Garret Sparks and the power play were the difference makers as the Toronto Marlies recorded their ninth victory of the season against Laval.

Sheldon Keefe was far from pleased from his team’s effort, however, as the final score line frankly flattered Toronto: “We only won because our goalie was better than theirs.”

First Period

The Marlies were off the pace as Laval controlled the opening ten minutes, outshooting Toronto 8-1.

After Sparks’ eighth save — his best in the early going — a cheap penalty halted Laval’s momentum. Pierre Engvall was denied by Charlie Lindgren twice on the ensuing power play before Laval opened the scoring with 14 minutes played.

Just five seconds into the Rocket’s first power play, Adam Cracknell won the faceoff back to Matt Taormina, who shifted the puck to Chris Terry, and Terry’s shot gave a screened Sparks no chance.

Chris Mueller almost immediately responded but hit the post before Toronto replied with a power play strike of their own.

From around the left faceoff dot, Engvall took a pass from Timothy Liljegren and fired a low shot through traffic to tie the game at 1-1 through 20 minutes.

Second Period

Opening the middle frame on another Marlies power play, Engvall came close to netting a second, but the Marlies were largely reliant on Sparks to keep them in the game in the middle 20.

Laval pushed the pace at the midway mark, dominating possession and offensive zone time for a solid two minutes. Sparks made 15 saves through the second period, but like in the first period, a cheap penalty from Laval halted their momentum and cost them on the ensuing penalty kill.

Trevor Moore drove into the circle from his off wing and pulled the puck onto his forehand for a quick release that found the far-side top corner of Lindgren’s net.

Toronto went on to extend their advantage with their best piece of play throughout the game. Jeremy Bracco, Brady Ferguson and Engvall swung the puck from one side to the other behind the net before Bracco picked out a pinching Vincent LoVerde. The veteran defenseman — in excellent scoring form of late — wired home a one-time finish from the top of the circle.

The Rocket were unfortunate not to halve the deficit on a power play to finish the period, as Terry’s attempt struck the post with Sparks beaten.

Third Period

Despite trailing by two, the Rocket weren’t disheartened and could easily have gotten themselves back into the game three minutes into the final frame. Markus Eisenschmid was denied in tight by Sparks after a chipped pass split the Marlies defense.

A scrum ensued afterward in which Laval took another undisciplined penalty; while Toronto couldn’t find a fourth on the man advantage, the power play appeared to provide some momentum as the Marlies began to play a little more like the number-one team in the league.

Colin Greening and Kyle Baun combined, but Lindgren kept the latter off the board with a terrific sprawling effort to keep Laval in the game.

Sparks then had to answer at the other end with a series of spectacular saves, including daylight robbery on Jeremy Gregoire, who appeared to have an easy tap-in opportunity.

The last of those saves resulted in a line brawl after the Rocket crashed and banged at Sparks. When play resumed, the Marlies formalized the direction of the two points.

A shot from former Marlie Kerby Rychel was deflected in front; Sparks made the initial save before Holl cleared the rebound laying just above the blue paint. 30 seconds later, Andreas Borgman collected possession inside his own zone, swept around his own net, traveled the length of the ice, and skated a circle around the Laval zone.

Finding some space high in the slot, Borgman completed the highlight-of-the-night sequence to make it a 4-1 game.

The remainder of the encounter was no oil painting, as there were penalties galore and some nastiness, including a slew foot from Matt Petgrave. Ben Smith rounded out the scoring with a shorthanded empty-net goal created by good work from Greening as Toronto secured their 21st home victory on the year.

Post Game Notes

– The Marlies lead the season series against Laval 9-1-0 with two games still to play. They’re now up to 98 points with a chance to hit the 100-mark in Manitoba with a pair of games against the Moose this weekend.

– Toronto went two for seven on the power play and have scored 14 goals with the man advantage in the 10 games against Laval this season.

Garret Sparks posted 38 saves, the highest number he’s recorded in a victory this season, and now sits at 28-9-2 with a .938 save percentage.

– A trio of assists for Jeremy Bracco gives him 20 assists on the season. It was the second three-point haul of his season and also extended his current points streak to four games (0-6-6).

“He made plays consistently when he had the puck and set some guys up,” said Keefe. “That’s what he does well. But there is a lot that goes on in a hockey game — not just what shows up on the scoresheet.”

Pierre Engvall has now scored in back-to-back games on the power play and has a point in each of his three games thus far (2-1-3).

“I think it’s coming,” said Keefe. “There are pieces of his game we want him to continue to work at and improve on, but the fact that he’s able to produce is a positive sign. We’re going to continue to take a lot of looks at him.”

Keefe mentioned the coaching staff wants Engvall to use his size to his advantage a little more to get to the net.

“His goals have come on the power play and he’s gotten points from the flank, but at even strength, we’d like him to get to the inside and like him to use his body to protect the puck a little bit better. But he’s adjusting well.”

Brady Ferguson registered his first professional/AHL point with the secondary helper on the third Marlies goal.

Vincent LoVerde now has five goals in his last ten games and seven on the season.

“Our depth on defense has taken a hit this year with the loss of Dermott and Valiev,” said Keefe. “He’s done well for us. We’ve asked him to help on the power play a little bit. He’s chipped in there. He’s been a mainstay on the PK all year. He’s a good veteran player who has won before and he’s a leader and a popular teammate. It’s good to see him chip in.”

– The highlight reel goal from Andreas Borgman gives the defenseman six points in his last 12 games.

“I think he’s coming, but I don’t think he’s playing at the level he’s capable of or found his groove yet in this league,” said Keefe. “We think he can be better. It’s tough mentally when you come down from the NHL. Not only do you have to make adjustments to the league — you’ve got a lot of things on your mind. We’re just hoping he can clear his head and get back to playing. The goal he scored is a good step in that direction.”

– Wednesday’s lines:




Game Highlights

Post-Game: Sheldon Keefe