Maybe it was the All-Star break or the return to more familiar surroundings at Coca Cola Colesium, but the Toronto Marlies broke a five-game winless streak with a 6-2 victory over Charlotte on Friday night.
First and foremost, a huge welcome back goes out to assistant coach Rob Davison, who was behind the bench for the first time since falling ill in Texas. Such a swift return to work can only mean that his recovery has been excellent, and I expect his presence had a positive effect on the group.
The early signs were promising for the Marlies despite a defensive-zone turnover 20 seconds in that didn’t result in a scoring chance for Charlotte. Toronto didn’t appear like a team in a bad slump as they dictated the pace of the play and looked threatening offensively.
Their best chance to score first arrived after just 70 seconds as the returning Egor Korshkov showed strength to hang onto possession, allowing Mac Hollowell to jump into the play down the right-wing. The rookie defenseman drove toward the net and saw his backhand shot denied by Anton Forsberg.
Very much against the run of play, Charlotte broke the deadlock at the six-minute mark. A series of events conspired against the Marlies, although perhaps Jeremy Bracco took the wrong option with his pass on a rush down the right side with three players in support. Ignoring Adam Brooks crashing hard to the net, Bracco looked for Mason Marchment, who was under pressure and unable to corral the puck in the middle of the ice before Charlotte quickly transitioned back toward the Toronto net.
An intended stretch pass by Gustav Forsling hit the heel of Timothy Liljegren, rebounded toward Teemu Kivihalmev– who was tied up by Morgan Geekiev– and then Terry Broadhurst took possession. The latter pair then combined with Geekie, who wired a shot past Kaskisuo.
After a terrible road-trip and general run of form of late, you might have expected Toronto to implode after that break went against them, but instead, the Marlies rallied and showed the type of resiliency that has been sorely lacking so far in 2020.
Almost immediately, Matt Read got on his horse and circled around the net to tee up Garrett Wilson for a fantastic chance in the slot, but Wilson whiffed on his intended slap shot from the hash marks.
The Marlies only had to wait another 100 seconds for a tying goal. There was a deal of good fortune to it, but Toronto deserved at least that much. Egor Korshkov and Pontus Aberg kept Charlotte hemmed in their own zone with an excellent cycle before the Russian twice was twice denied in tight by Forsberg. Panic in their own zone by Checkers sent the puck straight to Nic Petan, who showed good composure to rifle a shot past the glove hand of Forsberg.
Kasimir Kaskisuo, certainly one of Toronto’s most consistent performers this season, kept the game tied with a fantastic glove save to deny David Gust before coming up with back-to-back stops to frustrate Janne Kuokkanen.
The Marlies came close to taking the lead through Korshkov, whose strong drive to the net from the left side brought the best out of Forsberg between the pipes.
After such a strong first period performance for 19 minutes, Toronto nearly shot themselves in the foot during the final 60 seconds — a trademark during their struggles. A defensive-zone turnover allowed Julien Gauthier a clear-cut chance, but Kaskisuo turned aside a shot Gauthier whiffed on somewhat.
The question was now whether Toronto could sustain their first-period performance for the remainder of the game. The answer was a definitive “yes,” as a three-goal burst in 90 seconds allowed them to take a firm grip on the game.
The first of those was the first-ever AHL goal for Mac Hollowell, who certainly won’t forget his first-ever AHL tally. As Nic Petan received an outlet pass from Ben Harpur on the left-wing, Hollowell leaped up into the play down the center of the ice. Petan dished off to the rookie defenseman, who shifted the puck from forehand to backhand before producing a top-shelf finish over the blocker of Forsberg.
The confidence that was so lacking on the road-trip was now feeding back into the Marlies’ energy levels as another excellent offensive cycle of the puck led to a third goal. Scott Pooley took possession after a nice drop pass by Kivihalme and spun into the left circle before deceiving Forsberg with a shot that beat him short-side.
Charlotte then switched out goaltenders, with Alex Nedeljkovic taking over between the pipes, but even he couldn’t stop the bleeding. Pooley picked off an intended pass by Roland McKeown at the Charlotte blue line and gave Nedeljkovic no chance with a low finish.
Charlotte had won eight of 11 games in January before this contest, and despite now trailing 4-1 less with less than three minutes on the clock in the middle frame, it’s no surprise that they responded in the right way, putting Toronto back on their heels.
The Marlies took two consecutive penalties as a consequence and were made to pay on the second kill after Max McCormick redirected a pass from Gust to draw the Checkers within two.
The Marlies didn’t allow the momentum to shift too heavily in the favour of the Checkers, however, and drew a power play of their own. Moments after giving up a shorthanded chance, the Marlies moved the puck swiftly in transition and Tanner MacMaster befuddled Nedeljkovic by making him think he was going to choose pass before scoring in tight with a backhand finish.
The perfect retort after withstanding some pressure, the Marlies restored their three-goal advantage and carried a 5-2 lead at the second intermission.
The game was essentially finished as a contest with five minutes on the clock in the third period, although both teams exchanged a scoring chance apiece beforehand.
Timothy Liljegren took it on himself to pick apart the Charlotte penalty kill, but in alone on goal, he wasn’t able to find the finishing touch.
Clark Bishop almost gave Charlotte some hope, but Kaskisuo produced a wonderful right toe save to deny the Checkers any sniff of a comeback.
Korshkov had been buzzing all game long and was a persistent menace to Charlotte, so it was no surprise to see him finally get himself on the score sheet before the end of the game.
On another offensive-zone cycle, Korshkov received the puck behind the net and went unchallenged by Bishop, spinning back toward the boards and flipping a pass to himself off of the back of the net before scoring on a wraparound past Nedeljkovic.
You couldn’t wipe the smile off Korshkov’s face following the goal in his first game back in the lineup, and he was denied a second just a minute later by a good poke check from Nedeljkovic.
Saturday’s rematch should be a feisty affair as this game ended with some shenanigans involving Cedric Lacroix, Marchment and Wilson, but the Marlies were full marks for the victory and need to build on it this weekend.
Post Game Notes
– Scott Pooley found the net twice to give him five goals in six games. It was a deceptive shot for the first and an excellent read on the second combined with a good breakaway finish. I ranked him highly on my midway mark/player grades article, and he continues to surprise opponents.
– That’s now seven multi-point hauls in 18 games for Nic Petan, who chipped in a goal and an assist. The best part is he’s now producing during even-strength play rather than solely on the man advantage. He has become a difference-maker on this roster. After registering at least a point in seven of his last eight games, Petan has 26 points on the season (10-16-26).
– Egor Korshkov looked fired up and ready to go after missing more time through his leg laceration injury. His goal is worth checking out in the highlight package for the audacity and the execution of the move he pulled off to set up the wraparound finish. It was his 10th goal of the season in his 29th game. Korshkov’s return to action is a much-needed boost for the Marlies’ offense.
– Kasimir Kaskisuo stopped 31 of 33 shots and thoroughly deserved the goal support provided to him. His 10th win of the season was the first since January 4th, improving his save percentage to .912 on the year.
– This was the first-ever AHL goal for Mac Hollowell, who looks like a different player when confident and willing to jump into the play offensively. He even laid one big hit of note that grabbed the attention of the home crowd and the commentators on LNN. Hollowell has registered five points (1-4-5) in 16 games this year, but I would not be surprised to see him put up some impressive numbers in the second half of the season if he continues to grow in confidence.
– Timothy Liljegren was outstanding once again in every facet. He has points in ten of his last 12 games after an assist in this game, and he could easily have added a pair of goals. His 27 points (4-23-27) this season places him 11th in scoring among all AHL defensemen and eighth in assists.
– Tanner MacMaster registered a goal and an assist to hit the double-digit mark in both those categories.
– Teem Kivihalme recorded a pair of assists for just his second multi-point haul of the season.
– Friday’s lines: