It’s been a turbulent couple of months for goaltender Calvin Pickard.
After being exposed to the NHL expansion draft and selected by Vegas Golden Knights on June 21, Pickard found himself on waivers three days into October.
Chicago could have been the next destination for the 25-year-old netminder, but after a trade to Toronto, Pickard found himself suiting up for the Marlies in his first AHL action since December of 2015 last night in Providence.
With a fresh start and finally a chance at some stability, Pickard was the Marlies’ best player in his Toronto debut on Saturday night.
The opening frame proved a cagey affair, with neither team able to generate much offensive zone time.
The deadlock was broken just before the seven-minute mark when Vincent LoVerde and Nikita Soshnikov combined to set Andreas Johnsson free down the right wing. The Swedish winger sped clear of the Providence defense and cut across the crease before finishing top shelf past Zane McIntrye.
The Marlies wasted a second power play opportunity around the halfway mark and were thankful to Pickard, who keep the lead intact with a good save on Colby Cave’s wraparound effort.
The middle frame began with some four-on-four action, during which Toronto carried the play. Kerby Rychel attempted to tee up Miro Aaltonen, but the centerman was unable to connect at the vital moment.
Back at 5-on-5, Martin Marincin, who had a poor game defensively, coughed the puck up in the slot and was thankful to Pickard for bailing him out.
Timothy Liljegren, already proving himself a real offensive threat in the American League, was the next to set-up Aaltonen, who got a shot away but was denied by McIntrye.
The game began to open up a little, with the teams exchanged a pair of chances at the six-minute mark. Adam Payerl was stonewalled by Pickard after Toronto coughed up possession in the neutral zone before Aaltonen was once again in the thick of the action at the other end — the Finnish forward’s wraparound attempt produced a rebound that skipped away from Kasperi Kapanen with half an empty cage to aim at.
Toronto’s slender one-goal advantage was doubled at the midway mark as the power play finally delivered. Liljegren dished off to Kapanen, who looked to find Aaltonen in front and saw his intended pass hit a Bruins skate and deflect into the net.
The Marlies became a little careless with the puck for the remainder of the period, allowing the hosts two odd-man rushes following the second goal. Pickard came to the rescue with outstanding saves to deny Anton Blidh and Jesse Gabrielle.
Another Marlies power play did little to turn the tide in that regard as the Marlies gave up a shorthanded odd-man rush, but Pickard made the save of the night, performing absolute robbery as he slid across the crease to turn aside Payerl.
Beginning the final frame with a power play, Toronto contrived to gift the Bruins another excellent short-handed chance, but Pickard was again on hand to bail them out.
The Toronto penalty kill may have struggled so far this season, but they battened down the hatches when back in action; Pickard was only called on to make one save, with the rebound swept clear.
The pressure from the Bruins finally broke through, however, as they halved the deficit with a little over 12 minutes remaining. After failing to clear their lines, Kerby Rychel lost the puck in his skates in the slot and it fell to Kenny Agostino. Pickard was helpless as his shutout bid was broken by last season’s AHL MVP.
Dmytro Timashov and Rich Clune nearly combined to restore the two-goal lead less than a minute later, but Toronto’s inability to clear their zone was inviting pressure and gave the Bruins some renewed optimism that they could complete the comeback.
After surviving a barrage of their own making, Toronto scored a third out of the blue. At the end of a shift, Ben Smith let a slap shot go from the right wall a few feet above the circle with McIntyre slightly out of position — having cleared the puck a couple of seconds earlier — and perhaps screened by his own defenseman.
The game wasn’t put away yet after Travis Dermott was sent to the box for hooking with over five minutes left. Another excellent Marlies penalty kill — with Pickard required to make just the one save, albeit it was an excellent reaction right pad stop — preserved the two-goal lead.
It appeared as though Toronto was going to cruise to a 3-1 victory in the final two minutes, but their third minor penalty of the period came back to bite them. Tommy Cross fired home with 15.5 seconds remaining to cause a little consternation on the Marlies bench.
The final moments weren’t plain sailing, but Toronto hauled themselves over the line and the buzzer signalled the Marlies’ first road victory of the season with a debut win for the first star, Calvin Pickard.
Post Game Notes
– Pickard posted 33 saves to earn the win in his Toronto debut. It’s the 70th AHL victory of his career and will certainly give the coaching staff something to think about between the pipes moving forward.
– Timothy Liljegren picked up an assist to extend his point streak to three games (1-2-3)
– Andreas Johnsson netted his second goal of the season, taking his points tally to four in as many games.
– Ben Smith’s goal was the 75th of his AHL career. He’s now up to four points this season.
– Kapanen scored his second of the year; his line was much better than the previous night.
– Toronto mustered just 19 shots officially (to Providence’s 35), although the game sheet counting seemed selective. The Marlies were good in spells, but are still searching for a more consistent 60-minute effort.
Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe
Game Sheet – Toronto 3 vs. Providence 2