Michael Hutchinson turned in the best performance of his short Toronto career by posting 42 saves to steal a vital two points and extend the Marlies’ winning streak to three games versus Laval on Friday night.
Goaltending has not been Toronto’s most reliable facet this season, but it was by far the biggest reason they won this game as Laval Rocket thoroughly outplayed the Marlies and ended with nothing to show for their endeavors.
“I don’t know that we’d say that we’ve had our goalie steal a lot of games for us this season, and it’s allowed to happen now and again,” said Sheldon Keefe. “Certainly, that was the case today.”
The first 60 seconds or so were deceiving — the Marlies showed some promise offensively, but the period quickly went downhill after Laval headed onto the power play at the two-minute mark.
Josh Jooris made a tremendous defensive play to deny what looked like a certain goal, while at the other end, Michael McNiven came up with a good save to turn aside Colin Greening before Nick Baptise was denied on a solo effort.
The Michael Hutchinson show then kicked off as he made a handful of key saves, including a fantastic poke check to deny Alexandre Grenier before Toronto opened the scoring against the run of play.
For once, the Marlies were able to turn an entry into some sustained offensive zone time and worked back to the far left side of the blue line, where debutant Kristians Rubins floated a shot towards the net that Dmytro Timashov attempted to tip and Rocket defenseman Lukas Vejdemo attempted to block. After a weird bounce, Timashov showed off his hand-eye coordination to bat home the puck before either Vejdemo or McNiven could react.
Hutchinson turned aside all 14 shots in the first period, including a robbery of Alexandre Alain on Laval’s second power play.
There was no let-up from Laval as they came out and attacked in waves to begin the second period, forcing Hutchinson into six saves inside the first minute alone.
The Marlies weren’t executing clean breakouts and were unable to sustain any kind of zone time when they did manage to gain the offensive blue line. Adam Brooks turned the tide at the five minute mark by forcing a save with a backhand attempt — Toronto’s first shot of the period, which Brooks followed up by driving towards the net and drawing a tripping penalty on the ensuing offensive zone faceoff.
Baptiste and Timashov both came close to netting in the first 30 seconds of the power play before Michael Carcone took a pass at the top of the left circle and showed good patience in picking the far top corner with the perfect shot.
Laval almost immediately responded on a broken play that appeared offside in real time. Daniel Audette had time to measure his shot, but Hutchinson flashed his leather to keep the two-goal lead intact.
Toronto almost made it two-for-two on a second power play, but Brooks’ redirect on a pass-come-shot from Jeremy Bracco clipped the wrong side of the post.
A third power play for the Marlies could’ve resulted in a shorthanded tally for Laval if not for more excellence from Hutchinson. Consecutive giveaways by Timothy Liljegren created a pair of breakaways for Laval, but Hayden Verbeek was robbed both times by the Toronto netminder.
After the Marlies killed a penalty to finish the period, Hutchinson’s save count was now sitting at 28 through 40 minutes.
To Laval’s credit, they were persistent despite their frustrations about trailing despite dominating the game and yet again piled on the pressure in the third period.
Hutchinson was fully tested at the six-minute mark when he denied Alain on a first attempt and Michael Pezzetta on the rebound.
Toronto’s penalty killing remained a massive factor in this game as they were able to see off consecutive power plays for Laval.
Looking to generate a late push, the Rocket were mostly limited to the perimeter by the Marlies, who did keep some structure albeit under intense pressure from Laval, who pulled McNiven with two minutes remaining.
Hutchinson closed out his shutout bid and the Marlies cemented the victory with an empty net goal courtesy of excellent defensive work by Rasmus Sandin and Colin Greening that set up Pierre Engvall to slide the puck into the empty cage for a 3-0 Marlies final.
Post Game Notes
– The Toronto Marlies improved their road record to 17-8-2-3. Three straight victories have propelled them (3rd) six points clear of both Utica (4th) and Belleville (5th) in the North Division standings.
– This was the fourth time this season that Toronto has shut out Laval. The Marlies hold a 6-2-1 record against the Rocket with one game left in the season series.
– Special teams were again a key ingredient to the Marlies’ success. The power play netted once on four opportunities and the penalty kill went an impressive 5-for-5.
“We know that we need to have a power play goal against this team,” said Keefe. “They don’t give you very much. We have a hard time getting more than one goal at even strength against them. At the same time, today is our fourth shutout in our last five games against them, so we haven’t given up any goals at our end, either, which has given us a chance to have success.”
– Michael Hutchinson posted his second shutout of the season by registering 42 saves and now owns a 10-3-3 record with the Marlies. Now 5-1-1 through his last seven games, Hutchinson has received some run support of late, but his combined .939Sv% has more than played its part.
– Michael Carcone netted his 15th goal of the year (4th PPG). Now with nine points in his last eight games (3-6-9), this was his fifth multi-point haul (1-1-2) since the trade to Toronto in December.
– Dmytro Timashov’s 10th goal of the season also takes him to the 40-point mark (10-30-40). His 11 points (5-6-11) in his last 13 games include half his season’s overall goal total.
– Kristians Rubins made his Toronto Marlies and AHL debut. The defenseman — who spent the season with Newfoundland Growlers and was signed by Toronto in November — put together a steady debut performance paired with Jordan Subban and notched an assist on the opening goal.
– Friday’s lines: