With five of their next six games on home ice, the Toronto Marlies got off to the best possible start back in front of their own fans on Friday night.
The visiting Binghamton Senators are a struggling outfit again this season, but they had given Toronto plenty to think about in the teams’ three previous meetings this season.
The Marlies got off to a fast start, swarming inside the Senators zone but unable to create any chances of note. Binghamton led 3-1 in shots by the first whistle after five minutes of play, with Kasimir Kaskisuo — making his season debut in the Toronto net — coming up with a couple of early saves on Jack Rodewald and Jason Akeson.
The first power play of the game led to the opening goal. Marlies fans have been witness to Mike Sislo’s booming one-timer from the left circle on the power play while the veteran winger was a member of the Albany Devils; 10:25 into the period, Sislo beat Matt O’Connor through the five-hole with his first goal of the sort as a member of the Marlies.
Binghamton was looking to rattle Toronto’s inexperienced goaltender early by running him every chance they got, but Kaskisuo remained composed and the Marlies almost made it two on the resulting power play.
The Toronto lead was doubled with four minutes remaining after excellent work from Seth Griffith. Intercepting an outlet pass, Griffith turned and sped back across the offensive blue line before dropping the puck off for Andrew Campbell on his left. The Marlies captain, who is far more confident in the offensive zone of late, made a move around one defender at the top of the right circle before placing his wrist shot out of the reach of O’Connor.
The Marlies could easily have led by three heading into the intermission, but Sislo hit the crossbar on Toronto’s third power play of the period from the same position he scored from earlier.
After dominating the opening 20 minutes, Toronto took their foot off the gas and lacked the same intensity for the majority of the middle frame. Having faced just five shots in the first period, Kaskisuo was far busier from this point on.
On the remainder of the power play that carried over from the first, Brendan Leipsic fired over the net from in tight and Binghamton quickly transitioned onto the attack the other way. After crashing the net hard and engaging with Rinat Valiev in a physical battle, Mike Blunden dropped the gloves with Toronto’s returning defenseman. Valiev, playing in his first game since returning from injury, acquitted himself well in the fisticuffs.
Binghamton’s first power play of the game became the Kasperi Kapanen show for the first minute. The Finnish winger almost scored shorthanded on two occasions with some fantastic individual skill. The penalty kill ended poorly for Marlies, however, as Max McCormick was left all alone to chip home from the blue paint.
It was nearly a tied game at the seven-minute mark when Casey Bailey went on a partial breakaway, but Kaskisuo came up with a fine save to keep the Marlies lead intact.
The two sides were now exchanging chances off the rush as the game opened up and structure went by the wayside for both teams. Justin Holl and Kaskisuo combined to deny an odd man opportunity while O’Reilly, Kapanen, Campbell and Findlay came close for Toronto.
After some poor defensive play from the Marlies forced Valiev into a hooking penalty to deny Chad Nehring of an excellent scoring chance, Phil Varone sprung Blunden clear on the ensuing power play, but Kaskisuo again came to his team’s rescue.
As the period wound down, the Marlies started to rediscover their verve from the first period. Holl was unlucky not to score, with his effort striking the post and almost going in off of O’Connor. With ten seconds remaining, Andreas Johnsson created a chance through a piece of individual brilliance but saw his attempt find the crossbar.
Sheldon Keefe sent his team out for the third period with a strongly-worded message and quickly got the response he was looking for.
The intensity was back in the Marlies game and a sharp passing play ended with Holl ripping a shot top shelf for a 3-1 lead five minutes into the period.
A Marlies power play followed the insurance marker, but Binghamton drew back within one while shorthanded. The Senators penalty killers outworked the Marlies’ five-forward PP unit before McCormick netted his second of the game.
The turning point of the game came at the midway point of the third period with Toronto on their fourth power play of the evening. McCormick was denied his hat trick on a breakaway opportunity, with Kaskisuo coming up big once more.
Toronto repaid their goaltender seconds later. Sislo batted a rebound out of the air and into the empty net after a hard-fought battle at the side of the goal by Johnsson and Rychel.
The Marlies’ lead rarely looked in danger from this point on. Toronto should have added to their advantage when Johnsson created an odd-man rush down the left side and found Sislo alone in front, but Sislo missed the target and a chance at a hat trick.
Kaskisuo was called on to make a couple more saves inside the final 100 seconds after Binghamton threw on the extra attacker, but Toronto held on fairly easily for their third consecutive win.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto now leads the season series with Binghamton 3-1.
– The fourth goal of the game was Toronto’s 200th this season. They’re the sixth team to reach the 200-goal mark through 63 games and the first in the North Division.
– With Garret Sparks still out injured, Kasimir Kaskisuo made his first AHL start of the season and made 28 saves for the victory. He’s certainly given Antoine Bibeau something to think about.
“I thought he was good,” said Sheldon Keefe. “We didn’t give up very much in the first period at all, which I think probably gave him an opportunity to settle in and get comfortable. And then we had to rely on him a lot in the second and third — way more than we’d have liked to — but he was good. He kept it out of the net and gave us a chance to win.”
– A three-point game for Mike Sislo, who is now looking like his old self. “He’s a good player who was underachieving,” said Keefe. “He just wasn’t in a situation that worked for him in San Antonio, but we saw him more than enough last year in Albany to know that he’s a really good player, a really effective player.
“He can score but he does a lot of little things really well. We like him a lot and we’re happy to see him get going. I think he’s a good fit with some of the other guys that are real, true passers — O’Reilly, Griffith and the like. He’s a shooter and likes to score and he does a good job of it. We’re happy to get him going here and hopefully it’ll continue.”
– Cal O’Reilly and Seth Griffith both recorded a pair of assists.
– Andrew Campbell has now scored in back to back games for the first time this season.
– Heading into Saturday’s schedule, Toronto is level on points with Albany and trail Syracuse by a pair.
Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe
Game Sheet – Toronto 4 vs. Binghamton 2