The jersey’s may be different and the affiliation changed but the hostility and rivalry
between the farm teams of Toronto and Montreal is alive and kicking.
The St. John’s IceCaps now don the colours as the farm team of the Montreal Canadiens and in the first of twelve meetings between these two teams this season at the Mile One Centre, we got our first taste of what a tough series it’ll be.
Stefan Fournier and Rich Clune got to know each other seconds before puck drop, which would eventually end with both players dropping the gloves before eight minutes had been played. Fournier taking exception to a hit from Clune, and the Toronto man earned the take down with a mad flurry of punches.
Up until that point Toronto had one chance through Carrick but were reliant on Sparks to keep them level after too many cheap giveaways inside their own zone.
The opening power play of the game was afforded to the home team and Sparks once again had to be alert to a blast from Ellis on the left side.
In what was a hugely physical game, a booming mid-ice hit from Loov set the tone and Carrick wasn’t far behind in introducing himself to as many IceCaps as he could hit in a single shift.
The truth is that the first period was a huge disappointment for Toronto. Unable to impose their puck possession game on the home team.
The middle frame started much better as Gauthier drove to the net from the opening face-off, dropping the puck back to Clune, whose effort brought a fine toe save from IceCaps goaltender Zach Fucale.
It was one way traffic as Percy jumped into the play, receiving the feed from Clune and sending a booming drive that was well held by Fucale, who had to be on his game to deny another big shot, this time from Holl on the resulting face-off.
Nylander was the next to test the young goalie although on this occasion it was more luck than judgement that the puck stayed out. Frattin tipped a Carrick pass inches past the post and a coast to coast effort from Loov brought yet another save as “Go Leafs Go” could clearly be heard from a split crowd on this Friday evening.
The pressure eventually led to Toronto earning their first power play of the game, which turned into a two man advantage for 1:06.
A Nylander effort was well held with plenty of traffic but a combination of passes being only just off the mark and some steady handling from Fucale meant the opportunity went begging as far as the Marlies were concerned.
Despite dominating the shot count in the second period, 16-7, there was almost a sense of inevitability that the home team would snatch an underserved lead and the opening goal.
A turnover from Hyman just over Toronto’s blue line would prove costly. Holloway took the puck back inside the zone down the left zone, floated a shot come pass that Hudon tipped in mid-air, one-handed past Sparks. A truly exceptional finish from one of the top AHL rookies of last season.
The Clune-Gauthier-Soshnikov line came as close as anyone else to tying the game up late in the period but Toronto would trail heading into the final twenty minutes of regulation.
It was the Montreal affiliate that began the third the better team and would draw themselves a power play at the five minute mark. It almost heralded one of the best shorthanded goals you’ll likely see this season. Soshnikov picking up the loose puck, deciding against dumping it down the ice, the Russian forward used his speed and power to blow past two IceCaps players and head in on net. Sadly for Toronto, his effort would only bring a fine right toe save from Fucale and on the following play the home team made it 2-0.
Ellis sliding the puck to Dietz on the left side, and with a step on Holl, his low backhand effort beat Sparks. There was still plenty of time left but Toronto needed a quick response to get themselves back into the game. It took just 1:39 for said response. Leipsic was dispossessed as he came into the zone with speed and fancy footwork but Holl picked up the pieces and found Arcobello.
From behind the net he worked a wraparound attempt that was seemingly blocked by a defenseman but he showed poise in picking out Bailey on the doorstep who had the easiest tap-in with Fucale out of position. The young St. John’s net minder now look rattled and he was reliant on his team mates bailing him out a minute later as he spilt a huge rebound after a shot by Frattin and the two Marlies forwards in front of the net were only just denied from putting home the rebound.
With nine minutes remaining a power play would do the trick for the Marlies, who in honesty did not deserve to be trailing despite not playing their best hockey. An offensive face-off winning proving crucial as Toronto controlled the puck, eventually working the opportunity for Mark Arcobello to smash home from the left circle.
He was a Marlie killer during his days with Hamilton and Andrighetto almost put his side back in the lead 60 seconds later but Sparks denied him with a blocker save. Toronto were the better team for the majority of regulation but couldn’t force a game winner. A shot from Percy with 1:45 to play, found it’s way through Fucale but trickled wide of the post while another effort from Nylander came oh so close to finding the net via the 5-hole.
It’d be off to overtime for the third time in five games but there would be no happy ending on this occasion for the Marlies.
The teams would exchange one very good chance each before St. John’s second shot of the overtime period proved decisive.
Fucale with the heads up play to chip the puck down the left boards to Christian Thomas. With time and space afforded to him, he waited up in the left circle for support but in truth he was probably waiting for Sparks to cheat a little with Toronto outnumbered. Sparks did cheat just a fraction and the laser beam shot from the Hamilton forward beat him near post, blocker side.
The 3-2 overtime reverse was the first time Toronto has lost during overtime this season but does extend the point streak to six games.
These two teams go back at it Saturday night, in the last game of the Marlies November road-trip.
Post Game Notes:
Marlies now 1-2-0-1 when trailing after two periods.
Nylander was a force offensively but couldn’t find a way past Fucale despite firing a team high six shots.
Arcobello has registered in each of his five appearances for the Marlies and this was his third multi-point game.
Holl had a pair of assists, taking his points tally to six in twelve games.
Marlies recorded 38 shots, the eight team this season they’ve registered 30+ efforts on net.