Andreas Johnsson celebrated his call-up to the AHL All-Star Classic by notching the first hat trick by any Toronto Marlies player this season, moving him into a tie for fourth in AHL goal scoring.
The Marlies‘ top line of Johnsson, Miro Aaltonen and Kasperi Kapanen proved the difference between two divisional rivals as Toronto heads into the All-Star break on a high note after a 4-2 win over the Syracuse Crunch on Saturday.
The season series between the two teams has been consistently intense and high-paced, and the seventh meeting was no different in the early stages.
The Marlies earned the opening power play but nearly gave up a shorthanded marker to Anthony Cirelli. Calvin Pickard stood tall, forcing the Crunch forward to shoot high before the Marlies struck at the other end with the extra man.
After Dmytro Timashov’s shot deflected off of Kerby Rychel into the pads of Louis Domingue and Trevor Moore was denied on the rebound attempt, Chris Mueller put Toronto ahead on the third opportunity at the back post with under three minutes played.
Daniel Walcott tried to respond for the hosts inside a minute, but Pickard turned his effort aside and Syracuse failed to muster anything more offensively until the final five minutes of the first frame.
After Johnsson was denied in tight by Domingue, Toronto earned a second power play but created only one chance of note, with Rinat Valiev turned aside and Colin Greening unable to scramble home the rebound.
The Crunch then levelled the score on a messy play including some lost battles by the Marlies along the backboards. The impressive Cirelli — left alone in front — took full advantage, slotting home his ninth of the year on the second attempt.
Cirelli could have given his team a first period lead on a partial breakaway shortly after, but he sent the puck wide of Pickard’s left post, although the Marlies goaltender appeared to have the attempt covered with his right pad.
A flurry of penalties ensued after a bright start to the middle frame for Syracuse, beginning with a power play for the Crunch. During a second spell of 4-on-4 play, Toronto retook the lead.
After Valiev sent Johnsson away on a bit of a broken play in the neutral zone, Domingue came flying out of his net and Johnsson skated around the goaltender before slotting home into the empty cage.
Toronto then turned good defense into offense on their third goal of the game. After a faceoff win in their own zone was pushed forward, Justin Holl’s extra effort tipped the puck toward Kapanen, who took off into full flight through the middle of the ice through three Crunch players. After his far-side shot brought a pad save from Domingue, Johnsson beat his man to the loose puck and potted his second of the game.
Another quick transition play led to the Marlies striking for a third time without reply. Holl again notched the secondary assist as he sent the puck toward Johnsson, who flipped a pass behind him to Kapanen at Toronto‘s blue line.
On a 2-on-1, Kapanen sent a perfect feed behind the Crunch defender across the slot to Johnsson, who buried beautifully on the far side for his first career AHL hat trick.
The Crunch appeared rattled by Toronto’s offensive outburst and were still trying to find their feet well into the final frame. It took Syracuse eight minutes to record their first shot of the third period — Pickard had to be alert to deny Erik Condra and Alexander Volkov in succession.
Before that, Toronto could have had a fifth goal but Moore’s effort was stopped and Greening was denied on the rebound.
Johnsson was robbed of a fourth goal by a fine glove save, and Syracuse came close to a second through Ty Loney before finally grabbing a late consolation marker by Volkov with 56 seconds remaining.
The Marlies finished the weekend with a pair of victories over divisional rivals and enter the All-Star break with a league-leading 32-11-1 record.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies head into the All-Star break on an 11-game points streak (10-0-1) and are unbeaten in regulation in 2018.
– Toronto leads the season series with Syracuse 5-2, with one game remaining at Ricoh Coliseum.
– A natural hat-trick for Andreas Johnsson took him to 20 goals for the season in 39 games, matching his 2016-17 haul (75 games). Johnsson is now tied for fourth in the AHL in goals.
“I think he’s really just carried forward what he did for us last year,” said Sheldon Keefe after Friday’s win over Rochester. “He was a big-time player for us last season and has carried that forward this season. Obviously, he’s got a little more experience and knows what to expect, and is able to use that as confidence. He’s just been a great player for us and is producing at a little bit of a higher rate for us this season. But he continues to be very reliable and responsible no matter what line or position or whether it’s the power play or penalty kill. Wherever we put him, he’s been excellent.”
The last player to score a hat-trick for the Marlies was Brett Findlay in Hartford on January 20, 2017.
– Kasperi Kapanen was reassigned for the purpose of playing in this one game during the NHL All-Star Break and recorded two primary assists to give him 24 points in 28 games.
– Justin Holl reached the 20-point mark with two assists, surpassing his 2016-17 tally of 19 points (8-11-19) in 72 games.
– Andreas Johnsson, Justin Holl and Sheldon Keefe now head to Utica to represent the Toronto Marlies at the AHL All-Star Classic.
– Saturday’s lines: