For the majority of this season, it’s often been special teams that have let the Toronto Marlies down when it mattered most.
That changed in a big way on Saturday in Manitoba when a potent power play and a stoic penalty kill paved the way for a second Marlies straight victory over a Manitoba team short on confidence.
After their embarrassment on home ice the night before, it was inevitable that Manitoba would come out fast, and they certainly held a possession and zone time advantage in the early stages.
Making his Marlies debut between the pipes was Michael Garteig, whose nerves were settled by a nice pad save 30 seconds in followed by an even better stop to deny Kristian Riechel on a partial breakaway three minutes later.
Toronto’s penalty kill was called into action at the eight-minute mark and did an excellent job of keeping the Moose power play to the outside, with Garteig not heavily tested.
The Marlies then broke the game open with a pair of power plays goals in a 13-second span. Trevor Moore completed a tic-tac-toe movement with a top-shelf finish up and over Mikhail Berdin and then turned provider for Chris Mueller as Toronto netted on 5-on-3 and 5-on-4 opportunities.
A second penalty kill from the Marlies meant they carried a 2-0 lead into the intermission and they built on that with an early strike in the middle frame.
Carl Grundstrom took possession at his own blue line and stormed up the ice unopposed before firing a bullet of a wrist shot from the right face-off dot that went far post and in — a good individual effort that will hopefully encourage the left winger to shoot the puck more than he has of late (combined five shots in last five outings).
The Marlies were unable to build on the momentum of the third goal; instead, consecutive penalties meant their backs were against the wall, including facing 23 seconds of a two-man disadvantage.
Garteig stepped up to the plate with four keys saves, including a couple of tricky deflected shots that could easily have wrong-footed the debutant goaltender.
After Rasmus Sandin drew a penalty during 4-on-4 action with a little over seven minutes remaining, Toronto struck for the third straight time with the extra man. Mueller tapped home from the blue paint following a tic-tac-toe play involving Gagner and Bracco to give Toronto a 4-0 lead.
Despite facing a huge deficit, Manitoba began the third period with a little pep in their step, albeit they were helped by a lackadaisical approach to defending the lead by Toronto.
Garteig produced another good save just 2:30 in the final frame to deny Logan Shaw, but his shutout bid ended shortly after. Michael Spacek roofed his shot past the sprawling netminder, who was given no favours by the scrambling teammates in front of him.
The Marlies couldn’t put the game out of reach during 52 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play before Manitoba almost made a game of it with eight minutes remaining.
A shot rebounding off of the backboards created a scramble in front, but Garteig came up with a crucial save to turn aside Shaw in tight. That stop from Toronto’s goaltender set in motion a play that ended in the Marlies scoring a controversial fifth goal.
The Moose backed off Gagner, who banked the puck of the left wall to himself and past the first opponent before cutting out three Manitoba players with a cross-ice pass to Josh Jooris crashing the net. Jooris was unable to get a stick on the puck but it deflected into the net off his skates. Initially waved off by the officials, it was ruled a good goal after a great deal of conversation, with no kicking motion evident.
His shutout bid spoiled earlier in the period, Garteig was in no mood to give up a second goal and robbed Spacek with a tremendous glove save while falling away to his left.
That stop sealed the deal on a 5-1 victory for the Marlies, who head back home having hoisted themselves back into the playoff picture into fifth place in the North Division.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto surpassed the 100 goals-for mark in this game and continue to lead the league in that category with 103.
– Toronto’s power play success this weekend saw them reach 28 goals with the man advantage on the season, improving their success rate to 22%.
– Chris Mueller tallied a pair of goals to take his season tally to 13, five of which are power-play markers. His eighth multi-point haul takes his season points total to 28, ranking him seventh in AHL scoring.
– Trevor Moore recorded his 15th goal of the season in just his 24th game as well as a second straight multi-point haul (1-1-2) to give him 21 points on the year.
“In a lot of ways, he has progressed,” said Sheldon Keefe. “When I look at it, we have a group of players that are kind of that crop of guys that are the next wave [for the NHL]. For him, it’s really important to continue to stay at the top of mind every game and do so by the work ethic and the competitiveness that he has shown along with the skill.”
– Sam Gagner has found his feet again at this level and the Moose had no answers for him in this outing. He could easily have added more to his three-assists haul.
– Michael Garteig made an excellent debut and appeared remarkably poised throughout.
He was a little unfortunate not to record a shutout, but he did post 26 saves for his first ever AHL win. Garteig will return to Brampton today to play for Newfoundland, but you can guarantee he’s given management and the coaching staff something to ponder moving forward.
“He’s been having a great season and came in with lots of confidence,” said Keefe. “To get his first AHL win here and give our team a chance to win a game was very good. Very happy for him.”
– Carl Grundstrom found the net for the first time since November 23. With just four assists in nine games before this much-needed goal, hopefully it proves a needed confidence boost for the rookie.
– Two primary power plays assists for Jeremy Bracco sees him reach the 25-point mark (7-18-25) in 27 games. He wasn’t as good at even strength in this game as the night before, however, and was certainly targeted by Manitoba physically.
“Bracco is a real driver of things [on the power play] and his confidence has come a long way here,” said Keefe. “Every time he goes out on the ice on the power play, it feels like he can make the difference and make a play for us.”
– Rasmus Sandin departed for the World Junior Championships after the win.
“We saw him off here today and wished him well,” said Keefe. “I think his game is in a good place. He should have a ton of confidence in what he’s done and how he’s progressed at this level and be able to take that to the World Juniors and have some fun for his country.”
– Saturday’s lines: