The Toronto Marlies kept their points streak alive with a victory on home ice against the Rochester Americans on Friday night.
The Marlies came flying out of the gates: Frederik Gauthier almost made the Amerks pay for a turnover in front of goal but Linus Ullmark deflected the effort wide with a fantastic first save. Jeremy Bracco then forced another excellent stop after a smooth transition play from the top line (Johnsson – Aaltonen – Bracco), while Chris Mueller and Dmytro Timashov missed connecting by an inch or two with Ullmark out of position.
The one-way traffic in the opening five minutes was only interrupted by an incredible glove save from Garret Sparks to deny Eric Cornel in what looked like a certain goal on Rochester’s first shot on net.
Ben Smith wasn’t able to properly connect on a cross-ice feed from Miro Aaltonen and some indiscipline behind the play from Andrew Nielsen meant Toronto’s momentum was halted by the game’s first power play.
The league’s top penalty kill did its job before Toronto took the lead with 5:30 remaining in the period. After leading a rush play, Gauthier sent a gorgeous saucer pass to his left to find Colin Greening. It was on and off Greening’s stick quickly, beating Ullmark far side.
The Marlies penalty kill held firm for a second time to ensure the one-goal lead stayed intact through 20 minutes of play.
The middle frame performance from Toronto wasn’t as dominant, but they came close to doubling their lead early: Inside the first five minutes, Rinat Valiev struck the iron with a bullet of a shot following a faceoff win before Aaltonen clipped the top of the crossbar with an attempt from the right side.
Rochester was mostly driving the play, testing Sparks on nine occasions through the first eight minutes, but the Amerks were left frustrated by the Marlies‘ in-form netminder.
After weathering the storm somewhat, Toronto earned their first power play of the game with 6:26 remaining in the second. Despite a couple of good looks, the Marlies were unable to double their advantage.
The period ended on a sour note as a late hit by Dalton Smith on Calle Rosen left the defenseman in a heap. It looked like a knee on knee, but there was no penalty on the play — just plenty of bad blood that was beginning to boil over.
Timashov was run over by the left boards and Justin Bailey then took a swipe or two at Sparks after the goaltender clung on to the loose puck in front. That inevitably drew a scum that included the incensed Sparks in the mix.
Bailey’s infraction meant Toronto began the third period with an extra man, but they never really threatened and the Amerks nearly capitalized on a shorthanded chance following a Marlies turnover. Sparks again was there when called on.
Back at even strength, the Marlies were back on top but weren’t able to find an insurance marker. The best opportunity came courtesy of excellent work from Timothy Liljegren and Trevor Moore, but Greening missed the target from just below the hash marks.
The Marlies gave up just one shot on net before Rochester headed back on the power play with 12 minutes remaining in the game. Alex Nylander fired the Amerks’ second shot of the third period after flying down the right wing; his effort brought a terrific save out of Sparks, inciting a big cheer from the home crowd, who appreciated a vital stop at an important time in a tight game.
Toronto’s propensity for turning the puck over cheaply was allowing Rochester to heap on the pressure as the clock wound down, but a dialled-in Garret Sparks wasn’t beatable in this game.
Rochester pulled Ullmark with a little under two minutes to play after Toronto iced the puck and controlled play inside the offensive zone for at least 30 seconds, but they could not find a tying marker.
Instead, it was left to Jean Dupuy to seal the victory as he out-battled Bailey to score from a tight angle — ensuring a 2-0 final for the Marlies, who remain unbeaten in regulation in 2018.
Post Game Notes
– A third consecutive shutout for the Toronto Marlies creates a piece of franchise history, surpassing back-to-back shutouts on February 9-10, 2008.
– Toronto lead Rochester 2-1 in the season series with five games remaining.
– Toronto extended their points streak to ten games (9-0-1).
– While Kasperi Kapanen will return to the Marlies during the NHL All-Star break and jump back in next to Johnsson and Aaltonen, Keefe liked the element Jeremy Bracco brought to the top line.
“He’s a good player and he makes plays. We’ve had Kapanen in that spot and really liked that line. Bracco is a right shot that makes plays. We thought, with the way the matchups went for us today, we’d use Gauthier’s line against their best people and that with Aaltonen and Johnsson’s speed, Bracco could get them the puck in good spots. I liked Bracco’s game today. Playing up with them, he does play against good players and good defencemen, but I thought he handled it really well.
– Garret Sparks now holds the Marlies franchise record for shutouts in a single season (five) with his fourth clean sheet of the current campaign. Sparks posted 31 saves for his 17th win of the season, pushing his save percentage up to .944.
– Colin Greening’s goal was his tenth of the season, matching last year’s total. Half of this season’s goals have been scored in the last eight games, and this was his third game-winner of the year.
– Jean Dupuy was rewarded for a hard-working performance with his second goal in three games.
– Frederik Gauthier was responsible for the primary assists on both goals, taking his points tally to 10 (5-5-10) this season.
– Calle Rosen tried to return in the third period but failed to last more than a shift or two. He missed Saturday night’s game against Syracuse.
– Timothy Liljegren returned to action after his injury scare against Bridgeport last weekend.
“He’s been good [since returning from the World Juniors],” said Sheldon Keefe after the game. “I think he’s been real good. He had to play a lot of minutes today, especially once we went down to five defencemen there with the injury. He’s a young guy and at times he shows it — different shifts here and there — but he’s playing with a lot of confidence both offensively and defensively, and we’ve been really happy with that. He’s making real good progress.”
– Friday’s lines: