Winning back-to-back games on the road against the same opponent is no easy task, but the Toronto Marlies achieved just that with a victory over Laval on Saturday afternoon.
The 5-2 win was the Marlies‘ league-leading 20th victory of the season and also their fourth on the bounce.
The Marlies weren’t at their best in the opening period, but neither team broke the deadlock in the opening 20 minutes with some near misses for both teams.
The first Toronto power play of the game three minutes in presented a chance for Kasperi Kapanen but a better opportunity for Laval’s Niki Petti, who shovelled his backhand attempt wide while in alone on Calvin Pickard.
Frederik Gauthier and Jeremy Bracco combined to produce a shot that rolled across the crease, with the puck hovering an inch or two from the goal line.
After Dmytro Timashov rang a shot off the crossbar following a face-off win at the seven-minute mark, Laval held the edge in puck possession and offensive zone time for the rest of a goalless opening period.
Toronto took over the game in a frenzied, high-event middle frame.
77 seconds in, Travis Dermott launched an outlet pass across three zones that picked out Andreas Johnsson on the far right boards. The Swedish winger outfought Tom Parisi on his drive to the net before placing the puck top shelf past Michael McNiven.
The Marlies almost doubled their lead on the power play before they were pegged back at the eight-minute mark on a piece of individual brilliance from Laval’s Chris Terry, who fired home bar-down from an acute angle.
Kapanen, who could easily have helped himself to a hatful of goals in this game, came close on two breakaways, including a shorthanded rush.
Toronto retook the lead at the 13th-minute mark with a goal that rivalled the brilliance of Laval’s opening marker.
Off the rush, Jeremy Bracco’s toe-drag move beat two Laval players in the right circle and effectively took the Laval goaltender out of the play in the process before he finished on his backhand for a memorable first professional goal.
A day to remember for @jbracco97 as he makes a great move to the backhand and finishes it off for his first career @theAHL goal.#MarliesLive pic.twitter.com/UVwWbL25ZS
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) December 9, 2017
The Marlies dominance resulted in yet another power play opportunity, but Laval caught Toronto out while shorthanded.
It was a terrible shift from the Marlies power play unit, encapsulated by the lazy attempt by Andrew Nielsen to dispossess Stefan Leblanc. The latter sent a perfect cross-crease feed to Petti to score his third of the year.
The best way to respond was to score while still on the man advantage, and Toronto did just that 35 seconds later. Timashov and Bracco turned provider for Frederik Gauthier to sweep home on the second attempt at the far post.
The scoring wasn’t over as the Marlies found the net for the third time in four minutes. Kapanen finally found the net with a power-play marker after excellent set-up work from Kerby Rychel and Chris Mueller.
Six goals, a first professional tally for Bracco, two power-play markers and a short-handed tally was the final yield from the middle frame, and Toronto could easily have held a bigger margin than the 4-2 scoreline after 40 minutes.
The Marlies rarely looked in danger of surrendering their advantage in the third period, limiting Laval to just five shots through the remaining 20 minutes of play.
Kapanen had two excellent opportunities to add to his account but couldn’t solve McNiven a second time.
The real talking point of the final period was an elbow by Daniel Audette to the head of Travis Dermott.
Thankfully, the sophomore defenseman skated away seemingly unharmed, while the Laval forward was assessed a major penalty plus a game misconduct. Audette should face the wrath of the AHL disciplinary panel after what appeared to be an intent to injure.
A Ben Smith empty net goal rounded out the scoring inside the final minute to complete the weekend sweep, continuing Toronto’s dominance over Laval in the season series.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto went a perfect 4-4 on the penalty kill and haven’t allowed a power play goal in 17 out of 25 games this season.
– Two power play goals in consecutive games for the Marlies takes their seasonal total to 24, joint best in the Eastern Conference.
– It was not only a first professional goal for Jeremy Bracco but also his second multi-point haul in three games. He could easily have netted a second goal and is really starting to establish himself a third of the way through his first AHL season.
“One of the best first goals I’ve ever seen,” remarked Kasperi Kapanen after the game.
– Two primary assists for Kerby Rychel, who is heating up offensively with eight points in his last seven games.
– A pair of helpers for Travis Dermott was his first multi-point haul of the year and extends his point streak to five games (2-4-6).
– Kasperi Kapanen netted his eighth goal of the season and led all skaters with seven shots.
– Calvin Pickard recorded his seventh straight win, although his save percentage took a hit after allowing two goals on 19 shots. He was excellent when called upon in the opening period and left hung out to dry on the second goal.
“His attitude, his approach to the game, and how he handles himself amongst his teammates makes our guys better,” said Sheldon Keefe. “Guys enjoy playing for him, for sure. He comes in yesterday unexpectedly and doesn’t allow anything. In both games, we didn’t give up a whole lot, but there were times when things were coming at him, and he was there. He gives us a chance every time he’s in… We have two great goaltenders that give us a chance every night.”
– Cal Heeter was recalled to back up Pickard, while Garret Sparks skated on his own in the morning and is expected to feature next weekend, assuming there are no setbacks.
– Saturday’s lines: