and 49 points. With 442 points in 510 career AHL games, O’Reilly should go a long way toward offsetting the losses of Byron Froese and Colin Smith at center ice.
Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe
Game Sheet – Rochester 4 vs. Toronto 3