The Toronto Marlies’ recent struggles continued as they fell to a third straight defeat against North Division rival Rochester.
The Marlies‘ lack of offense and faltering special teams have been prevalent in the recent losing skid, and that was the story again on Friday as Rochester took over the top spot in the North Division with a 2-0 win at Ricoh Coliseum.
The first period was a tightly-played 20 minutes, with neither team giving up much in the way of time or space through the neutral zone at even strength.
The first real chance occurred because of a big hit by Andrew MacWilliam on Colin Greening in neutral ice, leading to an odd-man rush for Amerks, but Rochester was unable to make the killer pass to capitalize.
Toronto earned the first power play with six minutes remaining but wasted it by failing to set up in the offensive zone. Their best chance came via a piece of individual skill from Andreas Johnsson, who played pitch and catch with Kasperi Kapanen before forcing Linus Ullmark into a decent save.
The Amerks struck late in the period with their first power play. Seth Griffith beat Garret Sparks with a top-shelf wrist shot from the left circle, with the goaltender taking full responsibility after the game for a save he should have made on his short side.
With Rochester’s work-rate and checking game proving tough to break down, the Marlies were seemingly chasing their own tail to begin the second period.
The Marlies finally broke the shackles thanks to Jeremy Bracco, who was composed in possession under pressure and found Vincent LoVerde on a back-door play, but the defenseman was unable to corral the puck in tight.
A subsequent power play for Toronto then created an excellent breakaway chance for Kapanen. The Finnish winger tried to go high on Ullmark, but he didn’t make it hard enough on the Rochester goaltender.
The Marlies were able to kill Rochester’s second power play of the game and were then reliant on Sparks to deny another former Marlie from getting on the scoresheet: Eric Cornel set up Stuart Percy, but Sparks got across quickly to his right to make the save.
Rich Clune was doing everything he could to get Toronto on the board, first rifling a long-range shot off the crossbar before setting up Greening in the slot on the same play, but the Greening’s weak effort drifted wide of the target.
During the second penalty kill of the period, stellar work from Ben Smith created a breakaway for himself, but his stick was slashed before Clune jumped in and was turned aside by a blocker save from Ullmark.
Despite some good looks on the following power play and a strong finish to the period, Toronto continued to trail 1-0 after 40 minutes.
A power play just a minute into the third period presented an excellent opportunity for the Marlies to level the game, but they were denied by Ullmark’s best save of the game: A tic-tac-toe play ended on the stick of Kerby Rychel, who appeared to have the easy task of slotting home in tight, but the Swedish goaltender sprawled to his left to make a wonderful pad save.
A second chance with the extra man presented itself just four minutes later. The Marlies again had some good looks but were reluctant to shoot the puck, opting for the extra pass on multiple occasions.
The Amerks denied the hosts any kind of hope at even strength play and effectively killed the game off at the 16th-minute mark when Sahri Gill netted his 10th of the season on a rebound after a shot from Seth Griffith was blocked in front.
Pulling Sparks shortly after the second goal didn’t result in much as Rochester’s work-rate failed to relent and the Amerks moved atop the North Division after handing Toronto their sixth defeat in seven games.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies were shut out for the first time this season. They’ve now scored just three goals in their last four home games (all losses). After five power play opportunities went begging in this game, the Marlies are now one-for-their-last-27 with the extra man.
– The penalty kill is certainly hurt by some missing personnel (Martin Marincin, Travis Dermott), but it still needs to be better than it has been of late. Toronto has given up six power play goals against through their last five games.
– At even strength, the Marlies were certainly better defensively than they have been of late, but they failed to generate enough shots (22), let alone high-quality scoring chances.
– Garret Sparks noted after the game, “We are creating more than we need to,” when asked about the adversity the team is facing right now. For a team that was a little too reliant on goaltending at times during its great start to the year, this has certainly been a wake-up call.
– Some transactions to note: Defenseman Jeff King and goaltender Cal Heeter have been recalled from Orlando. Martins Dzierkals was returned on loan to Orlando. Calvin Pickard was recalled by the Toronto Maple Leafs
– Friday’s lines: