Kasimir Kaskisuo was the star of the show with an excellent shutout performance on Saturday, backstopping the Toronto Marlies to a fifth consecutive triumph that extends an unbeaten start to the 2019-20 season.
The Toronto Marlies‘ 5-0-0 run marks the best start in franchise history, with a chance to further extend the streak against a tired Cleveland team on Sunday (4 p.m. ET puck drop).
The scoreless first period was a tale of two halves, with the Marlies on top for the opening ten minutes.
Toronto could have taken the lead just 70 seconds in — good work from Kenny Agostino and Tyler Gaudet won back possession before Jeremy Bracco’s excellent pass picked out Timothy Liljegren jumping into the play, but Monsters goaltender Veini Vehvilainen had other ideas, pulling off a great glove save.
Toronto wasted a power-play opportunity following a nasty elbow to the head of Justin Schmaltz by Doyle Somerby before nearly breaking the deadlock back at evens at the eight-minute mark. The chance seemingly came out of nothing as Pierre Engvall set off on a solo rush down the right wing and backhanded a shot off the far post.
Cleveland then took control of the game in the second half of the period, with Toronto failing to take proper care of the puck inside their own zone. The Monsters were unable to capitalize, and also struck the post through Kole Sherwood.
The Monsters out-played and out-chanced the Marlies through the middle frame, but they found themselves trailing due to some excellent goaltending and one great individual effort by Toronto.
The deadlock was broken at the three-minute mark on what looked like a pretty harmless play — Liljegren put the puck on the tape of Darren Archibald at the red line as he was gathering speed through the neutral zone. The Newmarket native stormed down the right side of the Cleveland defense, easily beating Adam Clendening before cutting across the crease and sliding the puck in behind Vehvilainen.
It was almost exclusively one-way traffic heading toward Kasimir Kaskisuo for the remainder of the second period. He pulled off a great reaction save to prevent Justin Scott from immediately tying the game.
The Marlies penalty kill, a strength early in the season, did its job at the midway mark, with Matt Read and Pierre Engvall both threatening to score shorthanded.
Cleveland was ultimately left frustrated by the fact that all 15 second-period shots, including three great scoring chances inside the final seven minutes, turned into nothing on the scoresheet.
A manic scramble around the Toronto crease resulted in Kaskisuo being down-and-out on his backside, but miraculously, he reached up to palm a shot from Ryan Collins over the bar with his blocker hand.
Some more errant play and missed assignments from the Marlies resulted in Sherwood left alone in between the hash marks, but Kaskisuo fought off his quick shot on the turn.
Dillon Simpson and Zac Dalpe were both the beneficiaries of turnovers by Toronto, but neither could solve Kaskisuo.
Perhaps the best save of them all was the last meaningful one of the period on a 2-on-1 break for the Monsters. Kaskisuo denied Eric Robinson with another fantastic reaction save, and it seemed to finally spark some life into the Marlies, who drew a penalty with 30 seconds left on the clock.
The third period began with two penalties inside three minutes, but the Marlies weren’t able to take advantage of a shortened 5-on-3 power play. On the other side of special teams, the penalty kill remained steadfast and sucked more life out of a tired-looking Cleveland team that played the previous night.
A questionable penalty finally broke the back of the Monsters as the Marlies finally made hay with the extra man. Not necessarily known for his shooting prowess since arriving in Toronto, Liljegren has obviously been putting in some work on that area of his game — his one-time slap shot was expertly tipped in front by Egor Korshkov to double Toronto’s lead.
Cleveland registered just six shots through the final frame, with Kaskisuo not really fully worked until the final couple of minutes when he turned aside a good individual effort from Ryan MacInnis.
Garrett Wilson was denied his first goal as a Marlie by Vehvilainen’s best save of the game, but in the end, it mattered little as Kaskisuo’s clean sheet secured the best start to a Toronto Marlies season in franchise history.
Post Game Notes
– The penalty kill, called on twice in the game, is a perfect 16 for 16. The power play struck for a fifth time and is currently producing at a league-leading 29.4%, with a lot of that driven by its effectiveness on home ice (38.5%).
“Special teams and goaltending have been the backbone of our wins on home ice,” said Sheldon Keefe.
– Kasimir Kaskisuo is now rocking a .947 save percentage after a 30-save shutout — his eighth in 72 AHL regular-season games. I decided to take a look back at his most recent body of work following his good start to the season: Since February 23 of this year, Kaskisuo has participated in 26 games (including the 2019 playoffs) and has recorded a combined .936 save percentage through that stretch. Take that statistic with a pinch of salt considering his poor play overall for over half of last season, but if he continues his good form for an extended while, could it be possible he earns himself a look? Just something to ponder with backup goaltending under the microscope right now in Toronto.
– Egor Korshkov just continues to score with his fifth in as many games and third power-play marker.
– A pair of primary assists for Timothy Liljegren gives him his first multi-point haul of the season. That’s five points in as many games (1-4-5) for the defenseman, who was once again excellent in every facet of the game.
“As you see now with the goals he’s scored, he’s more willing to shoot the puck,” said Keefe. “A little more opportunity and a little more confidence goes a long way with those types of things.”
– Darren Archibald is the type of player that will fulfill any task asked of him, and he certainly wasn’t sulking after moving into a fourth-line role for this game. His game-winning goal highlights what he’s capable of at this level and how good the Marlies’ depth at forward is.
“I thought he was really good,” said Keefe. “Great goal, builds a lot of speed in the neutral zone and attacks the net right away. We’re trying to attack the net more as a team and that’s what he does very well. We’ve seen that a lot over the years in the division when he’s been playing against us.”
– Adam Brooks missed the game with a neck strain and isn’t expected to play Sunday.
– Zach O’Brien was called up from Newfoundland and suited up for his season debut on a fourth line with Archibald and Tanner McMaster.
“I thought we got good shifts out of that line,” said Keefe. “It’s kind of a makeshift line for us with McMaster playing center and Brooks being out and O’Brien just joining us today.”
– Saturday’s lines: