The Toronto Marlies extended their winning streak to five with a hard-earned victory in Rochester on Friday evening.
The first meeting of an eight-game season series came at a time when both teams were in great form, with the Amerks having collected points in 10 consecutive entering the contest.
With both teams chocked full of speed up and down the lineup, a fast start to this game arrived as expected. There easily could have been a goal apiece inside the opening 30 seconds.
It took just five minutes for the deadlock to be broken after a quick transition from the Marlies put the Amerks on their heels. After jumping into the rush, Justin Holl picked out Ben Smith, who split two Amerks defencemen through the middle. Smith laid a perfect cross-crease pass to Kerby Rychel all alone at the back post, where the in-form winger finished his sixth of the season.
The lone power play of the period almost resulted in Toronto doubling their lead around the halfway mark after a swift passing movement ended with Andrew Nielsen at the back post with a half-empty net open, but the defenceman struck the iron and the puck bounced to safety.
There were late-period breakaway opportunities for both teams, but Calvin Pickard denied Steve Moses after a mistake from Nielsen and Linus Ullmark turned aside Smith at the other end.
Pickard’s best save of the opening frame came with 45 seconds remaining as he somehow stonewalled C.J Smith, who was odds-on to score while all alone at the far post.
The Rochester Americans were riding a 10-game point streak coming into this game and showed the reason why in a dominant middle frame for the home side.
Pickard performed another robbery — this time to deny former Marlie Seth Griffith — after two cheap turnovers by Toronto.
A breakaway from Rich Clune resulted in the Marlies lone shot on goal in the opening eight minutes before the Amerks tied up proceedings with 11:38 remaining in the middle frame.
A turnover high in the offensive zone off a Justin Holl rush quickly transitioned into an odd-man situation for Rochester the other way. Griffith backed off the Marlies defense before dropping the puck back for Brendan Guhle, who rifled his shot past Pickard into the top right corner.
Just two minutes later, the Amerks took the lead off of another odd-man opportunity. An attempted lofted clearance from Rinat Valiev was plucked out of the air by Rochester at the red line as the Marlies were in the midst of a line change. Griffith then set up Alex Nylander, who Pickard turned aside the first time but couldn’t do much about on the second chance on his own rebound.
The one-way traffic at this juncture required more excellence from Pickard to keep the game within reach. A penalty kill from the Marlies proved vital as — a little undeservingly — they went on to tie the game up with 27 seconds remaining in the period.
Rychel won a battle on the wall and found Miro Aaltonen in some space in the left circle, where the Finnish centerman beat Ullmark five-hole to the level the score through 40 minutes.
Toronto’s top-ranked penalty kill went to work twice in the opening 10 minutes of the final frame. The second power play was by far the more dangerous as Rochester forced Pickard to make a couple of excellent saves and an even better poke check clearance to deny an easy rebound opportunity.
The Marlies picked up their game following the second penalty kill and, in a period of few scoring chances, retook the lead for good with 6:31 left in regulation.
It was a goal worthy of winning any game. It started with Rinat Valiev turning away from one opponent at his own blue line before sending the puck to Kerby Rychel up the right wing. Just a few feet inside the offensive blue line, Rychel sent a pinpoint pass to Jeremy Bracco across the offensive zone. The rookie forward one-timed a laser beam of a pass for Smith to finish off on the doorstep in what was a beautiful east-west tic-tac-toe passing play.
Toronto wasn’t able to make a power play count in the final five minutes, but they rarely looked in danger of giving up their lead. Pickard made his seventh save of the period in the final seconds to secure a fifth straight victory for the Marlies.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto’s seventh straight road win of the season was also their 13th on the year away from home (13-2-0). The Marlies improved to 7-1-0 when tied after two periods of play.
– Due to player availability and the need to keep players fresh on a three-in-three weekend, Toronto opted to dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen in this game, with Martin Marincin rotating onto different pairings. Travis Dermott also didn’t appear as much late in second and third periods, possibly due to a knock he picked up in the game, so Marincin filled in next to Timothy Liljegren.
“We have a lot of depth on defence,” said Sheldon Keefe. “It was an opportunity to get more guys in. As it turned out, it ended up being a necessity. We lost Dermott through the game, so that helped our cause here today and we were able to manage.”
“Credit to our guys here. Short staffed and with a little bit of adversity, we get a win on the road against a good team.”
– Calvin Pickard posted 32 saves for his eighth-straight victory, with six of those wins coming on the road. He’s given up just nine goals during that stretch.
– With three points tonight (1-2-3), Ben Smith moves back to the top of the Marlies scoring charts. His 11th goal also puts him in the team lead in that category.
– Kerby Rychel continued his impressive recent offensive form with a three-point haul (1-2-3), extending his points streak to three games.
– Another assist for a more confident Jeremy Bracco gives him five points in his last four games.
– Miro Aaltonen netted his fourth goal of the season. This was a good response from him after a quiet two-game set against Laval in which he mustered just the one shot.
– Timothy Liljegren now departs from the team to join his countrymen for the upcoming World Juniors tournament.
– Friday’s lines: