Garret Sparks recorded his fifth shutout of the season as the Toronto Marlies swept aside Laval for the second time in the space of three days with a 4-0 victory at the Ricoh Coliseum on Wednesday night.
It was far from a victory built on the shoulders of their goaltender, however, as Toronto produced a well-structured 60 minutes that only lacked killer instinct in front of goal in the first 40 minutes.
The Marlies got off to the best possible start, surging ahead with 16 seconds on the clock, when goaltender Michael McNiven got all twisted around in his crease and Martin Marincin tee’d up Colin Greening for a tap-in.
Laval’s goaltender redeemed himself somewhat three minutes later by denying Adam Brooks point blank after a set up from Greening.
Back-to-back power plays for the Marlies failed to produce a second goal and a late surge in the period from the Rocket was a swift reminder that the game was far from over.
The middle frame didn’t see any additions to the score line but it wasn’t for a lack of opportunity.
There were consecutive power plays inside the opening five minutes for the Marlies, with their best opportunities coming on the second man advantage. Jeremy Bracco rang a shot off the crossbar while another couple of scrambles in front of McNiven didn’t quite fall.
Back at even strength, Justin Holl had all the time in the world to stroll into the high slot with seven minutes played but his stinging shot crashed against the iron, rebounded into the back of McNiven, and stayed out.
Laval responded from the latest near escape by almost tying up the game following a rare Toronto breakdown. Niki Petti was all alone in on Sparks, but the Marlies winningest goaltender of all-time turned him aside to keep the lead intact.
Toronto then found themselves on the penalty kill twice in the second half of the period. The league’s number-one PK held firm, giving Sparks very little work to do, and the Marlies carried their slender lead into the final frame of regulation.
An early goal seemed to break the will of Laval as Toronto struck just two minutes into the finale frame.
Brooks led a rush down the right before pulling up on the half-wall and dishing the puck off to Vincent LoVerde just inside the blue line. The defenseman’s one-timer may have deflected off of a Laval player in front before finding its way into the net.
Further chances fell to Ben Smith, Trevor Moore and Brooks, but McNiven was holding the fort as best he could up until just before the midway point of the period.
Holl was battling for the puck along the back wall and was dumped to the ice, with Chris Muller on hand in support. Once Holl quickly regained his feet, he grabbed possession and found Rich Clune out in front for a tap-in finish.
Despite a 3-0 lead, there were no signs of a let-up from Toronto, who proceeded to draw a penalty and strike a fourth on the resulting power play.
Moments after Mueller whiffed on a fantastic one-timer opportunity, Bracco found Mason Marchment parked in front and the big man worked the puck to his forehand before firing on net. McNiven made the initial stop but LoVerde jumped on the rebound for his second of the game.
The only question left to answer in the final three minutes was whether Toronto and Sparks could shut the door and clinch the shutout. Sparks produced one of his best saves of the game with 21 seconds remaining to preserve the clean sheet as Toronto coasted to their fourth consecutive victory.
Post Game Notes
– During their current four-game win streak, Toronto has scored four times in each victory while giving up just a combined five goals against.
– In what was very much a team win, 10 different Marlies registered at least a point, with four recorded by defensemen. Defenseman Vincent LoVerde has found his offensive touch of late with three goals and four points through the last three games.
– A pair of assists for Mason Marchment sees him surpass the 20-point mark (9-12-21) in what was his 35th game of his rookie AHL season, while linemates Adam Brooks and Jeremy Bracco also got on the scoresheet with an assist apiece.
“I just like that all three of them have some skill, and we need some of that in our lineup right now,” said Sheldon Keefe. “We need some guys that can make some plays and create some offense for us. They did that in bunches today at different times. They didn’t get rewarded for it necessarily, but I thought it was a good game for them again.”
– Colin Greening scored for the third consecutive game giving him 16 for the year, which is an AHL single-season high for the veteran forward. It was also his fifth game winner. The Marlies are a perfect 12-0 when Greening scores.
– Garret Sparks posted 31 saves for his 24th win on the year. He now owns a 1.78 GAA, a .936 save percentage, and tied the single-season franchise record with his fifth shutout.
– Derian Plouffe made his Marlies debut in the fourth-line center spot and certainly didn’t look out of place. The fourth line only really found themselves hemmed in on one occasion and the rookie forward nearly opened his account during one of many scrambles in front of McNiven.
“I thought he did well,” said Keefe. “[With the special teams time] he probably didn’t get as much as ice as we would’ve liked to have given him, but I thought, once he got going and we got rolling the lines a little bit, he worked and skated hard. He was hard on the puck and he’s good on faceoffs. I thought it was a good debut for him.”
– Wednesday’s lines:
Moore – Mueller – Smith
Greening – Gauthier – Baun
Marchment – Brooks – Bracco
Timashov – Plouffe – Clune
Marincin – Holl
Borgman – Liljegren
Nielsen – LoVerde