They may have lost the services of Sheldon Keefe and Pierre Engvall this past week, but the Toronto Marlies juggernaut remains firmly on track.
It was far from a perfect performance on Saturday, but the Marlies were clinical on their opportunities, more disciplined than of late, and received excellent goaltending at the critical moments en route to a 4-2 win over Manitoba.
The opening period was a feeling-out process, with Manitoba boasting a stronger roster than the one Toronto beat twice in Winnipeg earlier in the season.
A fantastic coast-to-coast rush by Rasmus Sandin resulted in Egor Korshkov drawing a penalty, but the Marles could not convert on two man-advantage opportunities in the first period.
Manitoba edged the shot-clock 9-7, and they likely would have broken the deadlock inside the final five minutes if not for an excellent piece of play by Mac Hollowell, who negated an excellent scoring chance with a last-ditch poke check.
Toronto’s penalty kill ensured the game remained scoreless heading into the intermission before the game opened up considerably in the middle stanza.
Having killed the final few seconds of the penalty, Toronto took control and struck less than two minutes into the second period. The Marlies put together a dominant cycle shift before Ben Harpur threw the puck on net in search of a rebound; the puck fell straight to Adam Brooks, who buried the second opportunity.
It was almost immediately 2-0 after Korshkov was sprung free on a breakaway by Teemu Kivihalme, but the Russian forward’s effort rang off the inside off the post and stayed out.
The game featured some exhilarating end-to-end hockey in the middle frame, with both teams exchanging chances and giving the respective coaches grey hairs. Berdin kept his team in the game with a pair of stops to deny Tanner MacMaster and Pontus Aberg, while Michael Hutchinson fought off a shot by Alexis D’Aoust on a 2-on-1 break.
J.C Lipon wasted a breakaway opportunity, firing high and wide when in alone on Hutchinson, and Toronto made him pay by scoring the next goal.
Kivihalme — who had himself an impact game offensively — drew a penalty that allowed Toronto to bring on the extra skater while in possession. Kivihalme faked the shot from the left circle and somehow found Tyler Gaudet at the far post, who in turn snuck the puck to Matt Read waiting at the other side of the blue paint to finish it off.
The score stayed at 2-0 through 40 minutes, but it really could have been a much different scoreline in either direction.
Playing undoubtedly his best game so far for the Marlies, Harpur made an impressive block to cut out yet another 2-on-1 rush for the Moose.
Chances also came and went for Toronto, with Nic Baptiste, Garrett Wilson and Hollowell all coming close and the line of Wilson-Gaudet-Read causing Manitoba stress on every shift.
Another fast and furious start by Toronto to the final frame really should have put the result beyond doubt. The forward line of Korshkov-MacMaster-Aberg almost combined to create a scoring chance for Aberg, but the broken play fell to Timothy Liljegren jumping into the play. The Marlies defenseman showed good composure to place a low shot past the glove of Berdin.
It was then 4-0 less than two minutes in after more sustained pressure in the offensive zone paid dividends for the Marlies. Wilson was unable to redirect a shot by Gaudet past Berdin, but he stayed with the play and went around the net to score with a backhand wraparound attempt that barely crossed the goal line.
A timeout called by Manitoba combined with Toronto taking their foot off the gas allowed the Moose to creep their back into the game. Hutchinson was far busier in the third period and made a good save to turn aside Kristian Vesalainen on yet another odd-man rush for the Moose.
Two goals in 27 seconds saw Toronto’s lead cut in half with just over ten minutes remaining. Vesalainen finished off a rebound on a shot by Cole Maier to put the Moose on the board followed soon after by a goal Toronto would want back.
After C.J. Suess won the race to reach the puck on a dump-in play, all five Toronto skaters collapsed on top of Hutchinson and left Skyler McKenzie alone in the slot to receive the pass from Suess and bury a one-time shot.
The reset button needed to be pressed, and to the Marlies’ credit, they responded the right way, with Hutchinson staying solid to post 12 saves through the third period to secure 4-2 victory.
Post Game Notes
– The Toronto Marlies tied a franchise record by recording their eighth successive victory on home ice, first set during the 2007-08 season.
– Michael Hutchinson improved to 3-0 with a 32-save performance and is now sporting a .942 save percentage in the AHL.
“Hutchy has done a good job since he’s been here of just staying focused,” said AJ MacLean. “Any time we’ve had any sort of breakdown, he’s been standing strong for us.”
– After just one point in his last five games, Tyler Gaudet recorded a pair of assists in this outing. As noted in the recap, his line with Wilson and Read was excellent throughout.
– Adam Brooks registered his first point since recovering from injury with his second goal of the year.
– Kenny Agostino recorded an assist to give him seven points (5-2-7) in his last five games.
– Matt Read registered his second goal in three outings and third overall as he’s started to pick up the pace offensively.
– Saturday’s lines: