The Toronto Marlies remain undefeated on the season, but it was far from a straight-forward victory against a very talented and fast Hershey Bears team on Wednesday.
In truth, the Marlies were far from their best at 5v5 as they continue to work out the kinks early in the season while still finding ways to win hockey games. Winning the special teams battle, combined with the play of Kasimir Kaskisuo, proved the difference between the teams in a 4-3 Toronto victory.
“I haven’t liked either game we’ve played on home ice,” Sheldon Keefe said after the game. “We’re 4-0 here now, but in my mind, we’ve really got one win that felt like a true win. This group is capable of a whole lot more.”
The Bears began the game with some swagger in their step and were undoubtedly the better team through the opening five minutes. Kaskisuo was sharp early, turning aside Liam O’Brien on a breakaway before making another good save on Martin Fehervary.
Toronto repaid their goaltender at the other end by breaking the deadlock with 5:55 on the clock. After a transition play caught Hershey a little flatfooted, Jeremy Bracco’s tape-to-tape pass found Kenny Agostino in the left circle, where the former AHL all-star made no mistake for his first goal as a Marlie.
The Marlies remained reliant on Kaskisuo, however, as the netminder robbed Travis Boyd in tight following a turnover by Tyler Gaudet, with Toronto’s lackadaisical play in their own zone continuing to cause them problems.
It wouldn’t be a Toronto game this season without a goal from Egor Korshkov — the Russian forward delivered his fourth in four games just 10 seconds into the game’s first power play. Playing the right point, Bracco sent a seeing-eye slap pass out front to Korshkov, who redirected the puck to give the Marlies a 2-0 lead.
Kaskisuo continued to stand tall between the pipes, making another notable save to turn aside Boyd before he was finally beaten with 89 seconds remaining in the opening frame.
Mistakes from Tanner MacMaster and Jordan Schmaltz led to a 2-on-1 break for the Bears, but there was a deal of good fortune about their goal as Timothy Liljegren redirected the puck into his own net in trying to cut out a cross-crease pass by O’Brien.
Offense continued to trump defense as the fourth goal of the game arrived just 1:20 into the middle frame — the Marlies restored their two-goal advantage with a little redemption for Jordan Schmaltz. The defenseman slid a pass through to Adam Brooks that took three Hershey skaters out of the play before Brooks made no mistake with a low shot past Vitek Vanecek.
That spelled the end for the Hershey goaltender, who was replaced by Pheonix Copley.
At the other end, Kaskisuo was continuing to impress for the Marlies, making a wonderful right toe save to deny Philippe Maillet of a certain goal and remaining sharp as Toronto killed their second minor penalty of the game.
However, the Toronto goaltender could only do so much after a bad change combined with a turnover in the neutral zone allowed the Bears to close within one for a second time.
It was almost a carbon copy of the Bears’ first goal, only this time it was Rasmus Sandin attempting to cut out the pass during a 2-on-1 break as he turned the feed from Axel Jonsson-Fjallby into his own net through Kaskisuo’s five-hole.
The Marlies responded through their power play, striking for a second time on the man advantage. A swift passing movement ended with Pontus Aberg picking out Tanner MacMaster in the heart of the slot, where he easily beat Copley with a nice fake and a low finish past the pads to give Toronto a 4-2 lead heading into the second intermission.
The fact that Toronto ended up clinging on for dear life in the final seconds of the game tells you all you need to know about their third-period performance. The Marlies got themselves into some penalty trouble, somehow beginning the period on the man advantage before winding up on a 5-on-3 for 63 seconds inside the opening minute.
An excellent penalty-killing effort was followed by some run-and-gun hockey from both teams until Hershey netted their third of the game just before the five-minute mark. Jonsson-Fjallby carried the puck with speed through the neutral zone and created a give-and-go with Brian Pinho that ended with Jonsson-Fjallby lunging at full stretch to redirect the puck by Kaskisuo.
For the Marlis, the real note on goal is the missed assignment by Bracco, who failed to track Jonsson-Fjallby hard enough after he dished off the puck.
The scene was now set for a late push as Hershey drove hard for a tying marker, with the Marlies just hanging on for survival. Inside the final five minutes, the teams exchanged chances, but Darren Archibald was denied on a rare scoring chance for Toronto before Garrett Pilon and Joe Snively were both frustrated by Kaskisuo.
A power play with 2:52 remaining should have been all the Marlies needed to see out the game, but a careless icing back at even strength almost proved costly as it led to Schmaltz heading to the box with the Marlies caught running around in their own zone.
Toronto faced a two-man deficit for the final 14 seconds, but they clung on under intense pressure to claim a fourth straight victory to begin the season.
Post Game Notes
– This is the first time that the Toronto Marlies opened a season 4-0-0 since 2007-08.
– The Marlies’ special teams were excellent; the power play went 50% at 2/4 and the penalty kill was perfect on all five occasions, including over a minute of five on three.
– With 27 saves for the victory, Kasimir Kaskisuo‘s save percentage through three games sits at .929%. He was given little help on all three goals against and barring one misadventure outside of his net, he was very composed and ultimately a major difference maker in the game.
– Kenny Agostino returned to the line-up and made an immediate impact with the goal. There looked to be a great deal of potential with his line alongside Adam Brooks (who had his best game yet) and Jeremy Bracco.
– I’m far from convinced that Tanner MacMaster is worthy of an AHL roster spot ahead of other talent currently in Newfoundland. He took his goal well on the power play, but his decision making in possession is often suspect and he certainly leans on his more talented linemates.
– As per Todd Crocker: “Egor Korshkov is the first Toronto Marlies player to score a goal in four straight games to start a season. T.J. Brennan started 2013-14 season with three straight games and seven goals.”
– Jeremy Bracco’s playmaking abilities are not in doubt and he was instrumental offensively with two key assists. However, his fallibility on the other side of the puck showed through on Hershey’s third goal.
– Rasmus Sandin returned to the line-up following his reassignment. There were a few shaky shifts, but otherwise, he and Liljegren looked right back at home together. Sandin recorded an assist on Toronto’s second goal.
“He was just in control when he was out there,” said Keefe. “He and Liljegren both. I thought Liljegren had his best game today as well. That was a real nice pairing for us. I felt good when they were out there.”