Toronto opened 2018 just as they finished the previous year — with a win over a divisional rival.
Excellent on the road this season, the Marlies eventually wore down Laval after what was a lacklustre and mostly defensive opening 20 minutes.
Garret Sparks was called on for his best save of the period at the sixth-minute mark before Toronto promptly went and scored off the back of his stop.
Rinat Valiev carried the puck out of his own zone, past one opponent and through the neutral zone before dishing to Chris Mueller down the right. Now a 3-on-2 situation, Mueller sent an inch-perfect back-door pass for Andreas Johnsson to tap home past Charlie Lindgren.
Nikita Scherbak rang a shot off Sparks’ right post with seven minutes remaining before Toronto finished the period with a four-minute power play. Jeremy Bracco rang the iron, but the Marlies failed to test Lindgren enough.
Toronto got their game on track in the final 30 seconds back at even strength. A drive to the net from Justin Holl sparked a series of scrambles in front of the Laval net, where Holl and Jean Dupuy couldn’t bury, but it set the right tone for the remainder of the game for the Marlies.
Sparks was called on to make a sharp save on Chris Terry inside the opening 30 seconds of the second period before the Marlies again scored on the back of an excellent save from their netminder.
After taking a pass from a good break out by Travis Dermott, Adam Brooks drove into the Laval zone before dropping the puck back for Kerby Rychel, who unloaded a heavy slap shot that beat Lindgren clean from the top of the circle.
The two-goal lead lasted just 56 seconds as Toronto proved their own worst enemy deep inside the defensive zone.
After Vincent LoVerde coughed up the puck under the weight of the Laval forecheck, the puck fell to Adam Brooks. The rookie lost a battle with Markus Eisenschmid, who sent to puck out front to Daniel Audette. Sparks denied the Laval forward once but couldn’t do much about the second attempt.
Despite their lead being cut in half, Toronto didn’t let it affect them and continued to create goal-scoring opportunities. Lindgren made an incredible save to deny Johnsson alone from the slot after a nice feed from behind the goal by Mueller.
After Toronto’s power play failed to capitalize on its next opportunity, both goaltenders produced more outstanding saves back at 5-on-5. Mueller and Dupuy were both turned aside before Sparks robbed Adam Cracknell with a glove save worthy of the highlight reel.
The relentless pressure from the Marlies finally paid off at the 12th-minute mark when a long-range shot from Dermott was tipped in at the side of the goal by Brooks. The two-goal lead stayed intact heading into the final frame of regulation.
The Marlies were zero for four on the power play after yet another chance with the extra man to finish the second period, and it seemed like a matter of time before the officials started to title the scales the other way in that regard.
Two penalties were called on the visitors inside the opening three and a half minutes of the third period, with the second call on Calle Rosen leaving a lot to be desired.
The Marlies were able to kill both penalties and looked to be in control of the game until yet another pair of penalties were handed out with eight minutes remaining. Toronto survived a short spell of 5-on-3 against, but Sparks was finally beaten by Cracknell, who gave the Rocket some hope of a late comeback.
It was fleeting, however, as the Marlies responded by taking complete control of the game and quickly re-established their two-goal lead thanks to a long-range effort from Rinat Valiev through traffic.
Following some shenanigans, Toronto finally made a power play count when Mueller put home a rebound inside the final minute to make it a 5-2 final.
Post Game Notes
– This was the 15th road win of the season in the 19th game away from home for Toronto, who now lead the season series with Laval 4-1-0.
– Consecutive three-point games for Travis Dermott gives him 12 points in his last eight games. After 17 points in his first 26 games, Dermott has been named to the 2018 AHL All-Star Classic along with Kasperi Kapanen.
“He’s just played really well,” said Sheldon Keefe. “He’s an important piece of our team and has made that obvious since coming back here. He’s come back and just given our group confidence. He has a lot of confidence, too, with how he’s playing. He was able to recharge a little bit while he was away. Sometimes it can be a positive when you’re out of the lineup. It’s a long, grinding season and we were seeing some of those effects. But he was real good again here today.”
– A first goal of the season for Rinat Valiev, who also recorded his first multi-point haul of the season.
– Adam Brooks has scored in consecutive games and registered his first professional multi-point game with the helper on Kerby Rychel’s goal.
– Chris Mueller and Kerby Rychel also recorded two-point games, although Mueller will wonder how he only scored once with the chances he had.
– In his sixth appearance this season, Jean Dupuy had his best game yet offensively: Five shots on goal, and he was unfortunate not to open his goal-scoring account.
– Garret Sparks posted 22 saves for his 13th victory of the season.
– Kasperi Kapanen and Michael Paliotta both travelled to Laval but were healthy scratches.
– Mason Marchment travelled with the team as he works his way back from injury. Currently wearing a no-contact jersey, he’s edging closer to a return in the new year.
– Wednesday lines:
Ben Smith announced Toronto Marlies captain
Ben Smith was announced as captain of the Toronto Marlies for 2017-18 on Wednesday, while Colin Greening and Rich Clune have been named as the two alternates.
Sheldon Keefe has previously spoken about not wanting to rush into a decision and making sure the right person was chosen, hence the delay in the captaincy appointment for 2017-18. The three men chosen to wear a letter have been part of a small group of players that have led this young roster all season.
It’s the first captaincy of Smith’s career having previously worn an ’A’ for Boston College and for the Rockford IceHogs during the 2012-13 season.
The 29-year-old forward has certainly led from the front offensively this year after being reassigned by the Maple Leafs in October. He leads the Marlies in goals (15), points (28) and game-winning goals (5), and has proven himself to be one of Toronto most consistent performers as the midway point of the season approaches.
Smith is just one of five players to have played every game this season, played an instrumental role in aiding Mason Marchment’s transition to the league before his injury, has often been trusted by the coaching staff with rookies on his line in general, and is relied on in key situations by Keefe.
Ben Smith becomes the eighth captain in Toronto Marlies history following in the footsteps of Andrew Campbell, Troy Bodie, Trevor Smith, Ryan Hamilton, Alex Foster, Ben Ondrus and Marc Moro.