Entering the first game of their Royal Winter Fair road-trip, the Toronto Marlies were looking to exact revenge against the Laval Rocket, who won the inaugural matchup between the two teams the previous weekend.
The Marlies certainly paid back the favour, shutting out the Rocket in their brand new building with an excellent 60-minute effort that bodes well for this long stint away from Ricoh Coliseum.
Laval began strongly by pinning Toronto inside their own zone for the majority of the opening three minutes, but they never really threatened the Marlie net.
Toronto opened the scoring just before the four-minute mark with one of the stranger goals of the season so far. After Nikita Soshnikov tipped in a stretch pass from Vincent LoVerde, the puck took a huge bounce off of the backboards and Colin Greening read it faster than any Laval player to slide the puck home low past Charlie Lindgren.
Mason Marchment and Ben Smith, who have built some chemistry on the so-called fourth line, nearly doubled the lead at the nine-minute mark and drew a penalty in the process.
Soshnikov tried several pass options before eventually getting the puck through to Andreas Johnsson, who made no mistake from the slot to score on the power play.
Toronto’s dominance in the first 20 minutes was such that Laval’s lone shot by this point was a launched clearance on the PK from inside their own zone.
The Marlies easily could have built on their 2-0 lead before the first intermission. Chris Mueller and Trevor Moore combined and Moore should’ve chosen shot over pass. On the same shift, Muller just missed the target with Lindgren beaten.
An excellent double save from Garret Sparks with 90 seconds remaining ensured Toronto held a two-goal cushion after 20 minutes.
Marchment would have been disappointed not to hit the net just 80 seconds into the second period after the sophomore forward made an excellent drive down the left wing and escaped the Rocket defense.
It was then down to Sparks for the next five minutes as Toronto were caught on their heels a little bit in the first half of the middle frame.
The Marlies regained their composure and found their feet as the period approached the midway mark. With Toronto almost cycling the puck at will inside the Laval zone, Johnsson missed a grade-A chance from the slot on a feed from Kerby Rychel.
The Swedish forward drew a penalty on the shift, but Mueller missed a golden opportunity on the power play after picking up a rebound on a Dmytro Timashov shot.
A flurry of penalties followed as some nastiness ensued between Rychel and former Marlies Peter Holland and David Broll. Toronto killed their first penalty of the game with ease before striking on the power play with 55 seconds remaining in the period. It was a nicely worked goal that saw Mueller and Marchment combine to set up Johnsson in the slot for his second of the game.
Toronto began the third period as though the score was tied; there were no signs of parking the bus despite the three-goal lead.
After some early pressure led to yet another power play opportunity, Mueller tested Lindgren but the rebound evaded everyone in a Marlies sweater.
Timashov was forced to take a penalty to deny Byron Froese a shorthanded chance after a mistake by Calle Rosen, but Toronto’s penalty kill remained solid.
A second Marlies power play of the period featured a fantastic piece of play from Marchment, who drove down the left before spinning and sending a backhand reverse pass across the crease to Johnsson. How Johnsson didn’t finish his hat-trick there was hard to believe.
Johnsson’s next (and best) chance to clinch it came after taking a drop pass at the hash marks for a look at goal, but Lindgren rose to the occasion with a great glove.
A rare penalty by Frederik Gauthier was the last real chance for the Rocket to get themselves on the board. It appeared all too easy for the Marlies penalty killers, with Sparks not called on to make any saves of note.
Far from retreating into a shell during the final five minutes to protect Sparks’ shutout bid, Toronto kept their structure and the majority of play took place across the Laval side of the red line. As the clock wound down to the final seconds, Sparks made his 18th and final save to claim a piece of Marlies franchise history and seal the 3-0 win for Toronto.
Post Game Notes
– Wednesday’s lines:
– Toronto has won four of five on the road this season, a record that will be put to the test throughout the remainder of this long road-trip.
– The 11th AHL shutout for Garret Sparks is a Toronto Marlies franchise record, taking him one clear of Antoine Bibeau. Sparks is 5-1 on the season with two clean sheets and a .942 save percentage.
– A pair of power play goals for Andreas Johnsson gives him five for the season in eight games.
– Two assists apiece for Mason Marchment and Nikita Soshnikov, who were both huge difference makers in this game even outside of the points.
– Chris Mueller extended his point streak to four games with a lone assist.
– Almost without fanfare, Colin Greening scored his fourth goal of the season through ten games.
Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe
Game Sheet: Toronto 3 vs. Laval 0