In a game that produced more penalties and ill-will than quality hockey, the Toronto Marlies found a way to prevail against a winless Springfield outfit on Sunday.
In the third game of the weekend, Sheldon Keefe tweaked his lineup, including handing goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo his first start of the season.
The Marlies held the upper hand in a scoreless first period.
Adam Brooks and Trevor Moore combined two minutes in but Moore was denied by Springfield netminder Samuel Montembeault, who turned aside Ben Smith 45 seconds later as he drove the net from the left wing.
Kerby Rychel was the next to test the rookie goaltender with a snapshot following a face-off win by Chris Mueller.
A Marlies turnover inside their own zone would have proved costly if not for a tremendous reaction save from Kaskisuo, who got his feet under him early.
Both teams exchanged chances off the rush before Toronto earned the first power play chance of the game at the eight-minute mark. The second half of the man advantage featured some crisp puck movement by the Marlies, but Springfield was effective at getting in the lanes, blocking at least three attempts on goal.
A second Marlie power play with two minutes remaining in the opening period also proved fruitless with no chances of note.
A good start to the middle frame was somewhat curtailed by a penalty, but Toronto almost scored their second shorthanded goal of the season when Rich Clune and Ben Smith broke away on an odd-man rush. Neither could provide the final touch in front of goal.
The animosity between the teams began to ramp up with bodies flying everywhere, eventually resulting in Ed Wittchow and Colin Greening dropping the gloves.
A third Marlies power play almost ended in disaster when Ryan Horvat escaped on a shorthanded break after an error by Travis Dermott. Kaskisuo was able to stay with the winger to make the initial save before the back-checking Toronto players swept away the rebound.
With the penalty count now racking up at a furious pace, the stalemate was broken during four-on-four action. Jeremy Bracco led an odd-man rush, making a terrific curl and drag move around his man before putting a shot on goal. The rebound fell kindly for Ben Smith to sweep home into the vacant cage.
It was a short-lived Marlies lead, however, as Springfield responded in kind two minutes later. Mikkel Aagaard had some room to manoeuvre on the left side and let fly; it wasn’t a great shooting angle, but Kaskisuo was caught cheating a little on the play and was beaten short side.
The penalties continued unabated, but neither team was clinical with the extra man, keeping the score level through 40 minutes.
After killing a penalty that carried over from the second period, Toronto took control for a 90-second spell. Led by a good shift by Frederik Gauthier, the Marlies swarmed the Springfield net but were unable to find a way through.
Eight minutes into the third, Toronto went ahead for the second time. Too often Toronto deferred on shooting opportunities in search of the perfect play in this game; it was fitting that Rinat Valiev simply throwing the puck at the net led to the breakthrough. Many on the ice lost track of the puck as it deflected high and bounced off the glass, but Mason Marchment kept his eye on the prize, gathered possession by the side of the net, and slid the puck past Montembeault.
Toronto rarely looked likely to extend their lead, firing just four shots through the final frame. The best opportunity came on a pitch and catch between Andreas Johnsson and Marchment, who was denied by a sharp pad save from Montembeault.
Kaskisuo, certainly the busier of the two goaltenders, made the save of the game to deny Juho Lammikko, who looked certain to score on a backdoor play during a 2-on-1 break.
Toronto were made to work right down to the final second after Greening was sent to the box with 2:16 remaining. The penalty kill stood firm despite some abysmal officiating, with two apparent offsides missed by the linesmen.
After Kaskisuo held on to a speculative long-range shot with 3.8 seconds on the clock, Springfield called a timeout to see if they could conjure one last chance from an offensive zone faceoff.
Springfield won the draw, but Chris Mueller threw himself in front of the shot to ensure Toronto will head home on the bus with four of a possible six points from a three-in-three weekend on the road.
Post Game Notes
– Kasimir Kaskisuo posted 26 saves in the win. What the Marlies brass will do with their goaltending situation next week is anyone’s guess at this point. There is a possible injury to Cal Heeter in Orlando, which could see one netminder sent to the ECHL.
– Jeremy Bracco recorded his first AHL point with the helper on Ben Smith’s goal.
– Mason Marchment’s goal was his first of the season. The helpers on the were also the first points of the year for Rinat Valiev and Frederik Gauthier.
– Ben Smith is Toronto’s leading scorer with five points in as many games after netting his third of the season.
– Notable healthy scratches included Timothy Liljegren, Nikita Soshnikov, Kasperi Kapanen and Miro Aaltonen, but this was a planned move from Sheldon Keefe to rest players and give others opportunities to get into game action.
Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe
Game Sheet – Toronto 2 vs. Springfield 1