Oftentimes teams struggle in their first home game back after a long road trip.
That was not the case for the Toronto Marlies, who blitzed the Texas Stars with a second-period offensive outburst that included three goals in as many minutes en route to an 8-5 victory on Saturday.
Toronto started the game with good energy, although they had their goaltender to thank for not falling behind with 3:30 on the clock when a giveaway presented Michael Mersch with a fantastic chance alone in front. Joseph Woll robbed Mersch from point-blank range.
The Marlies responded by testing Landon Bow twice at the other end, with Kenny Agostino and Adam Brooks both coming close before Toronto broke the deadlock shortly after on the game’s first power play.
The Marlies gave the Stars penalty kill no chance with good puck speed as Jeremy Bracco presented Agostino with an easy of tap-in to open the scoring.
It was then 2-0 inside eight minutes after another strong effort on the power play gave Texas the run-around. The goal actually occurred one second after the delay-of-game penalty expired, but Parker MacKay didn’t have time to influence play after exiting the box as Pierre Engvall finished off a rebound.
The Marlies were fully in control in this stage, but a needless stick penalty by Matt Read allowed the Stars to halve the deficit on the resulting man advantage. Woll made one excellent save to deny Brad McClure, but was he helpless against Mersch’s shot after blocking Joel Kiviranta’s initial effort.
The lead remained at one through 20 minutes, but only thanks to the excellence of Stars goaltending Landon Bow, who wasn’t receiving much help in front of him. A heavy shot from Pontus Aberg almost knocked the goaltender off his feet, but Bow wasn’t backing down and went on to deny Read on a breakaway attempt with 90 seconds remaining.
The middle period proved to be a wild 20 minutes starting just 67 seconds in, when the Marlies should have doubled up their lead. Aberg forced a turnover behind the Texas net, but Korshkov was unable to jam the puck home from the side of the net.
Toronto then sat back as Texas built a little momentum, leading to the tying goal. A harmless-looking shot from the point by Ben Gleason took an odd deflection off Mersch in front and totally dumbfounded Woll, although the goaltender could have used some help from either Ben Harpur or Jordan Schmaltz, with both caught puck watching.
Toronto responded just 32 seconds later thanks to an excellent piece of defensive play by Hudson Elynuik. The fourth line center recovered the puck inside the Marlies zone and put it on the tape of Nick Baptiste streaking away through the neutral zone. Baptiste has found offense hard to come by in his time in Toronto, but he gave Bow no chance with a wrist shot on the blocker side.
The seminal moment of the game arrived on a power play for Texas. Adam Mascherin looked set to score on a second opportunity, but a flying reaction save from Woll denied another tying goal, setting the stage for Toronto to double their lead short-handed.
Another solid defensive play allowed Baptiste to collect the loose puck and use his speed to escape down the left wing. It could have been a 3-on-1 break, but without a clear pass available to teammates a step behind him, Baptiste took the percentage option and placed a perfect shot off the inside of the post on the short side.
A third goal in as many minutes by Toronto effectively broke the will of a struggling Texas team. Bracco chased an errant pass by Agostino into the far right corner, where he tried to surprise Bow with a shot from below the goal line. The rebound fell to Schmaltz, who wasted no time teeing up Agostino for another easy finish.
The Stars promptly fell part and chances for the Marlies were coming easy, including a number of odd-man rushes.
Adam Brooks and Bracco combined to tee up Agostino for his hat-trick at the midway mark of the game to make it 6-2, and the scoring was far from over there. A long stretch pass from Harpur found Elynuik, who was unselfish in setting up Tanner MacMaster for the seventh Marlies goal of the night.
The Engvall line finished the scoring for the period, with Engvall registering his sixth goal of the season after pouncing on a rebound from Aberg’s initial shot.
The third period was essentially a dead rubber, with Toronto leading 8-2 and looking to finish the game unscathed, while Texas were trying to save face and give themselves something to build on for the rematch on Sunday.
Two goals in 34 seconds inside the opening six minutes lifted the spirits of the Stars, but those strikes by Gleason and Joel L’Esperance were little more than a consolation prize as the Marlies coasted home for a comfortable 8-4 victory.
Post Game Notes
– The Toronto Marlies keep their unbeaten home record intact (5-0-0) and sit third in the North Division with games in hand on those above them in the standings.
– The 22 shots recorded in the first period is a season-high by Toronto, doubling their previous best.
“I liked a lot about our game — especially our start,” said Sheldon Keefe. “We spent a lot of time on their half of the ice, a lot of time with the puck, and attacked the net with a lot more frequency throughout the game. About half the game is probably a throwaway given the nature of the score, but I liked how we started, how we continued to score, and how we made it real hard on their goalie.”
– Kenny Agostino recorded a hat trick to move into a tie for the Toronto Marlies lead in goals with eight. Agostino’s first hat-trick since December 31, 2016 (netted four goals for Iowa against Chicago) gives him five points in his past two games.
– As per Todd Crocker, Jeremy Bracco earned three assists to move into 5th on the Toronto Marlies all time assist list behind Mike Zigomanis (116), Kris Newbury (112) and T.J. Brennan (103) Battaglia (95). Bracco’s second three-point haul of the season broke a three-game scoreless streak.
– Nick Baptiste scored a pair of goals to double his point production through eight games.
Baptiste and Hudson Elynuik appear to be developing a chemistry, with the latter recording his first points of the year with a pair of assists.
– Pierre Engvall netted twice for the second straight game and sits at a point-per-game pace (6-8-14) through 14 games.
– Pontus Aberg registered his fifth multi-point haul on the year with two assists. He continues to lead the Marlies in scoring with 15 points (8-7-15).
– Adam Brooks made his return to the line-up and looked fully up to speed after an absence -of exactly one month. He registered an assist and recorded four shots on goal.
“I really liked how Brooksy skated today,” said Keefe. “Another thing, in addition to Hollowell on defense with his mobility, is having another center with speed and skill. It slotted everybody in a little bit better for us with our depth. It really helped our transition game. We are a different team when we have a center like that that can help us. It was great to see him play with so much pace and competitiveness and him wanting to make a difference given the nature of his injury and the fact that he had been out for so long.”
– Mac Hollowell made his season debut in what was also his first-ever regular-season AHL game. He looked assured in his own zone and just as confident as he was during the playoffs last summer with the puck on his stick.
“Having another skater, a guy that can both defend with his speed and help us in transition going the other way with his skill set, we were excited to see what our team would look like with Mac in there,” said Keefe. “I really liked Mac’s game a lot today and thought he brought a lot to the team.”
– Rasmus Sandin did not play in the third period as a precautionary measure. He is scheduled to undergo tests and is doubtful to play on Sunday afternoon.
– Timothy Liljegren has been back skating for a few days but won’t feature this weekend.
– As per the Leafs Nation Network game broadcast, Mason Marchment has been participating in training wearing a red non-contact jersey.