The Toronto Marlies continued their dominance of the season series against the Laval Rocket on Saturday, posting a shutout against Montreal’s AHL affiliate for the fifth time this season.
With the 3-0 win, Toronto finished the month of March with an 8-2-2 record — making it their most productive month of the season at the most important time of the year.
The opening frame saw neither team break the deadlock, although it wasn’t for a lack of attempts on net.
The closest the Laval came to scoring was through Alex Belzile’s redirect off a Maxim Lamarche shot that struck iron. At the other end, Chris Mueller had his goal waived off for a high stick, while a power play for the Marlies led to a plethora of near misses and some good saves from Connor LaCouvee.
It took Toronto until the middle frame to really find their feet — probably partly due to a number of unfamiliar names in the lineup — but they could easily have put the game out of sight with the chances they generated in the middle 20.
Colt Conrad and Nicholas Baptiste set the tone with a terrific give-and-go play that saw the former unable to beat LaCouvee while drawing a penalty in the process. The Marlies were unable to score on the first man advantage or during a 24-second spell of a 5-on-3, but they finally made their man-advantage count on the second penalty.
A slap shot from Dmytro Timashov — who finally decided to shoot instead of looking for the perfect play — resulted in a rebound that Mueller reacted to first to open the scoring.
A third power play for the Marlies didn’t result in a second goal before the turning point of the game arrived at the 12-minute mark. Kristians Rubins made a fantastic diving play to break up a 2-on-1 break for Laval and Toronto immediately went back the other way, where Adam Brooks set up Mueller to make it 2-0 on an oddman rush.
Toronto had to settle for just a two-goal lead at the break as Ryan McGregor, Jeremy Bracco and Steve Oleksy all rang efforts off the iron inside the final six minutes.
Laval rarely looked capable of threatening Toronto’s lead, but they did almost halve the deficit six minutes into the third period. A blistering shot from Alex Kile thundered against the crossbar, bounced down, and stayed on the right side of the goal line to keep the 2-0 scoreline intact.
From there, the game meandered through much of the final frame before Toronto made the two points safe inside the final three minutes. With LaCouvee pulled for the extra attacker, Mueller made no mistake hitting the empty net to complete his hat trick.
Kasimir Kaskisuo stopped all eight shots he faced in the final 20 minutes to secure one of the easier Marlie shutouts of the season as Toronto cruised to a 3-0 victory.
Post Game Notes
– The season series with Laval was a productive one for the Marlies, who finished with a 7-2-1, including five shutouts.
– Kasimir Kaskisuo stopped the 19 shots he faced for his fourth shutout of the season and second against Laval. Kaskisuo now owns a winning record (10-9-3-1) after losing four straight games, two of which were overtime losses.
– Chris Mueller scored the first Toronto Marlies hat trick this season. His 32 goals set a new Toronto franchise record in a 76-game season, surpassing Ryan Hamilton’s 30 in 2012-13.
– Jeremy Bracco‘s two assists extended his point streak to ten games (4-12-16) and he is now tied for the scoring lead in the AHL with 75 points.
– Eemeli Rasanen made his long-awaited debut, and barring a couple of early hiccups, he was composed in all three zones. He and Kristians Rubins formed a very imposing physical defense partnership.
– Ryan McGregor was thrown into action for his debut despite not practicing with the team. He was helped out by a couple of physical wingers either side of him, but he made simple and effective plays throughout, almost capping his debut off with a goal.
“I thought he did really well,” said Sheldon Keefe. “He skated well, he had the puck, he made some plays. He ripped one off the cross bar and had some scoring chances. As far as debuts go, that was a pretty good one, especially considering he hasn’t had a practice or anytthing and we just put him right in today.”
– Colt Conrad was even more impressive in his second professional outing. He was a part of two noticeable plays with Timothy Liljegren and Nicholas Baptiste almost resulting in goals, and he’s clearly not short on confidence offensively.
– Saturday’s lines: