Garret Sparks became the winningest goaltender in franchise history as the Toronto Marlies recorded a third consecutive victory with a 4-1 win over the Laval Rocket on Monday night.
Back at the ACC for the final time this season, Toronto was rarely troubled by the Rocket thanks to a stellar defensive performance that limited Laval to just 21 shots on net through 60 minutes.
The Marlies were frustrated early on as Mason Marchment and Chris Mueller struck the iron either side of goaltender Zach Fucale inside the opening four minutes.
It took the over ten minutes for Laval to register their first shot on net, with Sparks only called into any action of note shortly after the midway point with a good save to deny Adam Cracknell.
On a rush back the other way from Toronto, Ben Smith would have been odds on to score had he been able to corral the puck on his backhand alone in the slot.
A swift transition play from the Marlies resulted in a 3-on-1 break and the first goal of the game at the 14:30 mark. Trevor Moore, the trailer on the rush, scored his ninth of the season from the slot, with Kyle Baun picking up his first point as a Marlie with the primary assist.
The lead lasted just 30 seconds, however, as Laval found the net with 15 minutes played.
The Marlies were caught out as a lofted pass from Matt Taormina took four players out of the equation, and on the ensuing odd-man rush, Cracknell beat Sparks with a perfectly-placed shot that clipped the far post on its way in.
Unperturbed by the tying goal, the Marlies responded quickly to reclaim the lead through 20 minutes.
Dmytro Timashov drove into the offensive zone before dropping the puck back for the on-rushing Colin Greening. The veteran forward surged into the left circle before ripping a wrist shot past the glove hand of Fucale.
The second period was more notable for penalties than scoring chances, as the officials sent four players to the box inside the opening five minutes and neither team could capitalize with the extra man or during 4-on-4 action.
Toronto set about re-establishing their dominance at the midway mark and went on test Fucale on 12 occasions without success.
Laval’s best opportunity fell to Jordan Boucher with three minutes remaining, but Sparks denied him with a spectacular left toe save to keep the Marlies‘ lead stayed intact through 40 minutes.
A half-chance for defenseman Tom Parisi was as close as the Rocket came to tying the game up before Toronto extended their advantage less than six minutes into the third period.
It was a beautiful power play goal for the ACC crowd to enjoy as Moore and Mueller combined to tee up Andreas Johnsson for his 26th on the year. What didn’t appear on the score sheet was the excellent puck retrieval on separate occasions from Johnsson and Smith that made the goal possible.
Laval only really threatened the Toronto net once the game entered the final eight minutes, but again Sparks was on hand to make three key saves to keep the Rocket off the board.
The result never really looked in doubt and was put to bed with Fucale pulled from his net for the extra attacker. Smith could easily have scored himself but put a goal on a platter for Justin Holl to cement a 4-1 victory as Toronto extended their lead to seven points in the North Division and remain at the top of the AHL standings.
Post Game Notes
– Andreas Johnsson kept up his point-per-game pace through 54 outings with his 26th goal of the season. Nobody on the Marlies roster deserves a call-up more than him, and he should be a great fit on Kasperi Kapanen’s opposite wing as the two built a great deal of chemistry at the AHL level.
The shot in the arm the Leafs are hoping Johnsson will provide to their second power-play unit was well demonstrated on the third-period power play goal — as Mike Babcock mentioned yesterday, Johnsson is a composed finisher from the slot area and his competitiveness helps with puck retrievals down low.
– A power play goal in three straight games for Toronto, and five overall, improves the strike rate to over 17% — it’s now moved up to 15th in the league.
– The 72nd win of his AHL career means Garret Sparks surpasses Justin Pogge as the all-time leader in franchise victories. He’s now 23-8-2 this season with a .934 save percentage.
– With the lone helper one the empty net goal, Ben Smith stretched his points streak to seven games and took his season tally to 49 points in 60 games.
– A three-point haul for Trevor Moore, who continues to be a little feast or famine with his production this season. That’s five points in three games for the second-year winger after recording just a pair of assists in the previous nine games.
– A first Toronto point for Kyle Baun, who assisted on the opening goal of the game. He’s been quietly impressive in his first five games and he looks capable of providing much more offensively once he fully settles into the team.
– Chris Mueller has recorded at least a point in six of his last seven games and is a key cog in the team’s recent power play success. That was his 15th PP assist and 22nd PP point of the season.
– Colin Greening has scored in back-to-back games to give the veteran forward 15 goals on the season. He’s been ultra consistent this year after up-and-down production last season and he’s continued to be an excellent role model for the younger guys on the roster.
– Monday’s lineup:
Johnsson – Mueller – Smith
Moore – Gauthier – Baun
Timashov – Greening – Clune
Marchment – Brooks – Bracco
Marincin – Holl
Borgman – Liljegren
Nielsen – Rosen