The Toronto Marlies recorded a third straight win on Wednesday afternoon with a more convincing victory than the final scoreline might suggest.
With a 4-3 win over Manitoba, the Marlies are now 6-2-2-0 in the month of February and 20-0-2 when leading after two periods.
Toronto propelled themselves into a two-goal lead through the opening 20 minutes thanks to strong work on both sides of special teams.
The Marlies went to the penalty kill with just two minutes on the clock, but the best opportunity to score came through Trevor Moore on a shorthanded breakaway.
The Marlies then struck on their first man advantage after a strong shift from the fourth line drew a penalty. Michael Carcone finished top shelf on a beautiful cross-seam feed from Jeremy Bracco to put Toronto up inside eight minutes.
The Marlies almost immediately gifted the Moose a tying goal when Pierre Engvall took a risk inside his own zone, but Michael Hutchinson bailed out the make-shift centerman with a tremendous save.
The Marlies were well on top after that near miss, albeit without being able to add to their 1-0 lead. A second power play for Manitoba resulted in a great scoring chance for the Marlies shorthanded, with Engvall unable to solve Eric Comrie after Dmytro Timashov sent him in alone.
A second goal for the Marlies may have been a little fortuitous, but it was well earned after a strong spell of cycling in the Moose zone. Vincent LoVerde opted to shoot from the left circle with a plethora of traffic in the crease area and a redirect off a skate found its way past the unsighted Comrie.
The middle frame began with Toronto playing some of their best hockey of the afternoon only to gift the Moose a way back into the game. Bracco seemed destined to score just 75 seconds in on a rebound from a Timothy Liljegren shot, but Comrie pulled off a miraculous stop to keep the deficit at two.
A giveaway from Liljegren at the Manitoba blue line then proved costly as Jimmy Oligny escaped down the length of the ice unchallenged and beat Hutchinson with a deft backhand finish.
Toronto had to kill a penalty within seconds of giving up a goal, but they found their composure afterward and continued to dominate possession, with the fourth line, in particular, continuing to hem the Moose inside their own zone.
It was relentless o-zone pressure that led to a third Marlies goal; following an offensive zone faceoff win, a shot by Gabriel Gagne from the point beat Comrie with Brady Ferguson providing the screen in front.
The Marlies headed into the intermission up 4-1 thanks to more diligent puck retrieval on the forecheck. Carcone held off two opponents behind the net, allowing Timashov to tee up Engvall in the crease. The Swedish winger was denied three times as he attempted to shovel the puck across the line, but the crucial touch was eventually supplied by Carcone to give the Marlies a three-goal lead through 40.
Beginning the final frame on the power play, Toronto should have put the result beyond doubt by taking advantage of 64 seconds worth of a two-man advantage after a delay of game penalty for the Moose. Instead, a plethora of scoring chances went begging and the Marlies were indebted to Hutchinson, who denied Marko Dano on a breakaway after a defensive lapse.
Toronto continued to generate offensive opportunity back at even strength, but they lacked the killer touch and were running into some excellent goaltending in the third period.
The game quickly got interesting when Manitoba pulled their goaltender and halved the deficit with a little over three minutes remaining. Hutchinson appeared to have a shot from Dano covered up, but the puck slipped through his equipment, allowing Logan Shaw to tap home his 23rd on the year.
The Moose were clearly revitalized by their new lease on life and continued to press Toronto for the remainder of regulation. They did pull within one, but Nelson Nogier’s strike was more academic than anything as it came with one second left on the clock.
Sheldon Keefe wouldn’t have been thrilled with his team’s finish to this game, but their breakthrough at even strength is a promising sign after an over-reliance on the power play for offense in their recent victories.
Post Game Notes
– Pierre Engvall led all skaters with six shots and recorded two assists. He may not be adept defensively at center at this stage, but he’s certainly been able to generate offense from the middle of the ice.
“This year, we have been trying different things with Pierre to try to make him a more versatile player,” said Sheldon Keefe. “The way he skates and shoots the puck and the abilities he has offensively, that is something that he has always brought to the table, but whether it’s penalty kill time or playing on a checking line and now playing center, we are just trying to put some more tools at his disposal so that as his career progresses, he can fill more roles. We feel that is an important part of his development and it’s a credit to him for buying into that.”
– Michael Carcone turned in one of his best performances in a Toronto jersey. His two goals were due reward for an excellent all-around effort at both ends of the ice. He now has four points in his last two games.
– Tanner MacMaster recorded his first assist and point for the Marlies. He’s found life tough adapting to Toronto’s style and structure, but he is beginning to find his way.
– Calle Rosen extended his point streak (2-5-7) to five games with an assist.
– Jeremy Bracco was arguably Toronto’s best player at even strength, although his assist came on the power play and he didn’t register a shot on goal. In any event, he created countless opportunities at 5v5.
“I thought he was really moving his feet and getting to good spots,” said Keefe. “He was able to give himself some space and time to look for people and did a real good job of that.”
– Michael Hutchinson would want the second goal back but he was otherwise excellent in turning aside 27 shots for the victory.
– Wednesday’s lines: