After a week off, a much different Toronto Marlies lineup did just enough to edge out the Laval Rocket and get back on the winning track following consecutive losses to Stockton.

Marlies head coach Greg Moore went with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen in his lineup, which included season debuts for Alexander Barabanov, Nic Petan, Scott Sabourin, and Noel Hoefenmayer (as well as goaltender Joseph Woll).

“We had a couple of young defensemen playing in McCourt and Hoefenmayer, and we wanted to give them some reps in an important game,” said Moore. “They had been working really hard during their time here. I thought they showed really well. We also had a lot of players up front who could log a lot of minutes, and a lot of versatility with players who can play center and wing.”

First Period

It was a colourful start to this game for the Toronto Marlies and Scott Sabourin, in particular. Reassigned to the Marlies for his first taste of AHL hockey this season, the right-winger surged toward the Laval net on a breakaway just 23 seconds in. With goaltender Cayden Primeau coming out of his blue paint and defenseman Corey Schueneman applying direct pressure on the back of Sabourin, a collision was inevitable.

After Primeau was sent flying into the corner, Sabourin dropped the gloves with an unwilling combatant in Lukas Vejdemo, letting fly with a flurry of punches before the officials intervened. What might fly in the NHL does not in the American League: Sabourin was given two minutes for goaltender interference — which seemed harsh — and also a five-minute major and game misconduct for being the aggressor in the fight.

Faced with a five-minute kill so early in the game, Toronto’s penalty kill stepped up to the plate. Laval was only able to register five shots on goal, and Joseph Woll turned aside all of them to give his team a foothold in the game.

The Rocket dominated the shot count in the opening frame, though, and finally turned that into a goal with almost 11 minutes on the clock. After Toronto chased the puck off of a lost defensive-zone faceoff, there didn’t appear to be much danger in the air when Jesse Ylonen let fly with a speculative shot from the left wall, but the puck hit the body of Joseph Blandisi at the far post and snuck past Woll.

The Marlies tied it up before the first intermission thanks to a delightful piece of play by Timothy Liljegren at the offensive blue line. In his return to Coca-Cola Coliseum, Liljegren skipped past Vejdemo at the Laval blue line, stepped into the slot, and generated a rebound for another returning player in Nic Petan to finish off.

The period ended the way it began as tempers flared. Rich Clune took umbrage with Tobie Paquette-Bisson for what looked like a high hit on Alexander Barabanov, squaring up with Paquette-Bisson and clearly winning the bout.

Second Period

Toronto’s new-look first line took control of the middle frame, putting Toronto up by a pair. Alexander Barabanov was robbed on a 2-on-1 break inside the opening minute, but he didn’t have to wait much longer to claim his first AHL goal.

After Nic Petan carried possession through the neutral zone and across the blue line and dished off to Alex Galchenyuk, Alexander Barabanov ghosted into the slot to receive a perfectly-weighted pass from Galchenyuk and finished with aplomb.

The Marlies wasted two power-play opportunities in the period, but it mattered little as they cruised into a 3-1 lead at the midway point when the top line along, with the defensive pairing of Joseph Duszak and Kristain Rubins, had Laval running around in their zone with their work on the cycle. Rubins teed up Galchenyuk in the right circle, where the Wisconsin native took a second to weigh his options before sending a wicked wrist shot past Primeau.

Toronto then gifted Laval a way back into the game. There shouldn’t have been any danger as Toronto had three players in the defensive zone when Ylonen crossed the blue line with two teammates in tow. A lack of communication allowed Ylonen to cruise low into the right circle and rip a powerful shot across Woll and into the corner of the net.

Both teams then exchanged fantastic scoring chances, the best of which was the paddle stop Primeau pulled off to stonewall Galchenyuk on the goal line.

A late power play for the Rocket should have given the Rocket a chance to tie the game, but the Marlies extended their lead instead. Rourke Chartier came within inches of scoring on a spectacular individual effort before Joey Anderson found the net with a redirect in front.

That goal was made possible by Kalle Kossila, who intercepted a pass in the neutral zone, drove across the blue with purpose, and delivered a pinpoint feed to Anderson.

Third Period

Toronto let their foot off the gas a little bit in the final frame. It may have been inevitable given the combination of not having played for a week, starting with 11 forwards/7 defensemen and playing down another forward after Sabourin’s ejection, and the number of players in the Marlies lineup who were playing their first game of the season (or after a few weeks off).

Laval drew within one with seven minutes remaining through Josh Brook, but Toronto did a pretty good job of shutting the Rocket down the rest of the way. An empty-net goal should have iced the game, but it was called offside in rather bizarre circumstances.

Instead, it was down to Woll to make his 11th save of the period to clinch a much-needed victory.

Post Game Notes

Alexander Barabanov played as if the shackles were off in a very impressive AHL debut performance. Time will tell whether that’s due to his quality of teammates and competing at a lower level, but the player and organization could not have asked for a better start than him recording three points (1-2-3) in his Marlies debut.

– It’s a sign of how much Timothy Liljegren has improved that he was able to jump straight back into this game cold and still impress. His play on the game-tying goal was tremendous. Offensively, he’s come leaps and bounds since last year.

– Almost a year to the day, Joseph Woll finally returned to AHL action. Heading into this shortened campaign, the goaltending should have been the most interesting facet of the Marlies season, but injuries to Ian Scott, Jack Campbell, and Frederik Andersen have meant we have seen neither prospect between the pipes until now.

Overall, I thought Woll looked steady in the crease, made a few key saves in the first and third periods, and gave up relatively few second opportunities. A 31-save performance should be a solid start to build off of.

Nic Petan is a point-scoring machine in a Marlies uniform. A two-point haul (1-1-2) for the BC native gives him 33 points in 26 career games for the Marlies. That is also now back-to-back two-point games (1-1-2) for Alex Galchenyuk. It was obvious he enjoyed playing on a line with Barabanov and Petan.

“The [sent-down players] have all conducted themselves really well on and off the ice,” said Moore. “The effort was strong by all of them. That is all we can ask for as a staff: When guys come down, regardless of the length of time they are here with us, they are good people and good teammates. Everybody has been contributing in that way. It helps our team a lot, especially the guys here who can feed off of it.”

Noel Hoefenmayer made his AHL debut and didn’t look out of place, albeit in limited minutes as the 7th defenseman. I was pleased to see Riley McCourt receive another game. It was another solid performance from the rookie, who flashed another few glimpses of the ability he possesses offensively.

– Friday’s lines:




Greg Moore Post Game: Marlies 4 vs. Rocket 3

Game Highlights: Marlies 4 vs. Rocket 3