The Toronto Marlies climbed back to the .500 mark with their best performance of the young season.
The Marlies limited the visiting Syracuse Crunch to just 19 shots and could have easily padded the 4-1 scoreline if not for some puck luck and excellent goaltending, but they will take a lot of confidence from this performance heading into a five-game road trip.
Both teams were guilty of some sloppiness in their overall play through the opening half of the first period, with passes going astray and a power play wasted apiece. Toronto’s best early opportunities came while shorthanded through Trevor Moore and Josh Jooris.
Crunch netminder Eddie Pasquale produced a wonderful save to deny Vincent LoVerde after initially sliding the wrong way before Pasquale was solved for the first time with 13 minutes played. An offensive zone faceoff win led to rookie Rasmus Sandin taking possession on the blue line, where put the puck toward the net and was rewarded with a deflection off Hubert Labrie for his first AHL goal in his debut.
The Marlies doubled their advantage just a couple of minutes later. Chris Mueller seized on an attempted pass across the defensive blue line by Dominik Masin, breaking in alone and sniping far side off the iron and past Pasquale.
It was all one-way traffic for the Marlies until they gift-wrapped a goal for Syracuse with under two minutes to play in the period. Jeff Glass should have rattled the puck around the boards under pressure but instead put Timothy Liljegren in a bad spot. The Swedish defenseman should have made a better play than the no-look pass he made behind him, and the Crunch’s Taylor Raddysh took advantage on a setup from Mitchell Stephens.
Trevor Moore really should have restored the two-goal lead late in the period, but he was robbed by a highlight reel glove save from Pasquale.
The Marlies added to their lead just 21 seconds into the middle frame — a stretch pass from Trevor Moore sent Calle Rosen off to the races down the right side on a 2-on-1 break. The defenseman pulled up before dishing a perfect pass to Mason Marchment, who pulled the puck forehand to backhand and finished with a measured chip.
The Marlies were dominant in the middle frame but wasted a number of scoring opportunities. Several power plays, including 1:44 of a 5-on-3, failed to produce enough scoring chances to really test Pasquale between the pipes.
They also nearly extended their lead after a penalty kill when Dmytro Timashov jumped out of the box for a breakaway, but the Swedish winger was turned aside, as was Mueller on the second attempt after Timashov filtered the puck back toward the slot.
Carrying a two-goal lead through 40 minutes, the Marlies needed to stay aggressive and did just that, attacking the Crunch in waves. In the opening five minutes, Timashov alone could have had a hat-trick, striking the crossbar with his first attempt before forcing Pasquale into two sharp saves following initial good work from Adam Cracknell.
Glass was only called into action to deny Colton Ross on a rebound effort; that was as close as Syracuse came to making a game of it before the Marlies secured the win with nine minutes remaining.
Trevor Moore scored with an instinctive poke from the slot after a one-time shot from the left half-wall by Andreas Borgman produced a rebound.
Post Game Notes
– This was a third consecutive victory built on solid defense, as the Marlies have only given up four goals in their last 180 minutes of hockey.
“Clearly, we have been a lot more organized and have played more as a team of late,” said Sheldon Keefe. “At times, we were a little careless with the puck or didn’t execute the way we wanted to, but we just feel like we’re playing the way we want to. We are in position the way that we want to be… We’re on the same page here now as a group.”
– A goal on debut for Rasmus Sandin was just the icing on the cake for the young defenseman. Given sheltered minutes and paired with the highly-experienced Vincent LoVerde, Sandin drew two penalties and visibly grew in confidence as the game progressed, playing with poise beyond his years. I’d expect the Marlies staff to pick and chose which games he features in, but this was a highly encouraging start.
“I think it’s definitely unique, and poised is the right word for him,” said Keefe. “He’s very calm. He doesn’t waste an ounce of energy when he’s on the ice. He’s very much in control, and a lot of that comes from his brain. Just the way that he works mentally and the way he processes things is very good, and that allows him to be comfortable in his surroundings.”
– It took Trevor Moore until February 3rd last season to score his seventh goal. He already has seven in nine games this year and remains the team’s leading scorer with ten points. Six of his seven goals have been scored at evens and the other was a shorthanded marker.
– Calle Rosen was a standout on the blue line. One minute he was breaking up a Syracuse attack and the next he’d be leading a rush back the other way. His positioning was sound, which is a great sign, and he took his points tally to eight on the season with a seventh assist.
– Jordan Subban has seemingly settled down in the last couple of games, making solid and simple rather than spectacular plays inside his own zone. That’s led to more o-zone time for the defenseman, who led all skaters with five shots in this game.
– Chris Mueller saw his five-game point streak come to an end in the victory over Laval, but he responded with the game-winner and an assist in this outing. That’s eight points in seven games for the veteran forward, who is shooting 23% on the season.
– Friday’s lines:
Grundstrom – Mueller – Bracco
Timashov – Cracknell – Gagner
Marchment – Jooris – Moore
Engvall – Greening – Molino
Rosen – Liljegren
Borgman – Subban
Sandin – LoVerde