The Toronto Marlies returned to action at Coca-Cola Coliseum almost a full year after a pair of skates last touched the ice surface in competitive play.
There were a few changes at hand for this one: Rich Clune was named the ninth captain of the Toronto Marlies in the build-up to this game, while notorious forward Alex Galchenyuk, a reclamation project for the Maple Leafs, played in his first-ever AHL game at the age of 27.
Toronto could not have gotten off to a worse start. Inside 36 seconds, Adam Brooks and Nick Robertson both took penalties, leaving the Marlies to face down a 5-on-3 penalty kill for 1:39.
The Marlies survived but only just — Cole Perfetti rang a wicked shot off the iron with Andrew D’Agostini beaten all ends up, and Manitoba wasn’t able to capitalize on their early opportunity.
Taking a little while to find their feet, the Marlies were also indebted to their goaltender for a good save on Jeff Malott from the slot.
Somewhat against the run of play, Toronto opened the scoring at the eight-minute mark.
After Nick Robertson found Tyler Gaudet between the hash marks with his back to goal, the veteran swiftly made use of the space with a shot on the turn that created a rebound off of Mikhail Berdin for Adam Brooks to finish off after he crashed hard to the net.
The Marlies quickly took control of the first period with a second goal just over a minute later. Toronto’s power-play went to work with Brett Davis in the box for slashing, allowing Alex Galchenyuk to showcase his offensive skillset. There seemed to be little danger in the air as the Wisconsin native held possession on the right boards, but his seeing-eye pass to Robertson was met by a definitive finish by the rookie at the far post.
The Marlies, fully in control at this point, would have built on their lead if not for some excellent goaltending by Berdin.
The middle frame was a much more even affair, and the Moose probably should have gotten themselves on the board to halve the deficit.
D’Agostini was forced to fight off a couple of stinging shots which cannoned off of his mask, but Toronto’s defense protected their goaltender to ensure there were no second chances for Manitoba to pounce on.
The only goal of the period was scored by the Marlies, who were rewarded for their perseverance on a broken play. After the forward line of Rich Clune, Colt Conrad, and Scott Pooley all combined to cause havoc, Teemu Kivihaklme was the beneficiary as he fired home the loose puck from just above the hash marks.
A penalty taken by Nick Robertson late in the second period almost cost the Marlies in the opening moments of the final frame when the luckless Perfetti rang a shot off of the top of the crossbar.
Despite not scoring with the man advantage, Manitoba assumed control of the game and began to dominate in possession and zone time. They were helped in their quest to claw back from a three-goal deficit by a bad error from D’Agostini: A misplay behind his own net by the goaltender presented the puck on a silver platter for the Moose, who capitalized via Jeff Malott.
D’Agositni redeemed himself a few minutes later on a Marlies power play. After a mistake by Calle Rosen allowed the dangerous Malott to escape on a breakaway, the Marlies goaltender challenged him confidently at the top of the paint and got enough of his pad on the shot to keep Toronto’s two-goal lead intact.
Manitoba then dragged themselves within one with eight minutes remaining when Joona Luoto’s big slapshot from above the left circle might have taken a slight deflection off a Marlies stick and past D’Agostini, who may have wanted that one back.
With it now game on, Toronto awoke from their slumber and pushed back against the one-way traffic of the preceding 12 minutes.
Though not able to generate much offensively, Toronto started to look more comfortable, which in turn led Manitoba to became more frenetic in their search for a tying goal. The Marlies sealed the victory with an empty-net tally courtesy of Kivihalme to improve to 5-4-0 on the season.
Post Game Notes
– Nobody in the organization is more worthy of the Toronto Marlies captaincy than Rich Clune. He is the heartbeat of the club, a fantastic role model for young prospects, and he has a work ethic that is second-to-none. He’s as loyal to the organization as they have been to him. I only see this appointment being a huge hit.
“He has the full respect of everybody,” said Greg Moore. “He has lived an incredible life. The relationships that he has built with the players, his approach every day and how hard he works, his desire to want to get better every day in every area of his game, what he brings as a person every day pushing everybody… For the short time I have been here, I have been so impressed. Presenting it to him this morning, it was difficult to get the words out and find the right words. I was actually nervous to give the speech just because I don’t know if I could do him justice with the right words. He means so much to this organization. He means so much to everybody for so many years. It is awesome to see the support and love from past teammates and the people he has come across in his career and his life. He has had a very positive impact.”
– If I were grading Alex Galchenyuk’s debut, I would assess him as a B+. Toronto’s performance ebbed and flowed somewhat and so did his, but it’s to be expected from a player who hasn’t seen competitive action in three weeks. The pass for Robertson’s goal on the power play was a taste of his passing ability. The two seemed to strike up some chemistry on that unit.
Greg Moore also threw Galchenyuk out to protect the lead late on during a 5-on-6, where he didn’t let himself or the team down. A nice start.
“He’s played a lot of hockey and has a lot of experience,” said Moore. “It is easy to put him in spots like that during games, whether it is 5-on-5, special teams, or 6-on-5. He is a smart player and I trust him to be out there.”
– A pair of goals for Teemu Kivihalme gives him four in nine games to start the season. That’s as many as he scored in 55 appearances last season.
– Kalle Kossila finally got himself on the scoresheet in his third game with a couple of assists. He was thrust up onto the top line after easing his way back into action in the bottom six.
– This was the third multi-point haul of the year for Nick Robertson (1-1-2), who has nine points in as many games. A worrying trend for him is that he’s taken two minor penalties in each of the last three outings, but I am sure the coaching staff is well aware of it and it’s part of learning the professional game for the 19-year-old.
– The third goal of the season for Adam Brooks was his first at even strength. Considered day-to-day after being hurt in Stockton, Brooks was excellent at driving the play throughout this game after taking an ill-advised early penalty.
– Tyler Gaudet just keeps on rolling offensively. His point streak stands at five games after an assist in this outing. He now leads the team in scoring with 10 points (4-6-10).
– Martin Marincin made his season debut and looked as assured as ever back in the AHL. Greg Moore leaned on him heavily at times and Marincin excelled in every situation.
– Monday’s lines: