The Toronto Marlies produced yet another disappointing performance against one of the lesser lights in the AHL as they slipped to defeat on home ice to the Manitoba Moose on Wednesday night.
A late goal from the Moose denied Toronto a point, but it really should have been two as the Marlies looked to keep pace with those around them in the battle for a North Division playoff berth.
“We were in five times alone on the goalie and I don’t know if we even registered a shot on many of them,” said Sheldon Keefe. “We let them hang around… at the end, we have a breakdown that cost us.”
The opening period was a solemn affair until a poorly-timed hit from Marko Dano on Vincent LoVerde put the Marlies on the power play with almost five minutes played. The Moose almost scored while down a man through Felix Girard, who forced a good save out of Michael Hutchinson following an inexcusable giveaway from the Marlies in the slot area.
It was a short reprieve, however, as Toronto canceled out the power play with a penalty of their own and the Moose took their opportunity on a shortened man advantage as Seth Griffith wired a wrist shot from the top of the right circle into the far corner of Hutchinson’s net.
Griffen Molino had the Marlies‘ best chance to level the score, but he was turned aside by Eric Comrie on a breakaway.
Hutchinson did his best to keep Toronto within one with an excellent stop to turn aside Mason Appleton, but he was left helpless on a sequence of play that led to a freak 2-0 goal.
It began with Rasmus Sandin being outmuscled by Dano, who looked for a cross-ice pass when heading away from the net in the offensive zone. The puck took a wicked deflection off the skate of Nicholas Baptiste before hitting the leg of LoVerde and confounding Hutchinson.
The Marlies, not overly fazed by their bad luck and 2-0 deficit, responded with a strong shift that almost resulted in a debut goal for Baptiste. They kept the pressure on and were rewarded for their persistence after Dmytro Timashov’s snapshot from the point found the roof of the net through a maze of traffic in front of Comrie.
Another good stop from Hutchinson on Michael Spacek prevented the Moose from regaining their two-goal advantage heading into the intermission.
The middle frame proved a frustrating affair for Toronto; they pushed the pace of the play and generated the better scoring opportunities, but they were unable to turn that into more than one goal.
Adam Brooks hit the post when leading a 2-on-1 rush, but he wasn’t denied for long as the Marlies capitalized on a subsequent power play, where he redirected a pass from Jeremy Bracco to tie the game at 2-2 less than five minutes into the second period.
It was one-way traffic for the following few minutes, with even the newly-formed Newfoundland line of Kestner – Ferguson – O’Brien causing the Moose problems, but Timothy Liljegren was unable to connect after a good piece of play from the trio.
Colin Greening, Baptiste (twice) and Kestner were all denied by Eric Comrie as the Marlies remained frustrated and were unable to add to the scoreline after striking early in the frame.
Hutchinson was called on to deny Brent Pederson during an odd-man rush for the Moose, but he was rarely troubled despite facing 11 shots, most of which came on a late-period power play.
With the game in the balance with 20 minutes left, Toronto could not have asked for a better chance to take full control of the game early in the final frame.
A lack of discipline from Manitoba handed the Marlies a two-man advantage for 85 seconds, but they were limited to only two chances of note. Baptiste whiffed on a fantastic cross-ice feed from Timashov, allowing Comrie to make an easy save before the goaltender made his best stop of the game to turn aside Brooks’ tip in tight to the crease.
The Marlies really struggled to generate much offensive opportunity for the remainder of the game, mustering just seven shots throughout the final 20 minutes.
Logan Stanley rang a shot off the post for the Moose, but they wasted a pair of power play opportunities and the game appeared to be heading toward overtime.
It never got there as the Marlies shot themselves in the foot with some lackadaisical play in the final minute of the game. Spacek drove toward the net from the left side untouched and with Hutchinson out to challenge, he sent the puck back to Griffith to slide into the empty cage with 34 seconds remaining to snatch victory at the death for Manitoba.
Post Game Notes
– Toronto’s five-game points streak came to an abrupt halt, but they remain third in the North Division with 67 points from 57 games played. The Marlies finished the month of February with a 7-3-3 record.
– Dmytro Timashov netted his eighth of the year and his third in six games. He’s benefited from playing on a line alongside Pierre Engvall and Michael Carcone, racking up seven points (3-4-7) in his last six outings.
“I think all three are good players but they’re also three players that have wanted opportunity to be a part and play a lot,” said Keefe. “It’s just the nature of our lineup as it is right now that they’re playing a lot. I think they’re taking advantage of that very well. They were good today and they were very, very good for us out in Syracuse. Engvall is taking to center nicely and there is a lot of speed and skill with the two linemates there.”
– Nicholas Baptiste led all Marlies skaters with five shots. It was a very promising debut for the winger (after just one practice), but he will know he should have scored at least once.
“I thought he was good considering he only had one practice,” said Keefe. “I thought he fit in well with [Brooks and Bracco]. He had a number of chances. He was all around the net. The puck was on his stick in really good spots. On a lot of days when he is not over thinking things and he is a little more comfortable, those go in based on the Baptiste I know and he’s proven that in the league.”
– Adam Brooks scored his 14th goal of the season and his fifth on the power play as he continues to play in Chris Mueller’s spot on the man advantage.
– The Newfoundland Growlers line of Josh Kestner – Brady Ferguson – Zach O’Brien was handed limited ice-time with special teams playing a big part in the game, but they showed a glimpse of promise that might encourage Sheldon Keefe to stick with them heading into the weekend.
– Wednesday’s lines: