The Toronto Marlies finished 2017 on a high with a much-needed victory on home ice against the Belleville Senators.
The 5-2 victory on New Year’s Eve moves the Marlies back into top spot in the North Division with a 23-11-0 record through 34 games.
Looking to avoid a fourth straight defeat, Toronto was on the front-foot from outset, taking control after a shaky first 60 seconds.
With a strong forecheck and relentless cycling putting the Senators back on their heels, Ben Smith was unfortunate not to score four minutes in after Andrew Hammond was stripped in possession behind his net.
Justin Holl and Frederik Gauthier also came close, while perhaps the best chance fell to Belleville courtesy of a turnover from the Marlies. Jack Rodewald was the recipient and fed the puck to Chris DiDomenico, who fired high over the net.
After the Senators took three penalties in the final six minutes of the period, the period might have looked far different if Max McCormick managed to score on a shorthanded rush following a giveaway from Kerby Rychel. Instead, Andreas Johnsson found the net on a cross-crease feed from Chris Mueller as Toronto took advantage of two extra skaters.
Toronto looked threatening at 5-on-4 afterwards, but Smith couldn’t elevate his short-side effort high enough to beat Hammond.
The domination continued for Toronto during the middle frame. They almost doubled their lead 20 seconds in, but Rinat Valiev was unable to get enough on a rebound attempt.
Mueller was then turned aside by Hammond after a terrific shift from his line. That was followed up by a nicely-worked piece of play from Travis Dermott, Kasperi Kapanen and Dmytro Timashov that ended with Timashov’s shot deflected wide.
After all of those chances went begging for the Marlies, Belleville almost scored the next goal at the six-minute mark when McCormick was the grateful recipient of a giveaway, but Garret Sparks was equal to his effort.
Dermott was the next to come close for Toronto after an interchange with Kapanen before Toronto went to the penalty kill at the seventh-minute mark. The Marlies’ struggling PK responded in the best possible manner — by netting the team’s fourth shorthanded marker of the season.
Gauthier escaped down the left side and sent a pinpoint pass down the middle of the ice for Kapanen, who had sped free of his man to finish his ninth of the year.
With the penalty killed, Toronto found themselves down a man almost immediately with Timashov sent to the box, but the Marlies PK repeated the trick to keep Belleville off the board.
Despite controlling the play for the final nine minutes of the second period, Toronto was unable to add to their 2-0 advantage before the buzzer sounded.
Belleville pushed back a little to begin the third period and were certainly competitive through the opening six to seven minutes of the final frame. After a clean offensive zone faceoff win resulted in a dangerous shot from Max Reinhart, Sparks needed to be sharp to keep the two-goal lead intact.
Despite the Marlies taking a third straight penalty, they Toronto PK stepped up again by netting their second shorthanded goal of the game.
Gauthier outmuscled Francis Perron in the Belleville zone to win a puck battle before a measured finish from the left face-off dot saw him beat Hammond far side.
It was something of a letdown when Sparks’ shutout bid was broken with a little under 10 minutes remaining after a giveaway from Andrew Nielsen in front of his own net. McCormick sent the puck to DiDomenico, who made no mistake on this occasion.
Any thought of a comeback for the Senators was snuffed out three minutes later. Gauthier gained possession just inside his own blue line and proceeded to skate the length of the ice, coasting by three Senators before sniping top shelf, far side on Hammond with a perfect shot.
The icing on the cake for the Marlies was the fifth strike and a first for a rookie: Adam Brooks excelled on a line with Rychel and Rich Clune throughout this game and was on hand to clear up the garbage in front, poking home the rebound from crease much to the delight of his teammates, who mobbed Brooks in celebration of his first professional goal.
It was a dominant display and well-deserved two points that ensured the Marlies entered 2018 at the top of the North Division.
Post Game Notes
– The victory means head coach Sheldon Keefe will represent the North Division in All-Star game.
– After mustering just 20 shots in the shutout loss to Rochester, Toronto recorded 41 shots in this game, while special teams stepped up to the plate after recent struggles. The penalty kill was perfect on three occasions and netted two shorthanded goals, while Toronto went one-for-three on the power play and recorded their first 5-on-3 PP goal of the season.
– Travis Dermott returned to action after injury and didn’t seem to miss a beat despite sitting out the previous seven games. Three assists for the defenseman takes his season points tally to 14 in 25 games. He has 10 points in his last nine appearances.
“He was really good,” said Keefe. “It’s no secret he is a big part of our team. We are a different team when he is in and playing like that. A lot of our guys were going here today and he was one of them.”
– A three-point game (2-1-3) for Frederik Gauthier is his first as a professional. He developed some fast chemistry alongside new linemates Kasperi Kapanen and Dmytro Timashov.
“I liked that it was an all-around game,” said Keefe. “He’s a guy who is good on the penalty kill for us, is responsive defensively. We put him in more offensive situations today with Kapanen and Timashov. That’s the first time we’ve done that for him this season. When he was in that situation last year, he performed very well for us.”
– Two assists for Justin Holl gives him 16 points on the year, just three shy of last season’s total.
– Kasperi Kapanen‘s ninth goal of the season was his first of the year shorthanded.
– Andreas Johnsson potted his 12th goal of the year and fifth on the power play.
– It took him 24 games, but Adam Brooks scored his first AHL and professional goal. “It’s good for Broosky,” said Keefe. “As a young player who is used to scoring a lot, it’s a weight on your shoulders. Hopefully, it’s a positive step toward him continuing to adjust and evolve.”
– Garret Sparks couldn’t clinch the shutout through no fault of his own but recorded 19 saves for his 12th win of the season, snapping a personal three-game losing skid.
– Last but not least, may I wish you and your families a very Happy New Year. Thanks for your continued support.
– Sunday’s lines: