The Toronto Marlies’ inability to string together a 60-minute performance cost them in their first defeat of the season on Friday night in Hartford.
The visiting Marlies were the better team for sustained spells in the game but dug themselves a hole in the second period that proved too much to climb out of.
The first period saw Toronto outshoot their hosts 11-5, with a least double that total in attempts at the net.
After a promising start with a strong early forecheck, Toronto gifted the home team the opening goal of the game with five minutes played. With five Marlies players deep inside their own zone, missed assignments left the dangerous Adam Tambellini alone in the slot. The winger’s one-timer beat Sparks glove side for his third marker of the season.
The Marlies wasted two power-play opportunities — barely able to gain a clear zone entry — and were fortunate that Tambellini fired wide on another excellent chance with four minutes of the period remaining.
The middle frame featured Toronto’s worst hockey of the season so far.
Hartford should have scored on a turnover inside the Marlies zone and again on an odd-man rush before eventually doubling their lead 6:29 into the second period. After jumping off of the bench, Matt Puempel had all the space in the world to head directly on goal, be turned aside by Garret Sparks and then pick up his own rebound, which he shovelled top shelf over the hung-out-to-dry Marlies goaltender.
Martin Marincin’s lack of effort on the play wasn’t a good look, but he certainly wasn’t the only Marlie deserving of blame on the goal.
Two quick Toronto penalties saw them fall further behind just past the midway point.
After Sparks was called for delay of game for playing the puck in the restricted area, Dmytro Timashov was tabbed for a high-sticking infraction with six seconds remaining in the penalty. As the sophomore winger was preparing to exit the box, Cristoval Nieves picked up a cross-ice feed from Scott Kosmachuk, who picked up his own rebound to put the hosts up 3-0.
Hartford racked up 13 shots without reply until Toronto finally tested Nell with seven minutes of the middle frame remaining. The period finished with a flurry of penalties, but the Marlies were unable to take advantage of their two power plays, although the second of those carried over into the third period.
With the penalty expired, Kosmachuk returned to the ice in the final frame, but by that time Timothy Liljegren and Marincin had combined to set up Kasperi Kapanen, who sent his shot by a floundering Nell to put the Marlies on the board.
Toronto’s momentum appeared to be halted by a penalty taken by Colin Greening. That was until Vincent LoVerde, who picked up the puck deep in his own zone, went coast-to-coast down the left side of the ice before cutting in on net and finishing with aplomb for a shorthanded marker and Toronto’s second goal in 45 seconds.
Nell had other ideas, however, as he denied Chris Mueller and Nikita Soshnikov on consecutive opportunities after the Russian forward drove hard to the net off the rush.
With 14 minutes remaining, Toronto’s power play had a final chance to redeem itself but fell flat; in the process, they almost gave up a short-handed goal to Nieves.
As the clock wound down, Hartford was content to hold onto their lead and Toronto struggled to create much offensively until the final two minutes with the extra attacker on the ice. The Marlies came within the width of the crossbar of grabbing a point, but Kapanen’s shot rang off the iron.
That’s as close as Toronto came to completing the comeback, as Hartford iced the victory with two empty net goals to claim a lopsided 5-2 victory.
There is still much to work on as Toronto head into Providence Saturday to face a Bruins team scoring with ease to start the year.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto’s power play was a mess, wasting six chances (albeit one lasted only four seconds). The penalty kill also continues to struggle and could have easily allowed more than the one goal against on the five occasions it went to work.
– Vincent LoVerde’s short-handed goal was the third of his AHL career. He missed a good opportunity late in the second period when firing wide, but he certainly showed a little more offensively compared to the opening weekend.
– Garret Sparks allowed three goals on 28 shots, but this loss wasn’t on him. He made a cluster of crucial saves in the third period when Toronto were pushing for a tying goal.
– Timothy Liljegren was a bright spot in a game without many of them. He appears to have grown in confidence already since his goal last weekend, registering four shots on Friday night.
– Jeremy Bracco, Michael Paliotta and Martin Marincin all made their Marlies debuts while making their first starts of the season were Mason Marchment and — more surprisingly — Frederik Gauthier, who played on the fourth line with Bracco.
– Martin Marincin showed some decent glimpses offensively, but his lack of competitiveness on a couple of occasions defensively and his positioning in his own zone left something to be desired.
– Paliotta was solid, while Gauthier was sparingly used but won more than his fair share of faceoffs and had some promising moments offensively. A pretty good showing for a player recovering from six months on the sideline including no pre-season action.
– Calvin Pickard backed up Garret Sparks tonight. Pickard will in all likelihood make his debut on Saturday evening.