The Toronto Marlies kept their latest winning streak intact despite being outplayed for large stretches in Syracuse on Friday evening.
Following Manitoba’s loss in Texas, the Marlies have returned to the top of the AHL standings with a .725 points percentage.
The Crunch could easily have scored twice inside the opening 90 seconds, but Garret Sparks was on his game from the get-go to turn aside Carter Verhaeghe and Jonne Tammela.
The latter was called for goaltender interference on the play and Toronto took advantage of the subsequent power play. Looking to shoot for a tip to the right of the net, Chris Mueller’s shot missed the net, bounced off the backboards and out the other side for the waiting Trevor Moore, who slotted home before goaltender Connor Ingram knew much about it.
The chances kept coming for the Crunch, but Sparks again came to the Marlies‘ rescue to deny Mat Bodie and Shane Conacher on an odd-man man rush and a chance in the slot following a turnover.
Another broken play provided an excellent chance for Anthony Cirelli, but Sparks was a rock for the Marlies, who grew into the first period from that point on.
Toronto nearly doubled their lead with four minutes remaining on a play instigated by an excellent breakout pass from the returning Timothy Liljegren. Mason Marchment let fly from the high slot, resulting in a partial glove save from Ingram before Moore was unable to stab home the rebound.
After a bad penalty from Kerby Rychel put Toronto on the penalty kill late in the frame, Syracuse was unable to muster any chances of note with the extra man but really turned it on as the penalty expired. At least three excellent scoring opportunities went to waste and Toronto somehow clambered into the intermission in possession of a one-goal lead.
Just 35 seconds into the middle frame, Mueller was the victim of some less than stellar officiating; with Toronto about to cross the blue line on a 2-on-1 break, Mueller was called for interference way behind the play after what appeared to be an innocuous collision.
The penalty kill once again rose to the occasion admirably, and within 90 seconds of the penalty expiring, a hard-working shift from the fourth line resulted in Rich Clune drawing a Toronto power play.
It took just 22 seconds for the Marlies to strike for a second time with the man advantage. It was all about the pace of Kasperi Kapanen, who burst into the offensive zone, drew the attention of two Crunch defenders and off-loaded to Ben Smith just above the hash marks with a perfect pass that Smith didn’t have to break stride on in order to rip home with a one-timer.
Kapanen was then denied on a breakaway during a spell of 4-on-4 play before the hosts finally got on the board on their third power play of the game. Sparks pulled off a great glove save to deny Cirelli from the heart of the slot, but he was unable to prevent Mitchell Stephens from slotting home his 14th of the season on the rebound.
Syracuse could have tied up the game after Liljegren was dispossessed in the neutral zone, resulting in an odd-man rush, but Daniel Walcott was robbed by Sparks in what proved to be a real turning point in the game.
With Syracuse in the midst of a line-change, Marchment managed to push the puck to Colin Greening through a crowd of Crunch players. Greening crossed the blue line and made Ben Thomas look foolish with a shot fake before rounding the Crunch defenceman and squeezing his shot past Ingram.
Rychel’s third infraction of the game meant Toronto was on the penalty kill on both sides of the second intermission, but the PK units went to work and set the tone for a third-period in which the Marlies rarely looked in danger of giving up the lead.
Syracuse was kept to the perimeter for the most part, while Sparks needed to come up with a manageable 11 saves to preserve the win — the best of which came at the five-minute mark when he turned aside a deceiving spin-o-rama effort from Dominik Masin with his right pad.
Consecutive penalties from Erik Condra killed the game as a contest with four minutes remaining, and Andreas Johnsson made no mistake moments after Ingram was pulled from his net to cement a 4-1 final, extending the Marlies’ win streak to seven.
Post Game Notes
– For the second time this season, Toronto has tied the franchise record with seven consecutive victories.
– The Marlies are now a perfect 18-0-0 when leading after two periods.
– Toronto’s power play went three for five, albeit the third was an empty netter, while the penalty kill went 4 for 5.
– Trevor Moore scored his first goal since December 2. He also put up three points in that game, just as he did tonight (1-2-3) in what is hopefully the start of a more productive second half of the season.
– Barring one glaring error, Timothy Liljegren looked very sharp in his return to action following an illness, picking up an assist.
– Mason Marchment registered his first point (01-1) in his second game since returning from injury.
– Ben Smith and Andreas Johnsson recorded their 18th and 16th goals of the season, respectively. The latter has six points in as many games against the Crunch this year.
– A lone assist for Chris Mueller broke a four-game pointless streak. He leads the team with 17 assists.
– Kasperi Kapanen extended his point streak to six games (4-4-8) with the primary assist on what turned out to be the game-winner.
– Colin Greening scored the only even-strength goal of the game for his 9th of the season.
– Garret Sparks posted 28 saves for his fifth straight win and 16th this season. His save percentage improved a little to a sparkling .939. He’s given up just seven goals in his last five starts.