The Toronto Marlies notched their 10th road win this season on Friday night with a well-earned 5-1 victory against the North Division-leading Rochester Americans.
The Marlies have now won five of their last six and have allowed just 11 goals in those wins, a marked improvement in their defensive play if you ignore the blow-out loss to Charlotte at the tail end of a three-in-three weekend.
“It’s getting there,” said Sheldon Keefe. “The guys are starting to feel it. We’re making progress here for sure.”
The Marlies, who have consistently produced better performances away from home, stymied the hosts in a scoreless first period in which Rochester took until the 14th minute to record a shot on goal.
The best chances for the Marlies fell to Chris Mueller and Pierre Engvall on a breakaway, but Scott Wedgewood was in excellent form between the pipes for the Amerks.
Rochester grew into the period following their first shot — Will Borgen fired wide on their best chance after getting the puck around Eamon McAdam — but they were unable to make a pair of power plays opportunities count.
The middle frame was a more offensive period, in part due to a plethora of penalties called by officials, who made enemies on both teams throughout the night with their calling of the game.
Mason Marchment was unable to finish from the slot on a nice feed from Trevor Moore, whistling his effort high, but Toronto found their breakthrough at the six-minute mark to end the deadlock.
Sam Gagner won a neutral zone battle for possession before beating his opponent on the left wing and sending a cross-ice pass to Josh Jooris to create a 2-on-0, where Jooris unselfishly teed up Engvall for a tap-in.
The Marlies were second best during some subsequent 4-on-4 action before going to their third straight penalty kill of the game. It took just seven seconds for Rochester to capitalize — Alex Nylander applied the tip in front to a shot from the point by Danny O’Regan.
The turning point of the game came on a pair of power plays for the Marlies. On the first, Toronto was sloppy and gave up a shorthanded rush to the speedy Wayne Simpson, who was turned aside by a tremendous toe save from McAdam.
The Marlies were then handed a two-man advantage for 1:45, with seemingly nobody in a Toronto sweater willing to shoot the puck until the Amerks had one man escape from the box. On a broken play, Marchment beat Wedgewood with a perfectly-placed shot into the top corner.
Back in the lead, the Marlies were in full control of the game, with neither Marchment or Brooks able to find a third despite their line causing problems in the Amerks zone just about every shift.
The Marlies extended their lead before the second intermission through Carl Grundstrom. Picking up a pass from Gagner at the red line, the Swedish winger drove to the top of the left circle before releasing a hefty shot that found the same top corner as Marchment’s goal to give Toronto a 3-1 lead through 40 minutes.
The Marlies, steady in possession of the lead this season, showed no signs of let-up to begin the third period as they padded the lead at the three-minute mark.
Frank Corrado kept the play in the offensive zone with a chip in toward the end boards, where a solid forecheck by Michael Carcone saw him win a battle and Dmytro Timashov picked up possession behind the net. Timashov appeared to be heading around the net to Wedgewood’s right, but instead flipped a reverse pass, affording Carcone the room to maneuver back across the goal line and finish with Wedgewood out of position.
That took the wind out of Rochester’s sails — if not for Wedgewood, the Marlies could have really run up the score. Gagner was robbed during a 2-on-1 break and the Amerks goaltender also pulled off a wonderful double stop to deny Jooris and Grundstrom on a play created by the relentless work ethic of the former.
The Marlies did add a fifth, however, with the Rochester defense gone AWOL. Jordan Subban and Stefan LeBlanc combined to find Jeremy Bracco unattended down low in the right circle, and even the noted playmaker couldn’t turn down the chance to shoot, finishing into the top shelf.
Post Game Notes
– A 5-1 victory ensures the Marlies remain in a playoff spot and are only three points out of first place, with a chance to inch further up the standings in Saturday afternoon’s rematch.
This was the final game in Rochester this season (1-1-1) between the two teams, with the three games remaining in the season series set to take place in Toronto.
– Neither Trevor Moore or Chris Mueller recorded a point, although both played to their usual standard. 11 different players recorded at least a point, including three defensemen not named Calle Rosen.
“It’s a credit to our defense that has been more involved here offensively,” said Keefe. “They make plays and support the forwards on the offense. I think we are playing as a group of five a lot better on offense and defense, but particularly on offense.”
– Carl Grundstrom (1-1-2), Michael Carcone (1-1-2), Sam Gagner (0-2-2) and Jordan Subban (0-2-2) all recorded multi-point games.
– Mason Marchment netted his tenth goal on the year while Jeremy Bracco scored his first goal since December 14.
– Eamon McAdam posted 29 saves for the victory, and the only goal he gave up was scored on the power play. He appeared to be a little more confident/aggressive in this outing, getting way out above his crease to challenge shooters. Now 9-4-3 on the season, his save percentage has improved to .898.
– Friday’s lines: