The Toronto Marlies recorded their 20th home win on the back of Garret Sparks’ sixth shutout of the season against the Springfield Thunderbirds on Sunday.
This was an excellent defensive performance from the Marlies, who certainly responded with a far tighter brand of hockey than the two previous encounters against Belleville over the weekend.
Amid a bright start for the Marlies, Jeremy Bracco forced a sharp save out of Samuel Montembeault just 2:30 into the game on a nice set up from Derian Plouffe.
Springfield responded with a breakaway opportunity 60 seconds later, but Garret Sparks got the better of Anthony Greco.
The deadlock was broken near the eight-minute mark when Toronto struck on the game’s first power play. Playing his third AHL game and second since signing an ATO, big winger Pierre Engvall slotted home a rebound after Miro Aaltonen was denied on a perfect feed from Bracco.
A second power play for the Marlies went for naught before the Thunderbirds wasted an excellent opportunity of their own to level the score. After getting tugged down by Engvall when through on goal, Francois Beauchemin stepped up for the penalty shot and wired his effort wide of the target.
The first man advantage for Springfield only resulted in shorthanded chances for Aaltonen and Moore, who were both turned aside by Montembeault as the period came to a close.
After killing the remainder of the penalty to begin the second frame, Toronto really turned the screw in the middle 20, with the bulk of the play taking place inside the Springfield zone.
Despite the extended offensive zone time, the Marlies weren’t able to build on their lead, with Adam Brooks denied after a set-up from Chris Mueller, while Engvall’s snapshot from the high slot was met by a pad save from Montembeault.
Springfield’s first scoring chance of note came around the midway point when a turnover in the Marlies zone presented the puck to Greco, but Sparks again stepped up to the plate and denied the right winger of a tying marker.
A plethora of penalties ensued, but Sparks wasn’t overly troubled barring a sharp double save to deny Tim Erixon and Greco on the rebound. The Thunderbirds best scoring chance of the period fell to Chase Balisy, who proceeded to miss the target while alone in the slot.
Snake-bitten of late, Mueller was robbed of a goal as Montembeault produced a scrambling save to deny the veteran forward from doubling Toronto’s lead, with neither team able to make the extra man count.
In another bright start to a period, Toronto dominated proceedings early in the final frame of regulation. An effort from Engvall just 14 seconds in set the tone, but a second Marlies goal wasn’t forthcoming.
Two power plays went to waste and Dmytro Timashov should have done better than to fire high into the chest of Montembeault, who challenged the shooter at the top of his crease.
The Marlies were well-organized defensively, however, and gave up just four shots on Sparks throughout the third period.
The best opportunity for the Thunderbirds fell to Bobby Farnham on a quick transition play down the right side, but Sparks moved well from left-to-right and easily made the right pad save to keep the 1-0 lead intact.
There were chances for Ben Smith, Justin Holl, and Hunter Fejes to put the game out of reach, but Montembeault was just as sharp at the other end of the ice.
With the goaltender pulled in the final two minutes, debutant Scott Pooley iced game as his perfectly-measured a shot from inside the Toronto zone put the two points out of reach at 2-0.
With Springfield finishing the game on a 6-on-4 power play, Sparks’ last save of note came with 30 seconds left, securing his sixth shutout of the year and claiming a new single-season franchise record in the process.
Post Game Notes
– A 20th home victory saw Toronto reach the 96-point mark for the season with nine games remaining. Another 100-point campaign appears firmly in the cards.
– The Marlies’ penalty kill is back to 90% after going a perfect four for four. This was the 45th game of the season that Toronto has not allowed a power play goal.
– Pierre Engvall was a standout performer in his second game, playing on the left alongside Miro Aaltonen and Trevor Moore. He took his goal nicely, could easily have added to his haul, and looks set to keep his place in the line-up as the season heads toward the playoffs.
“I’ve liked Pierre through the two games that he’s played so far,” said Sheldon Keefe. “We’ll see more of him the rest of the way.”
– Miro Aaltonen has points in three consecutive games (2-1-3) following his assist on the game-winner.
– Garret Sparks posted 20 saves for his sixth shutout this season. He now owns a 27-9-1-1 record and is two wins shy of tying Drew MacIntyre for most wins by a Toronto Marlies goaltender in a single season.
– Scott Pooley scored an empty net insurance goal on debut and put in a great night of work on a line with Hunter Fejes and Colin Greening. The trio combined for eight shots, with Pooley recording a team-high four attempts on goal.
“I thought that line worked,” said Keefe. “They skated. Those are the type of players they are — they really work. I thought those guys gave us good minutes when called on.”
– Jeremy Bracco now has an assist in three consecutive games with the second helper on Engvall‘s goal.
– Sunday’s lines: