The post-Sheldon Keefe era began for the Toronto Marlies just a few hours after he was announced as the 31st head coach in Toronto Maple Leafs history.
If he tuned in tonight, Keefe would not have been overly thrilled with the overall performance of his former club, but he certainly would have been proud of their commitment to sticking with the cause and finding a way to pick up another two points, especially in the wake of the pre-game coaching shuffle.
After a 50/50 first half of the first period with neither team imposing sustained control over the run of play, the Rocket broke the deadlock at the midway point.
David Sklenicka jumped up to grab Jeremy Bracco’s flipped clearance just outside the Marlies zone, and with Ben Harpur and Jordan Schmaltz caught napping, he sent Matthew Peca in alone on net to open the scoring past Michael Hutchinson with a tidy deke.
Laval dominated the rest of the period, out-shooting Toronto by an 11-4 count, partly due to some power-play time. A late hit by Garrett Wilson on Alex Belzile drew the ire of the Rocket, with Otto Leskinen jumping to his teammate’s defense. The Toronto forward was assessed a boarding major and a game misconduct, while Leskinen was tabbed for the instigator, meaning Laval went to a three-minute power play after four-on-four action.
Rile Barber struck the iron during the man advantage, but Toronto also had chances the other way, with Timothy Liljegren unable to capitalize on the best Marlies scoring opportunity.
The Marlies started the middle frame on the front foot and were rewarded with a tying goal just three minutes in. Tanner MacMaster — who continues to be a pleasant surprise this season — put in solid work along the end boards to chase down a dump in and come out with the puck over a couple of Laval defenders before teeing up Scott Pooley in the right circle. Pooley’s AHL opportunities have been limited to date, but the right winger showed some offensive touch with a slap shot past Charlie Lindgren.
The Marlies were firmly in control as they pushed the pace of the game for the first time after tying it up, but they were unable to convert possession into a go-ahead goal.
Laval then took over the game again at the midway mark, albeit they were helped by some suspect officiating. The Rocket power play twice went to work, but Toronto’s penalty kill hung tough despite sustained in-zone pressure and strong puck movement by Laval.
Toronto almost grabbed themselves a late second-period lead following good board work from Egor Korshkov’s line, but fortune wasn’t on their side — after Kristians Rubins jumped up into the play into the high slot, he solved Lindgren but not the goal post.
The final frame of regulation was more of an even period, although, in the balance of play, Laval had the better scoring opportunities. Hutchinson made a good double stop in the opening minute and went go on to make another pair of back-to-back saves during Toronto’s first power play as Laval posed a real threat while shorthanded.
The Marlies showed plenty of endeavour in the final frame with no end product; a slap shot from Matt Read and a couple of scrambles in front of Lindgren were the closest they came to snatching a win in regulation.
The extra frame was mostly dominated by Laval, who somehow failed to make hay on several good scoring chances, with the Marlies looking gassed on some lengthy shifts. Hutchinson made the five saves needed to set the stage for Toronto to grab the extra point on a piece of individual brilliance with 25 seconds remaining.
Kenny Agostino went coast-to-coast down the left side, breezing past the first man, making a move around the second, and spinning and shooting against the grain in one movement to finish past a surprised Lindgren, who likely would want that one back.
Post Game Notes
– With Keefe headed to Arizona to meet up with his new team, the Marlies were coached by a staff of A.J. MacLean, Rob Davison, and Jack Han. MacLean met with the media after the game and discussed what Keefe meant to him as he’s developed as a coach and how excited the entire group was for their former head coach with today’s news:
“For me personally, he means everything to my career. Along with my father and Kyle Dubas, they’re the people who have really groomed me to be where I am. Once I got done playing, they took a chance on me in the Soo. Every step of the way, he has been an incredible mentor and basically a big brother to me through life and coaching.
With the development of the Marlies, he’s been incredible. He genuinely cares about every player that comes through here. He puts the time and effort in to make sure each and every player has an opportunity to reach their maximum potential.
It’s a big opportunity — one we he’s ready for, we feel. We are so excited for him here. The players were buzzing. The staff was buzzing. It was good to see.”
Asked about the hallmarks of a Sheldon Keefe-coached team, MacLean stressed, “details.”
“He’s very well pronounced when he explains what he wants to see, and every detail matters. No stone goes unturned. I don’t know if I would give him a label; he’s just a great coach. He’s very passionate and he cares about each and every player. The guys know about that and they feel it. It just ends up bringing out the best of everyone on the ice… He knows how to really get the best out of players.
If someone cares for you, you go through the wall for him. That’s what you see here all the time with the Marlies. The guys go through the wall for him.
– The Marlies remain perfect at home with seven consecutive victories, extending their current winning streak to four games.
– Scott Pooley scored in his season debut in just his 12th career game for the Marlies. He’s looking to state his case for a longer stay in the AHL in his second full season with the organization.
– Kenny Agostino’s goal was his ninth of the season and the second game-winner. That’s five goals in four games for the former AHL All-star, who looks set for a big year production-wise after a slow start by his usual standards.
– Michael Hutchinson looks like a goaltender who has had the weight of the world lifted off his shoulders. He posted 32 saves for his second-straight victory.
“I’m really excited for Sheldon,” Hutchinson said after the game. “He’s an amazing coach. Seeing his preparation every day, his attention to detail and the way he sees the game is very different than anyone I’ve been around before. Every day I come to the rink I learn something new just listening to him.”
– Tanner MacMaster extended his points streak to four games with the second-period assist (1-3-4).
– Wednesday’s lines: