Many teams struggle in their first game back at home after a long road trip.
The Marlies were playing at Ricoh after seven games away from Toronto and the above was certainly true as they were scrambling early to contain a buoyant Rochester team who had pulled out a big win on Friday evening.
The Amerks had most certainly come to play and fired five shots toward Garret Sparks inside the opening five minutes. In fact at one point during the opening period the shot-clock favoured the road team 8-1 as Toronto were swimmingly against the tide.
Despite this they almost took the lead at the eight minute marker with the returning Kasperi Kapanen showing what a terrific shot he owns but the effort rang back off the right post.
That would have been an undeserved lead and Toronto were fortunate not to fall behind as Kapanen and then Nylander turned the puck over consecutively, Stuart Percy rescuing the latter from embarrassment with a terrific play to deny the visitors.
A long range shot from Brennan gave Hyman a rebound opportunity that was crowded out and Soshnikov earned the first powerplay as Toronto finally began to grow into the game.
The struggles with the man advantage and back at even strength Gauthier should have shot from a great position instead of trying to find Clune with what needed to be a pinpoint feed and the latter would be called for a penalty himself after a scuffle with Jack Nevins in the crease after the whistle.
Rochester’s Nick Baptiste should have done better with a tipped effort in front of Sparks during the Amerks powerplay and the game looked to be heading to the intermission scoreless.
That was however until the first piece of top notch hockey finally broke the deadlock.
A 4 on 2 break for the Marlies with Leipsic in possession on the right wing. With a fabulous pass, he found the trailer on the play, namely T.J Brennan at the top of the left circle and his wicked wrister nestled under the crossbar with Makarov well beaten
Doubtless Sheldon Keefe would have read the riot act to his players and it had the desired affect for the opening six minutes of the middle frame. Frattin teeing up Leipsic but the former was unable to get a handle on the puck in tight while Hyman and Campbell saw their efforts turned aside by Makarov.
Games of hockey are often decided by pivotal moments that follow one another.
Carrick had little choice but to haul down Phil Varone as the Americans broke away on an odd-man rush.
It’d be consecutive penalties as Valiev headed to the box three seconds after Carrick exited.
Two big kills, including a huge save from Sparks, somehow seeing the puck through a wall of traffic, before hanging onto the rebound, that led to Toronto doubling the lead.
T.J Brennan intentionally shooting the puck wide of the net with the lane to the goal blocked for him. The rebound of the backboards fell to Panik who chipped the puck across the crease, possibly between the legs of Makarov and Nylander was on hand to score the easiest of tap ins standing by the right post.
Rochester roared back from the face-off following the goal, engineering an outnumbered rush but Sparks would perform robbery to deny Matt Garbowsky from halving the deficit. That five minute period of play ultimately decided the direction of the two points.
Toronto almost took a three goal lead into the third with a highlight reel effort from Leipsic. Showing all his stick handling skills and skating ability, a spinarama backhand effort bought out the best in Makarov to deny the Marlies left winger.
The home crowd wouldn’t have to wait long for the third goal however. Just 84 seconds into the final frame as Panik and a Rochester defenseman exchange possession of the puck before the former Tampa Bay draft pick snuck his shot past a screened Makarov.
Panik would almost turn provider shortly after but Nylander could only ring his shot off the iron.
Rochester’s last real chance to get themselves back into the game came at the five minute mark but Cal O’Rielly was unable to find Jerry D’Amigo on yet another odd-man rush for the Amerks.
Brendan Leipsic was having himself quite the game and would be named the first star. His shot on a following power play would be tipped from Frattin for a 4-0 lead six minutes into the final period and the game was dead as a contest from that moment on.
Both teams would exchange chances inside the last third of the period and it would be Rochester who finally tallied with a shade under four minutes remaining. An ultimately disappointing way for Sparks to have his shutout bid broken as Varone was allowed a shorthanded breakaway and he made no mistake.
Brenann took exception to Justin Kea taking a slash at him after earned himself the Gordie Howe hat-trick with the resulting fight.
The Toronto on the penalty kill following the fight the scoring would be finished with Rinat Valiev sending the puck into the net for his first processional goal.
A shorthanded empty netter but a thrill no doubt for the rookie defenseman, sealed for a 5-1 victory for the Marlies who just had too much firepower for their divisional opponents.
Post Game Notes:
Garret Sparks improves his record to 8-2-1 and hasn’t recorded a loss in regulation since October 24. The goaltender also recorded a pair of assists, the helpers coming on the Panik and Valiev goals.
Rinat Valiev’s first professional and his first multi-point goal. Chipped in with five points this season.
A pair of points takes Richard Panik back to PPG pace through 15 games.
Brendan Leipsic recorded two assists and led the team with five shots, unlucky not to score in two straight games against Rochester.
William Nylander extended his point streak to nine games and has four goals in his last six outings.
Kasperi Kapanen made his return to the team after being out since November 6 with a tailbone injury and looked understandably rusty.
The power play looked poor despite tallying once, with Keefe saying it “lacked urgency” in the post game presser.
Toronto’s biggest crowd of the season, 6,759 in attendance as the bandwagon begins to roll with Nylander leading the way in points and the team continuing to win.