The Marlies offense has been famine or feast in recent times and this was certainly the former as the Toronto farm team took their chances against a struggling Grand Rapids outfit.
These two teams have become quite the rivals in recent history but it was the visitors with a 1-5 record, who had a nightmare beginning to this game on a Halloween themed night at Ricoh Coliseum.
It took just 1:46 to open the scoring as we finally saw the best attributes of Richard Panik. Driving to the net from the left side, he drew attention away from Nylander in the slot and then found him with a perfect pass and William did the rest.
Tangradi would have a big chance to tie the game up a couple of minutes later on a huge rebound but Sparks was magnificent in turning him aside.
From that moment on it was one way traffic with every Marlies line causing problems. Rupert doing incredibly well to keep the puck inside the blue line and was almost the beneficiary of a sweet feed from Leipsic after the left winger had once again showed his fancy stick work and speed deep in the zone.
Kapanen’s partial breakaway was denied by a fantastic defensive dive from Sproul and Leivo would be denied from scoring after grabbing hold of a loose puck by the left hash marks. Leivo would be tripped on the play and his team capitalised on the man advantage. Swift puck movement was the name of the game and it was Ryan Rupert of all people who swept home the puck with a beautiful wrist shot, using a Griffins defenseman as a screen. The shot count of 13-12 in favour of the Marlies failed to emphasis the gulf in class during the opening twenty minutes and the brilliance of Jared Coreau between the pipes for Grand Rapids. He denied Gauthier who had steamed down the centre of the ice, taking the pass from Panik before releasing a fantastic shot.
On a following power play Matt Frattin would not be denied once, twice but three times by Coreau in tight. Brennan would see his snapshot gloved by the net minder as he picked off shots at will despite being under the cosh.
Connor Brown would try and return late in the first period after blocking a shot earlier, but would not be able to complete the game.
The middle frame was all about Garret Sparks and the penalty kill.
Hyman would head to the box for playing without a helmet, yes I was shocked too but as Todd Crocker later confirmed, rule 9.6 was correctly called.
It was the first of three straight penalties for the Marlies in the space of 1:33 and left Toronto with a mountain to climb. Especially seeing as Carrick’s cross-check and Gauthier delay of game penalty were highly avoidable, adding to the misery.
Grand Rapids would hit the crossbar. Andrew Campbell would show incredible bravery to block two shots and Garret Sparks stood on his head to keep out the Griffins with save after save. In shades of game two of the playoff series between these two last season, the Marlies even had to deal with the incompetence of the officials/timekeepers who messed up the penalties, ensuring that Toronto had to kill an extra 47 seconds than they should have. It’s no exaggeration to say that was the pivotal moment of the game and with eight minutes remaining in the second, a third goal was somewhat a reward for the PK effort. Brenan with a backhand pass sprang Panik, who immediately set Leivo away down the right so and in a magnificent display of fast puck movement, Leivo wasted no time feeding Nylander heading in alone. His effort would be stopped but the rebound bounced in off a desperate defenseman rushing to get back. You make your own luck and that move deserved a goal. There would be more brilliance from Sparks inside the last five minutes of the period. Committing daylight and midnight robbery on Jeff Hoggan with three saves, one after the other, to the delight of the home fans. Toronto would head to the intermission up by four goals in what was just a good old fashioned shift of pressure in the Griffins zone.
T.J Brennan with an unfamiliar backhand finish in tight, clearing up the rebound from Panik’s effort.
Panik, on fire through the whole 60 minutes, almost teed up Leivo but #14’s effort drifted just wide.
A penalty taken by Valiev would break Sparks’ shutout effort early in the third period.
Just 18 seconds in and Athanasiou skated down the left side and his effort from the left face-off dot beat Sparks all ends up for a power play tally. Disappointing for the young net minder who perhaps should have challenged the shooter more in hindsight. The game meandered after a short Griffins rally following their first goal, with Toronto content to play keep away.
Some four-on-four play almost livened things up as some incredible moves from Panik brought what everyone in the crowd must have thought would be a spinarama effort on net but he laid the puck back for Nylander who would be denied his hat-trick by another fine Coreau save. The puck would end up in the net after a blast from Corrado, but waived off immediately due to a high stick with nine minutes remaining.
With the Griffins starting to become frustrated at the scoreline, the game turned a little feisty and a series of officiating calls did not help the matter.
With the Marlies already on the penalty kill Athanasiou was clearly interfered with by Gauthier but it was the Grand Rapids forward who was given a penalty. Miele took offense with the call, with good reason, but you can’t argue with the officials and he was ejected. Despite not scoring on the resulting power play, Leivo would bat home a rebound effort Jose Bautista style to make it 5-1 before things really took a nasty turn. Little altercations all over the ice during a stoppage in play and Bertuzzi lost his rag with Kapanen, throwing at least one punch that the camera caught before basically slew-footing him to the ice whereupon the Marlies rookie fell like a sack of potatoes. A totally uncalled for action by Bertuzzi, hardly a veteran himself, but he knew which guy to pick on, with Kapanen refusing to engage in the altercation. Thankfully the young Finnish player seemed no worse for wear afterwards.
A Marlies power play goal would rub some final salt into the wound as a gorgeous feed from the left circle by Frattin was popped home by Leipsic just in front of the blue paint.
A 6-1 victory that firmly puts the Marlies back on the right track heading into a long November road-trip.
Post Game Notes:
Four assists for Richard Panik who was instrumental in everything good the Marlies did. His best performance thus far in the blue and white.
Two goals for Nylander which takes his tally to five.
Josh Leivo had his best game for a while, probably since the opening weekend of the season. I prefer his game when he thinks of shooting first and generally things happen when he does that. A goal and two assists for Josh.
A pair of assists for Matt Frattin who was pointless in his previous three outings.
Garret Sparks. I’ve not often been his biggest fan but boy was he impressive and that’s saying something in a 6-1 victory. He made 38 saves and stated a compelling case for starting the next game on Sunday.
Forgotten in the crazy ending to the game was that Rinat Valiev’s assist on the sixth goal was his first point as a professional.
Brendan Leipsic’s goal was his first on the year and ironically his only shot! Well deserved for his play that has been of a consistent level.
Marc Arcobello is now with the Marlies after clearing waivers. Not selected to play but did skate in the warm-up.