The Toronto Marlies’ three-game winning streak came to abrupt end against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Wednesday evening.
Toronto began the game with a good deal of promise, carrying on the form that had characterized the road trip by dominating the Penguins for the opening nine minutes. Perhaps it was the grind of the long road trip coming home to roost, but the Marlies hit a wall halfway through the first and never recovered.
“Once they got their legs and started to come, we just couldn’t get off the mat,” said Sheldon Keefe.
After firing three shots in the first 45 seconds, Toronto took the lead just over a minute in — Dmytro Timashov redirected a shot from the point by Martin Marincin for his first even-strength tally of the season.
The Marlies could have held a 3-4 goal lead, such was their dominance early, but DeSmith was excellent between the pipes for Wilkes-Barre. The best stop came on Kerby Rychel in tight as the Penguins simply couldn’t cope with Toronto’s pace and cycling inside the offensive zone early in the game.
The tide suddenly turned once Toronto began to turn the puck over cheaply, and the tying goal arrived at the midway mark of the period. A giveaway by Martin Marincin fell to Andrey Pedan at the top of the left circle and the defenseman beat Garret Sparks all ends up with traffic in front.
Toronto led 8-4 in shots at one juncture, yet WBS held a 16-12 advantage after 20 minutes.
After Toronto wasted a two-man advantage to finish the first period, the game quickly went downhill early in the middle frame. A hung-out-to-dry Garret Sparks was facing an uphill battle and almost won while facing 17 shots in 20 minutes.
The Marlies mustered just four of their own, although DeSmith had to be alert to stonewall Mason Marchment on a power play opportunity in tight.
Sparks was finally ground down with 72 seconds of the period remaining after another defensive breakdown by the Marlies. Toronto backed off Ryan Haggerty as the right winger crossed the blue line, and despite four Marlies in the vicinity, Haggerty went unchallenged as he fired top shelf past Sparks’ glove to put WBS ahead 2-1.
Despite killing a penalty to begin the third period, a giveaway from Calle Rosen led to Toronto falling further behind with less than two minutes played in the final frame. Thomas DiPauli skated clear of Rosen and in alone on net before beating Sparks with a nifty move and backhand finish.
Although a comeback appeared highly unlikely, Toronto was still in the game thanks to Sparks making save after save, and the Marlies did manage to create a scoring chance or two in the final frame.
Marchment again came close on the power play but struck iron, while a drive from the left from Ben Smith brought yet another top-class save from the impressive DeSmith as he stretched out his left pad to stop a certain goal.
With six minutes remaining, the Marlies pulled themselves within one thanks to a piece of individual brilliance from Nikita Soshnikov. From the left side, Soshnikov made Lukas Bengtsson look foolish with an inside-out move before attempting to beat DeSmith low. The rebound fell kindly for the Russian forward, who did a good job of driving the net to follow up on the play and made no mistake to give Toronto a glimmer of hope.
To the Penguins’ credit, they didn’t give Toronto a sniff at a tying goal and pushed on to restore an insurance marker. With Sparks pulled from the net at an inopportune moment, DiPauli was gifted his second of the game and secured the two points for WBS, who moved into the top spot in the Eastern Conference in the process.
Post Game Notes
– Wednesday’s lines:
– This was easily Toronto’s worst defensive performance of the season, with turnovers and missed assignments galore. The Marlies were out-shot 42-24 and imploded after a fast start.
“We got a little taste of what a top team looks like for sure,” said Sheldon Keefe. “We’re a much better team than we played today. We look like a team that’s been on the road for nine days. We’re not going to make any excuses as a team, but that’s not how we normally play.”
– Garret Sparks made 38 saves and was the difference between Toronto receiving a total beating and still being in the game with five minutes left to play.
– Nikita Soshnikov netted his fourth of the season while Dmytro Timashov scored his first of the year at even strength.
– Rich Clune dressed for his first appearance since October 27.
– Rinat Valiev and Timothy Liljegren are both “banged up” but could play this weekend in Binghamton.