Despite some high profile absences, the Toronto Marlies kept their point streak intact with a victory on the road in Rochester.
The Marlies extended their point streak to 12 games (11-0-1), just one shy of tying a franchise record.
Coming out of the All-Star break, a sloppy start to this game seemed inevitable. Sure enough, both teams lacked any sort of rhythm in their play for the opening 12 minutes.
From there on in, there were a few opportunities, but both goaltenders were sharp — Garret Sparks made three excellent saves to deny Stuart Percy, Zach Redmond and Kyle Criscuolo, while Linus Ullmark robbed Frederik Gauthier on a breakaway.
A couple of late flurries to end the period saw Andreas Johnsson come closest to breaking the deadlock, but the game remained 0-0 after the opening frame.
Toronto wasted a pair of power plays inside the opening five minutes of the second period before taking the lead at the eight-minute mark, when Johnsson found Rich Clune in the heart of the slot. The veteran forward ghosted past two Amerks before completing a deft backhand finish.
After Sparks pulled off a wonderful save upon the resumption of play, the Amerks broke through three minutes later. After receiving a pass from Percy, Arvin Atwal had plenty of time to measure a shot from the right face-off dot for his first American Hockey League goal.
Less than sixty seconds later, Brian Gionta put the Americans ahead with a beautiful backhand finish on a breakaway in his Rochester debut.
At fault for the Amerks go-ahead goal, Johnsson redeemed himself 41 seconds later by firing into the top corner of the net off his backhand in tight after making a move around Percy.
Four goals inside five minutes of play were followed by a double minor penalty assessed to Trevor Moore and another infraction by Miro Aaltonen, putting Toronto down by two men for 90 seconds. Some excellent penalty killing work from Gauthier, Ben Smith, Martin Marincin and Vincent LoVerde ensured the Marlies got back to even strength unscathed.
A late save from Sparks to deny AHL All-Star C.J Smith kept the game deadlocked heading into the intermission.
After getting outshot (23-17) and mostly out-chanced through two periods, Toronto came out strong in the third and won the game in the final 20 minutes.
Despite controlling the majority of the play, the Marlies mustered six shots and just one real chance of note — for Dmytro Timashov — in the first 12 minutes of the period.
From that point on, the Marlies took full control and claimed the deciding goal inside the final five minutes. There wasn’t a whole lot of space to manoeuvre, but Moore, Johnsson and Aaltonen combined for a pretty tic-tac-toe play that resulted in Aaltonen finding the net from the blue paint.
The game was put to bed by another nicely worked goal from the Marlies — Calle Rosen found Aaltonen behind the net, where he had time to weigh up his options. With Rochester collapsing toward the net, there was space for LoVerde to pinch in and rip a one-timer past Ullmark from between the circles.
A 4-2 final means Toronto has won the last two games against Rochester and now lead the season series 3-1-0 with four games remaining.
Post Game Notes
– The Marlies penalty kill was a perfect three-for-three, including 90 seconds of a 5-on-3 kill. It’s the 29th time this season the Marlies have denied the opposition a power-play goal.
– Consecutive three points games for Andreas Johnsson (1-2-3) takes his season goal tally to 21, which is tied for third in the AHL.
“He’s just using his skills and bringing it on a consistent basis,” said Sheldon Keefe after the game. “Very talented guy, but he works. He’s in the right spots all the time. He made a mistake on the second goal there today and then he just comes back his next shift to make a big play to tie it up for us. That’s the kind of player he is — a resilient guy and just very responsible, and a very big part of our team.”
– A game-winning goal and an assist for Miro Aaltonen broke a six-game pointless slump.
– Nikita Soshnikov assisted on Johnsson’s goal and looked sharp until understandably fading as the night wore on in his first meaningful game action since late November.
“I thought he was good,” said Keefe. “When he had the puck, he was strong on it and protected it really well. There were times you could tell he didn’t have the legs. We played him a lot today, kind of on purpose, to have him fight through those kinds of things. But I thought he was good. He has better, but for a guy who hasn’t played in a long time, I think today was a positive step for him.”
– Rich Clune scored just his second goal of the season, his first coming way back on the opening weekend in early October. He also dropped the gloves early in the third period after frequently engaging with Devante Stephens throughout the game.
– Garret Sparks posted 26 saves for his 18th win of the season.
– Alex Gudbranson made his season debut after being called up from Orlando. He was paired with Andrew Nielsen and put on a solid, low-key performance.
– Travis Dermott, Justin Holl or Kasperi Kapanen are all absent due to call-ups.
– Also absent were Timothy Liljegren, Adam Brooks, Jeremy Bracco and Mason Marchment, all of whom were left in Toronto. The latter three are expected to dress for Saturday’s game against Laval, while Liljegren is banged up a little, as per Sheldon Keefe, and will not play this weekend.
– Friday’s lines: