The Toronto Marlies fell to their second loss in four games with a 5-2 defeat to the Hershey Bears on Family Day at the Air Canada Centre.
The Marlies only had themselves to blame as they squandered a bunch of good scoring opportunities and were made to pay for a lapse in concentration during the second period.
The 14,000+ present at the ACC were nearly celebrating a goal inside 90 seconds as Mason Marchment used his long reach to almost finish off a wraparound attempt.
Toronto then opened the scoring just before the seven-minute mark on the game’s first power play. It came via a pretty hilarious broken play, with two Hershey Bears players colliding in the slot and the puck bouncing and deflecting off a couple of more before falling for Miro Aaltonen to slam home.
A second Marlies power play lacked a finishing element but not zone time as Toronto kept the pressure on Hershey throughout. Jeremy Bracco set up Adams Brooks back at even strength, but goaltender Phoenix Copley came up with a great save to deny the rookie. Timothy Liljegren then saw his shot from the high slot blocked, while Calle Rosen was unable to control a pass when alone in front of net.
The Bears manufactured a push to end the period and had a prime chance to level the score, but Garret Sparks came up with his best save of the period to deny Zach Sill on a breakaway following an outlet pass that split the Marlies defense, preserving Toronto’s 1-0 lead through 20 minutes.
The Marlies were back on the front-foot to begin the middle frame and really should have increased their advantage.
Aaltonen was denied on a breakaway, Brooks fired wide from a promising position, and Rosen’s blistering shot couldn’t solve Copley. Ben Smith, Andreas Borgman and Chris Mueller were also turned aside by a combination of brave shot blocking and excellent goaltending from Hershey.
The bend-but-not-break efforts by the visitors were rewarded with a tying goal at the four-minute mark. Hershey won a defensive zone face-off and proceeded to storm up the ice, holding fort inside the Marlies zone before a shot from the point by Tyler Lewington was tipped home by Tyler Graovac.
Wayne Simpson almost immediately put the Bears ahead if not for a glove save from Sparks before a breakdown by the Marlies defense at the Bears blue line allowed a 2-on-1 break. Hershey was not able to capitalize immediately, but they out-battled the Marlies in the slot and scored on the extra effort through Jeremy Langlois.
A following power play for the Marlies only resulted in some sloppy play and almost a short-handed marker against before Hershey scored their third goal in a six-minute span on a man advantage of their own. Nathan Walker redirected the puck home from the slot after some sharp puck movement by the Hershey power play for his fourth goal of the season.
Aaltonen should have buried a rebound to bring the Marlies within one, but Copley made a miraculous save to keep the two-goal advantage intact.
With the ACC ice in a state of disrepair, the second intermission arrived early and gave Sheldon Keefe an early chance to get his troops reset.
Hershey almost tallied a fourth Hershey goal at the immediate resumption of the game and the third period.
Travis Boyd was left frustrated by a wonderful save from Sparks, who moved sharply from right to left to turn Boyd aside. Dmytro Timashov then proceeded to fire the puck directly out of play to put the Marlies down a man, but that ended up bringing about a shorthanded goal and some hope for Toronto.
After a 3-on-2 rush developed down the right wing, Rinat Valiev applied the finishing touch to Aaltonen’s perfect cross-ice feed.
Toronto killed the remainder of the penalty and had chances to tie the game back at 5v5. Timashov and Johnsson should have combined for a goal, but each deferred to the other and Copley wasn’t tested. At the six-minute mark, Borgman let fly from the right circle from a tight angle and beat Copley but not the crossbar.
After a power play for the Marlies also failed to deliver a tying goal, the offense dried up as Hershey did an excellent job of shutting the game down.
The Bears secured victory with a pair of late empty-net goals for Liam O’Brien that owed more to Marlies players losing their footing on the terrible ice than anything else.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto’s winning streak on “home ice” came to an end at seven.
– Despite losing two of their last three games, the Marlies remain atop the AHL standings with five more victories than their nearest competitor.
– Miro Aaltonen has now recorded consecutive multi-point games (1-1-2) and also registered his 20th assist of the season. He has 12 points (6-6-12) in his last seven games and has moved ahead of Chris Mueller to third in team scoring.
– Rinat Valiev extended his points streak to six games (4-2-6) with his fifth goal of the campaign.
– This is the first time Garret Sparks has suffered back-to-back defeats since late December, but he was not at fault in this loss. His numbers are still mightily impressive with a 20-8-1 record, 1.78 GAA and a .938 save percentage.
– Monday’s lines: