Despite the win, head coach Sheldon Keefe wasn’t overly enthused with his team’s performance on Saturday evening and made it clear during his post-game presser that the Toronto Marlies needed a much-improved effort in the second half of the back-to-back versus Charlotte on Sunday.
The Marlies responded by producing something pretty close to a complete 60-minute performance to close out the weekend sweep against the league-leading Charlotte Checkers with a 5-0 victory.
“The guys were consistent throughout and once again found a way to get a good start, score the first goal, and not look back from there,” said Keefe. “Really good way for us to finish off the weekend.”
Toronto has now won five straight road games, outscoring the opposition 25-7 in the process.
Having been lit up by the Checkers in his second-from-last appearance, Kasimir Kaskisuo had a point to prove in this start and came up with a pair of confidence-boosting saves inside the opening 20 seconds.
Looking for a measure of revenge after the previous day’s overtime loss, Charlotte’s fast start earned them a power play just two minutes into the game. Toronto’s penalty kill stood firm and the Marlies almost struck first when Josh Jooris exited the box and sent Pierre Engvall away on a partial breakaway, but the Swedish winger’s backhand attempt didn’t fool Checkers netminder Scott Darling.
The Charlotte goaltender was beaten at the eight-minute mark, though, after a long-range shot from Frank Corrado hit a Charlotte player in front and Jooris was the first to react to finish off the rebound.
The Marlies took control for the remainder of the period but were unable to extend their lead; chances went begging for Sam Gagner, Adam Brooks, and Chris Mueller as the Checkers were fortunate to only be trailing by one at the break.
There was no let-up from in Marlies in the middle frame as they took the game by the throat with two goals in the span of 14 seconds inside the opening five minutes of the period.
On a 4-on-2 break for the Marlies, Trevor Moore dropped the puck back for Marchment, who then found Adams Brooks, and the sophomore centerman popped the water bottle with a top-shelf finish.
That was followed by a long stretch pass from Stefan LeBlanc that took four Charlotte skaters out of the play and found Chris Mueller on the left wing. The veteran forward out-waited the last man back, Trevor Carrick, before delivering a perfect cross-ice feed for Jeremy Bracco to finish off past the left pad of Darling.
Toronto almost gave up a breakaway goal within two minutes of taking the 3-0 lead, but Kaskisuo came up with the save after Borgman pulled back Aleksi Saarela, taking a penalty in the process. As played continued during the delayed penalty, Mason Marchment delivered a huge but perfectly clean hit on Martin Necas, drawing a reaction out of Charlotte’s Dan Renouf, who jumped the Toronto forward. When the dust settled, Marchment was tagged for fighting while Necas somehow escaped an instigator penalty.
The Marlies killed off the penalty in no small part thanks to Calle Rosen, who broke up a Charlotte possession with a poke-check before drawing a penalty leading a rush the other way. Rosen also made another crucial play on Toronto’s second penalty kill of the period — this time a key shot block — before the Marlies opened up a 4-0 lead with 12 seconds remaining.
Engvall took possession just inside the Checkers blue zone and beat two Checkers with a nice move before driving into the left circle and beating Darling with a wicked wrist shot.
There was no real response from Charlotte in the final 20 minutes. Instead, the Marlies kept their foot firmly on the gas and their fourth line, in particular, was unlucky not to score after a dominant shift early in the final stanza.
A power play for the Checkers only resulted in two good shorthanded opportunities for Toronto, with Marchment unfortunate to strike the iron before Colin Greening drew a good save out of Darling.
Kaskisuo was rarely tested in the middle frame, but he came up with two key stops to deny Charlotte any hope of a comeback. The first was to turn aside Nicolas Roy, who cut across the crease from the right wing, and the second came against Clark Bishop on a shorthanded breakaway.
The Marlies found a fifth goal with nine minutes left to play when Stefan LeBlanc, from the left side of the blue line, teed up Sam Jardine just above the right circle to rip home a one-time shot.
It was almost immediately 6-0, but the hard-luck Gabriel Gagne hit the iron (not for the first time of the weekend).
The icing on the cake was redemption for Kaskisuo as he cemented a shutout with a blocker save on Zach Nastasiuk on Charlotte’s final power play of the game.
Post Game Notes
– This was the last of the four-game regular season series. The Marlies went 3-1-0 against Charlotte, with two of the victories earned in overtime.
– This is an important second half of the season for Kasimir Kaskisuo, who got off to the start he needed by posting a 22-save shutout. His positioning looked more sound and there was less over-activity in his game than we saw earlier in the season from him. The hope is his second clean sheet of the year can give him confidence moving forward with some important divisional games coming up on the schedule.
“Really big,” said Keefe. “That’s as good as we’ve seen him all year. A big piece of it was our guys giving him confidence and taking care of the game and keeping them away from our net. Through two periods, we didn’t give up much at all, and then we made him earn it a little bit with some breakdowns and a breakway, and he was right up to the challenge and looked extremely confident doing it. It’s a really good sign for him and our team.”
– Pierre Engvall scored in both games against Charlotte, giving him four goals in his last five games.
– Chris Mueller didn’t officially register a shot on goal in either game against Charlotte over the weekend, but he did register assists in both to give him 41 points in 39 games.
– Adam Brooks broke a five-game pointless streak with his eighth goal of the season.
– Jeremy Bracco netted his third goal in four games, taking him to doubles figures for the year and keeping his point-per-game pace (40 points) intact.
– Stefan LeBlanc, who took Steve Oleksy’s spot after the veteran was a late scratch, recorded his first multi-point haul (0-2-2) of the season with two assists, while Sam Jardine scored his first ever goal for the Marlies.
“[LeBlanc] moved the puck well for us all throughout the game,” said Keefe. “I thought our defense as a whole did a ncie job for us today in just setting up the offense and breaking out well. Those are some of the adjustments we wanted to make coming into the game today. The guys did a good job of it and the D led the way.”
– Sunday’s lines: