The Toronto Marlies bounced backed from a poor performance against Charlotte on Sunday by picking up a much-needed 6-3 win over a divisional rival on Wednesday night versus Utica.
The Comets entered the game on the back of four straight wins accumulated against the top three teams in the North Division and played their part in what was a high-paced hockey game.
There was barely a whistle blown in the first period, but there was a distinct lack of goalmouth action until the deadlock was broken at the nine-minute mark.
A long outlet pass from Vincent LoVerde found Dmytro Timashov in space, where instead of driving to the net, the winger pulled up at the top of the left circle and sent a pass to the onrushing Colin Greening approaching the opposite circle. The veteran forward’s quick release — just the third shot of the period — beat Ivan Kulbakov with a low finish.
Michael Carcone almost immediately doubled the lead, but at full stretch, he could only sweep a rebound against the outside of the post as Kulbakov floundered in the crease.
The Marlies‘ lead didn’t two minutes, however, as Kasimir Kaskisuo had another moment to forget this season. He failed to properly cover up an innocuous shot from Lukas Jasek, allowing Reid Boucher to sneak the puck through his pads, teeing up Tanner Kero for an easy tap-in.
A terrible call from the officials sent LoVerde to the box for tripping, but the Marlies‘ penalty kill stood tall to deny the Comets a quick second goal. That set up the Marlies to retake the lead back at 5v5.
A long-range effort from Calle Rosen was half-heartedly blocked by Craig Wyszomirski, and the puck took a weird skip and a bounce that totally deceived Kulbakov on its way into the net.
Promoted to the top line, Pierre Engvall then put Toronto ahead 3-1 heading into the intermission. After LoVerde rang a shot off the backboards and into his path in the left circle, the Swedish winger’s finish was clinical.
The Marlies found themselves outshot 5-1 despite owning most of the possession in the opening four minutes of the middle frame.
A second power play for the Comets saw them almost draw within one if not for a wonderful piece of defending by Sam Jardine — Reid Boucher picked up a rebound with half an empty net to aim at, but Jardine flung himself across the crease to make an incredible desperation save.
The Marlies then opened up a 4-1 advantage before the midway point when Trevor Moore scooped up a rebound from a Mason Marchment shot below the goal line and somehow found the net via the back of Kulbakov’s leg.
The ice was tilted in Toronto’s favour, but they couldn’t score a fifth despite several good looks on a power play, and they were unable to make a 3-on-1 break count as Sam Gagner missed the net on an odd-man opportunity set up by Jeremy Bracco and Chris Mueller.
The Marlies appeared to lose focus during a TV timeout with a little under three minutes remaining, turning some pucks over and feeding the Comets’ transition game. Jasek found Jesse Graham all alone in the left circle as Kaskisuo set himself for a one-timer; instead, Graham got poor contact on his shot and the puck found its way past the Toronto netminder via the skate of Kero.
The let-off by the Marlies continued early in the final frame as the Comets struck less than two minutes in when former Marlie Jaime Sifers’ shot was tipped by Brendan Gaunce in front to bring Utica within one.
The response was the right one from the Marlies, though, as they restored their two-goal advantage at the seven-minute mark. Jeremy Bracco was the architect after taking a pass from Mueller in stride heading into the Comets zone. Engvall was waiting at the backdoor for a feed, but that lane was quickly closed off. Instead, Bracco showed patience in the left circle, turned back onto his forehand, and slid a perfect pass to Calle Rosen jumping into the rush. Rosen’s perfect shot clipped the iron and went in.
The Marlies were in little danger of conceding a fourth goal, even after Utica went for broke by pulling their netminder with over four minutes remaining. Carl Grundstrom potted an empty netter to secure a crucial two points, hoisting the Marlies into a playoff spot in the process.
Post Game Notes
– Jeremy Bracco also recorded three assists and is now producing at a point-per-game pace through 36 outings. The second-year forward leads the AHL in assists with 29.
“[Bracco] looks very comfortable,” said Sheldon Keefe. “He’s the type of player who, with the skills that he has, he needs to be comfortable. I don’t know if he ever quite got to that point last season. We expected him to be able to contribute significantly this year. It might’ve been last year, when we were celebrating with the Calder Cup on the ice, I kind of said, ‘This is going to be your team next year in terms of the offense.’ He looked at me sideways because it’s quite a jump going from a healthy scratch in the playoffs to doing what he is doing, but that’s what we felt about his abilities.”
– Calle Rosen scored twice for his first multi-goal game of the season. He’s now fifth among AHL defensemen in scoring (26 points in 34 games) and third in assists (22).
– Vincent LoVerde produced his single-best point haul of the season with three assists. The veteran has been a workhorse on the blue line, where Toronto is missing some key figures.
“We’ve used him at times on the power play, and that just in itself gets you thinking more creatively,” said Keefe. “You’re touching the puck a lot more, so that certainly has helped. We’ve also been on our defense to be more involved. When you take some of the skill out of our lineup like we have on the backend, it’s a challenge for us. We are pushing our defensemen — not just LoVerde, but Jardine, Corrado, Leblanc — to take a step and relax with the puck and try to make some plays to help us offensively.”
– Chris Mueller‘s lone assist was his 20th on the year; it’s a positive sign that Toronto was able to generate a six-goal outburst without relying too heavily on their talisman and leading scorer.
– It’s as if Sheldon Keefe was listening to the suggestions in this space — Pierre Engvall was bumped up to the top line and could easily have added to his one-goal tally. Dmytro Timashov slid down to the fourth line and had some jump to his game, making a nice play for the opening goal.
“Despite mixing things up a little bit, things seemed to be clicking fine,” said Keefe. “We got a goal from each line, so that part of it was good for sure.”
– Trevor Moore returned and scored (of course he did). The ‘kid line’ was reunited and looked as effective as ever. Moore’s injection into the line-up brings so much to the Marlies over 200 feet of the ice. His 18th goal of the year ranks him tied for third in the AHL.
– Carl Grundstrom netted his 10th goal of the season, breaking an eight-game scoreless streak. After recording just one shot in the past two games, Grundstrom recorded three in this game — a point of emphasis is that he really needs to shoot the puck more (averaging under two per game).
– Wednesday’s lines: