The Toronto Marlies recorded a sixth straight win on home ice but were made to work for it against a Binghamton team that fought until the end.
Coming off of a poor defensive performance during Friday’s win in Belleville, Toronto shored things up at the backend; while it came at the expense of creating a whole lot offensively, the Marlies found another way to win against a rested Binghamton team and extended their points streak to 15 games in the process.
The majority of the Marlies scoring chances arrived in the opening six minutes of the game: Trevor Moore struck the post following a turnover, Kerby Rychel tipped a shot just wide from the point, Miro Aaltonen looked destined to score in tight but was clearly slashed (no call), Chris Mueller was denied by an excellent shot block, and luckless Calle Rosen struck the iron for the umpteenth time this season.
Both teams had power-play opportunities with no success before a number of chances went begging inside the final 30 seconds of the opening frame. Binghamton could not convert on essentially a 3-on-1 break shorthanded before Toronto responded with a rush back the other way, where Rychel was turned aside and was unable to stuff home the rebound before the buzzer sounded.
Toronto took control of the second period, allowing just three shots on net over the middle 20.
Nikita Soshnikov, Andreas Johnsson and Aaltonen combined for the Marlies‘ first chance of the period before the deadlock was finally broken as the midway mark approached.
Mueller jumped on a giveaway before feeding Jeremy Bracco low in the right circle, where
the rookie looked up and put the puck on the tape of Andrew Nielsen’s stick as the defenseman pinched into the play at the top of the left circle. Nielsen took a second to compose himself before picking his spot past Mackenzie Blackwood.
It was almost 2-0 shortly after following a strong drive down the center of the ice from Frederik Gauthier. The big centerman drew two players toward him before dishing off to Justin Holl, whose shot produced a rebounded that Trevor Moore was unable to get on the end of with an empty net waiting.
Despite earning a pair of power play opportunities, Toronto couldn’t add to a narrow 1-0 lead through 40 minutes.
The Devils began the third period brightly, but the Marlies struck with just three minutes on the clock — Rinat Valiev launched a shot from the point that beat Blackwood all ends up, with Andreas Johnsson creating a screen in front.
That really should have been game – set – match, but an error from Nielsen allowed Binghamton to claw back within one under two minutes later. His giveaway to Jan Mandat in the right circle allowed Ben Thomson to slide home from the slot, denying Calvin Pickard his second shutout of the season.
The Marlies were able to compose themselves and carried the majority of the play until the final five minutes of regulation. The Devils created just one chance of note with the game at 2-1 when Bracken Kearns failed to get enough on a shot after a set up from Nick Lappin.
With the Binghamton net empty for the final 90 seconds, the reliable Frederik Gauthier eased the puck into the vacant cage to secure the win and extend the Marlies’ points streak to 15 games.
Post Game Notes
– A sixth successive victory on home ice (stretching back to December 31, 2017) is just two shy of that particular franchise record.
– Toronto struggled with the extra man throughout the game, failing to make any of their five power plays count.
– A pair of assists for Jeremy Bracco gives him five points (all assists) in his last two games.
– Rinat Valiev has goals in back-to-back games and has enjoyed an offensive surge in the new year with eight points (3-5-8) in 13 games since Jan. 1.
– A goal for Andrew Nielsen extends his point streak to three games (1-3-4).
“I think he’s making progress,” said Sheldon Keefe after the game. “We’re seeing signs of improvement for sure. We think there’s a ways to go and a lot of potential left in there. He’s got to continue to work and stay with the process, and we’ve got to stay on that process as well in terms of his improvement and his skill set and his conditioning. We’ve seen signs of growth in him.”
“Positionally, all over the rink, I think he’s been better. His decision-making and things like that are things that have got to continue to come and he’s got to continue to evolve on the power play. He’s in his second year in the league now and he scored a lot of goals last year; when you do that, the radar comes on you and people know who you are and they’re taking away your shot. You’ve got to find different ways to generate looks and make plays.”
“If you look at yesterday’s assist as an example, I think he’s doing a nice job on the offensive blue line and those kinds of things are coming. Defensively, he’s done a better job for us this season, but as I said, there is a lot of growth and potential left in him.”
– Ben Smith and Chris Mueller (one assist apiece) also extended their respective points streak to three games, with Mueller also hitting the 30-point mark.
– Kerby Rychel led all skaters with five shots and was unfortunate not to get himself on the score sheet. It’s been a barren spell for the winger, who is now without a goal in his last 13 games.
– Calvin Pickard was denied a shutout but posted 15 saves for his 16th win of the season in his 21st start.
– Saturday’s lines: