It’s the time of the season where points matter more than the performances.
After taking just three points from their last five games and with their North Division rivals in good form of late, the Toronto Marlies needed to get back to winning ways on Sunday in Manitoba.
The Marlies were icing a much-changed lineup, including the returning Brendan Leipsic and the debuting Cal O’Reilly. Sheldon Keefe will not be happy with the overall defensive display from his team, but he’ll be pleased that his group dug deep and found a way to win late in a back-and-forth game.
The Moose found their feet early during this Sunday matinee game, opening the scoring with just 2:23 on the clock.
After Ryan Olsen won an offensive zone faceoff, Nelson Nogier threw the puck on net from a tight angle along the right boards. The shot was going wide until it took a wicked deflection off of William Wrenn, wrong-footing Antoine Bibeau, who could not adjust in time to prevent the puck from sneaking by him.
It took the visiting Marlies just 76 seconds to respond with an oddball goal of their own. After Andreas Johnsson shot from a bad angle and followed up in search for the rebound, the Swedish winger was bundled into Eric Comrie by a Manitoba defenseman. With the puck loose in the blue paint inches from the right post, Mike Sislo reacted first to sweep it home and level the score.
Toronto wasted two consecutive power play opportunities after that, looking out of sorts with a host of new faces manning the man-advantage units.
Manitoba took heart from their penalty killing exploits and created multiple chances, in part due to some turnovers from the Marlies in their own zone. Brenden Kichton, Kyle Connor, Jimmy Lodge and Darren Kramer all came close to scoring before the home team netted on their first power play of the game. After a shot from Brendan Lemieux was blocked by Brandon Tanev in front, the puck dropped nicely for Tanev to spin and fire past Bibeau before the defence could react.
Kasperi Kapanen and Brendan Leipsic were both denied by Comrie before Toronto tied the game up for a second time with two minutes remaining. After breaking up a play in the defensive zone, Brett Findlay and Seth Griffith raced away on an odd-man rush. The latter drew the trasiling player to him before delivering a perfect saucer pass for Findlay to finish off.
After an inadvertent high-sticking penalty by Andrew Campbell presented Manitoba with a four-minute power play to bookend the intermission, Bibeau had to be alert before the buzzer to stop Jack Roslovic, who was afforded too much space low in the slot.
Toronto killed off the remainder of the penalty to begin the second period and took the lead with less than three minutes played. It was almost a carbon copy of the Marlies’ second tally, but this time Kerby Rychel looked off his teammate and slotted his shot past Comrie.
The Moose were undeterred after falling behind and should have tied the game up through the impressive Kyle Connor. It didn’t take long for a response to materalize, however, as the Moose struck for a second time with the man advantage. Patrice Cormier was under no pressure all alone in front of Bibeau and swept home a rebound on his backhand.
Toronto should have retaken the lead at the eight-minute mark, but Comrie made an acrobatic save to rob Sislo of a certain goal on a set up from Johnsson.
Despite failing to capitalize on their third power play opportunity of the game, the Moose were in the ascendancy in the second half of the period. The Marlies’ best chance came in the final seconds after a horrible giveaway handed Findlay possession at the side of the Moose net. Findlay dished off to Griffith, who appeared odds-on to score, but a great stop by Comrie sent the game into the third period tied 3-3.
Manitoba recorded three shots in the final 20 minutes, but that didn’t tell the whole story in the third period.
Toronto was the better team to begin with and took a deserved lead seven minutes in. Strong play on the wall from O’Reilly led to Johnsson delivering a pass to Sislo out front. Sislo’s effort struck the post from the slot, but Wrenn was on hand to tuck home the rebound.
The Moose struck the iron before heading on yet another power play 7:32 into the period. Toronto’s PK put in their best effort of the game, but Manitoba broke through shortly after the kill.
A pass from Jimmy Lodge across the blue line to Ryan Olsen seemed to befuddle the Marlies; three Toronto players watched the Manitoba centerman drive across the crease and score after eluding Bibeau’s intended poke check.
30 seconds later, the Marlies were awarded a third power play — their first since the seventh minute of the game — and they made it count. After a spell of sustained pressure, a bullet of a shot from Andrew Nielsen presented a rebound opportunity for Rychel to deposit his second goal of the game.
There was plenty of time for the hosts to respond — seven minutes, in fact — but Toronto continued to push forward with the lead. Frederik Gauthier, O’Reilly and Greening were all denied by Comrie, who was doing his best to keep the Moose in the game.
With Comrie pulled from the net, Manitoba came within an inch or two of levelling proceedings with 75 seconds left on the clock. Kichton ripped a shot from the slot that hit the crossbar flush and dropped down into the crease.
That was the closest the Moose came to tying the game up as Toronto held on for a crucial two points.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto remains in third in the North Division, with six points separating the top five teams.
– The Marlies have now won six of seven in the season series against Manitoba, with four of the games decided by a single goal.
– Kerby Rychel recorded his second three-point outing of the season. A pair of goals and an assist takes his season totals to 15 goals and 43 points in 59 games.
– Andreas Johnsson and Seth Griffith both registered two-assist games.
– With goals in consecutive games, Mike Sislo already seems to be rediscovering the offensive form that eluded him in San Antonio.
– Antoine Bibeau’s stat line from this game is ugly, but he came up with some big saves at opportune times. The help in front of him was lacking, and he was really unfortunate on the first Moose goal.
– No points on debut for Cal O’Reilly, but there was plenty to like about his performance alongside Andreas Johnsson and Sislo, with some early signs of chemistry developing on that line.
– Dmytro Timashov and Trevor Moore were healthy scratches to make way for the new faces.
– Rich Clune isn’t far away from a return, possibly as soon as Tuesday when the two teams do battle again.
– Garret Sparks remains injured and has not travelled with the team. J.P Anderson is serving as Toronto’s backup goaltender.
Game Sheet – Toronto 5 vs. Manitoba 4