The Toronto Marlies remain in a funk at the Ricoh Coliseum after falling to their fourth consecutive defeat on home ice to the Syracuse Crunch on Wednesday.

The Marlies certainly had their hands full with an in-form Crunch team that had won seven of their last eight entering the game. The Marlies struggled with their puck management at times and fed into Syracuse’ dangerous transition game, creating a hill to climb despite a pretty strong 40+ shot performance by Toronto.

First Period

The Crunch should have built themselves a lead through 20 minutes.

A turnover from Timothy Liljegren up the right boards in the defensive zone allowed Jonne Tammela to drive to the net unattended, but Garret Sparks bailed his defenseman out. The Crunch then came really close on the following power play as Alexander Volkov was denied in tight and then struck the crossbar, with Marlies penalty kill looking like a shadow of its usual self.

Andreas Borgman was the next Marlie guilty of a dangerous turnover, but Mathieu Joseph was stonewalled by Sparks.

The Marlies finally found their feet at the six-minute mark when Andreas Johnsson tested Eddie Pasquale after good initial work from Dmytro Timashov. Further efforts on the following shift were blocked in front, and Toronto was unfortunate not to score on a power play of their own that included two crazy scrambles in the crease.

Mason Marchment failed to make a 2-on-1 break count before Kyle Baun cut in from the left wing to create a rebound opportunity that Colin Greening couldn’t capitalize on. In-between times, Sparks was continuing to frustrate Syracuse with a robbery on Daniel Walcott.

The Marlies headed into the intermission with the lead after converting on a give-and-go between Ben Smith and Johnsson at the 19:27 mark. The Swedish winger used a change of pace to round the Syracuse defense and lay out a tap-in for the Marlies captain.

Second Period

Toronto’s advantage lasted only 30 seconds into the middle frame, and soon after, the the Marlies fell behind.

After possession turned over in the offensive zone, four Marlies players were caught deep and on the wrong side of the puck as Syracuse transitioned the other way. Anthony Cirelli had the simple task of caressing the puck into the cage on a feed from Joseph, with Sparks helplessly outnumbered.

At the five-minute mark, after Toronto gave up yet another odd man rush, Dumont dropped the puck back to the trailing man on the play. After Sparks made the first save on Ben Thomas’ shot, Cirelli again had the easiest of finishes to put Syrachuse ahead 2-1.

The Crunch held the lead through 40 minutes third period despite a handful of opportunities for Toronto late in the period. Johnsson glanced the post with his effort following a give-and-go with Jeremy Bracco on the power play. Bracco was then denied himself after a nice set-up play from Trevor Moore, with Vincent LoVerde somehow unable to convert on the rebound.

On their second power play of the period, Toronto came closest through Liljegren, who rang one attempt off the post and brought a save out of Pasquale with another.

Third Period

A bright start to the third period saw Toronto draw a penalty, but the hosts quickly found themselves trailing 3-1 after the man advantage expired.

With the Marlies a mess in their own zone, Syracuse cycled the puck with ease and Dumont stepped out from behind the net uncontested before picking out a perfect cross-crease feed that was tipped in by Dennis Yan.

The Crunch should have put theg ame out of reach, but Cirelli and Dumont couldn’t bury on a couple of scoring opportunities.

At the midway mark, Toronto scored against the run of play to give themselves a chance at a comeback. During 4-on-4 action, Smith dug out a loose puck along the boards and found  Andreas Borgman all alone in the slot. The Swedish defenseman made no mistake past Pasquale glove side.

With their tails up, the Marlies were now throwing everything they could toward the Syracuse net. The Marlies had kill a penalty before finishing regulation with two power plays in the final five minute.

On the second man advantage, Sparks was pulled for the extra attacker in a last ditch-attempt for a tying goal. Timashov and Liljegren worked the puck around at the top of the umbrella before Johnsson’s shot on goal was tipped in front by Smith and the rebound fell kindly for Chris Mueller, who was standing by the side of the goal to draw Toronto level with 33 seconds remaining.

In overtime, Toronto’s captain almost clinched the game with an individual effort inside 20 seconds, but Syracuse went on to claim the extra point in rather disappointing fashion from the Marlies’ point of view — Joseph cut through all three Marlies skaters more-or-less untouched before finishing with aplomb to end the game.

Post Game Notes

Andreas Johnsson led the way with nine shots on goal and must have been wondering how he failed to find the net. He did post two assists, however, taking his season tally to 51 points (23-28-51) in 50 games and capping an incredible month of February with 19 points in 11 games. He’s been awarded player of the month honours for his efforts.

“We’ve come to expect Johnny to be a real difference maker,” said Sheldon Keefe. “When we’re playing against a good team in a tight game, we’re going to lean on him even more. Losing Aaltonen puts a little more on his shoulders and he feels that, but I think he wants it, too. He wants to be a difference maker and I thought he was excellent today.”

Johnsson currently sits second in AHL points scoring.

Ben Smith had a hand in every goal (1-2-3) after replacing Miro Aaltonen as the team’s top line center with Aaltonen on the shelf.

Chris Mueller scored his fourth goal in three games. That’s 14 on the year, with half of those accrued on the power play.

Kyle Baun made his debut and registered three shots on net. A right-handed shot, Baun made a good first impression on the right wing of a line with Colin Greening and Frederik Gauthier.

“He gave us some real good shifts and had some good chances,” said Keefe. “He had some good shots and played with good energy. We’re going to ease him into this as he gets comfortable with us and we get comfortable with him, but I liked what we saw today.”

Justin Holl returned to action wearing a bubble mask and it appears as if he’ll take a game or two to get back up to speed.

Miro Aaltonen has been confirmed to be suffering from a concussion and is considered out indefinitely at this juncture.

– Healthy scratches were Andrew Nielsen and Jean Dupuy.

– This game concluded the season series between the teams, with Toronto holding a 5-2-1 record against Syracuse.

– This was the first overtime loss for the Marlies this season and their fourth consecutive defeat on home ice.

– Following the trade that moved Rinat Valiev and Kerby Rychel to the Laval Rocket in exchange for Kyle Baun, Keefe spoke of the process of developing assets for the big club:

“Our job is to develop players — whether it’s players that go up to the Leafs as callups and help in the season, or guys that are going to play down the line, or in some cases, you’re developing assets for the organization. There is no room for everybody, especially on the type of team the Leafs have. You need to develop players that can help the team, whether that’s on the ice or to make moves to help make different acquisitions. That’s the priority number one. We’ve been able to do that here in a winning environment. I think that’s important for the people here and it helps the development part of it. With that, the organization has committed to bringing in good veterans and giving us a lot of resources around here to make the players and the team better.”

– Wednesday’s lines:




Game Highlights

Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe