Already in the midst of a slump and on the brink of falling out of a playoff berth, the prospect of facing a red-hot Charlotte team was not an enticing one for the Toronto Marlies.
With a 4-3 shootout loss, the Marlies are now 2-7-1 in their last ten games and hold onto a playoff spot only by the virtue of playing one fewer game than the Laval Rocket.
The Checkers, who have lost just once in 2020, were clearly the better team through the opening 40 minutes without being able to translate that dominance into an advantage on the scoreboard.
As he has done all season to date, Kasimir Kaskisuo came up big early for Toronto as they hung on for dear life in the first period. A double save to deny Oliwer Kaski and Fredrik Claesson with only two minutes on the clock was the highlight from the Finnish goaltender, who turned aside all 14 shots he faced through the opening frame.
Totally against the run of play, Toronto broke the deadlock with a little over six minutes played. Mason Marchment initiated his own breakaway on the penalty kill, held off the back-check of Jake Bean with ease, and comprehensively beat Anton Forsberg.
It was the only time in the game that the Marlies played with any quality on special teams as Charlotte made a laughing stock out of Toronto’s power play and penalty kill from there on in. The Marlies failed to make a controlled zone entry on two power plays late in the first period, but they did manage to cling onto a one-goal lead heading into the intermission.
The middle frame began with a promising first shift by Toronto that saw Marchment come close to netting a second as he forced a good save from Forsberg before putting his own rebound narrowly wide. That’s as good as it got for the Marlies, who fell apart at the seams and could easily have been four or five goals behind after 40 minutes.
Bean rang a blistering shot off the crossbar with Toronto running around in their own zone before Morgan Geekie was left alone in front to redirect a shot by Janne Kuokkanen to tie the game at 1-1 shortly thereafter.
Kuokkanen then proceeded to put the Checkers ahead as they netted two power-play goals in 74 seconds.
The Marlies wasted two power plays of their own before finding themselves back on the penalty kill, but they somehow avoided fall further behind when down a man. A pass straight down the middle of the ice by Forsberg cut through the middle of the non-existent Toronto PK and sent Kuokkanen in alone on goal, where Kaskisuso denied the left winger, but there was a penalty shot awarded on the play.
The two Finns went head-to-head again, with Kaskisuo prevailing a second time to keep the Marlies’ heads above water heading into the second intermission.
Far too often Toronto has found themselves trailing after 40 minutes in the past few weeks, and it’s often proved a bridge too far for this current group of players.
Jeremy Bracco failed to take advantage of a fantastic scoring chance just 75 seconds when in alone on Forsberg, and it felt like that missed opportunity spelled danger for Toronto, who struggled to create anything offensively to that point.
It’s been a strange season for Mason Marchment, who was injured in training camp and not returning until December, called up to the Leafs after just a dozen games in the AHL, and then sent back to the Marlies with the Maple Leafs injury crisis lessening. A dynamic player at his best, Marchment struck twice in two minutes to put Toronto ahead for a second time, completing his first AHL hat-trick in the process.
Trevor Moore was the architect of the tying goal, showing his tenacity to win a battle behind the net for before setting up his former linemate from between the hashmarks.
The third goal looked like an innocuous play, with Marchment picking up a pass from Michael Kapla just over the defensive blue line. Charlotte didn’t close down on the towering winger, however, and after brushing aside Terry Broadhurst, Marchment attempted a curl-and-drag play to get by Cavan Fitzgerald and left the puck behind him. That seemed to confuse everyone, including Forsberg, as Marchment quickly regained composure and rifled a wrist shot from the left circle past the Checkers netminder.
The double strike appeared to knock the stuffing out of Charlotte, who looked to be totally in control beforehand, and the Checkers were fortunate that the lead wasn’t bigger for the Marlies.
With six minutes remaining, a resurgent Toronto team was swarming the Charlotte net and drew a delayed penalty. The pressure was relentless; twice the Marlies came close to netting a fourth before the officials inexplicably whistled the play dead for a penalty call against the Checkers. There were no guarantees of a Toronto scoring, but with two players waiting to the left of the net and the puck in the process of being switched that side of the ice, it certainly negated at least one further scoring chance.
It almost goes without saying that the Marlies power play generated next to nothing; in fact, they were indebted to Kaskisuo for robbing Spencer Smallman on a fantastic chance shorthanded for Charlotte.
That special teams’ fiasco seemed to turn the tide. The Checkers went for broke with an extra attacker and found a way through with 27 seconds remaining when a shot from the point by Bean weaved its way through a plethora of traffic before finding its way past the unfortunate Kaskisuo, who deserved much better for his performance.
A point was more than Toronto deserved on the merits of their 60-minute effort, but a second point was still on offer in overtime. Marchment came close to netting his fourth again at 3-on-3, but the Checkers probably had the better of the scoring opportunities.
A shootout was required, and the Checkers prevailed in the fifth round with the only goal of the skills competition. It was a little curious that Bracco took the fourth shot ahead of Nic Petan and that players like Pontus Aberg, Kalle Kossila, and a confident Scott Pooley went overlooked.
Post Game Notes
– Mason Marchment was back to his effervescent best. He was overly physical without crossing the line, got under the skin of Charlotte all game long, and netted a first AHL hat-trick. The Marlies badly need this version of Mason Marchment going forward.
– Understandably, when overtime came, Trevor Moore was gassed, but he showed few ill-effects of his recent injuries that kept him out of action in the NHL. The hustle was there, and hopefully, that will rub off on some of his current teammates before the conditioning stint is over.
– Kasimir Kaskisuo turned aside 34 shots and was the main reason Toronto were able to take anything from this game. None of the goals he allowed came at even-strength play; the two power plays goals were followed by a 6-on-5 goal in the final 30 seconds when Charlotte pulled their netminder.
– Mac Hollowell failed to finish the game. He was the recipient of a huge, borderline-late open-ice hit that drew the ire of Trevor Moore.
– Saturday’s lines: