This game was a talking point before a puck had been touched in anger.
In the ever changing ways of the Toronto organisation it was decided that Panik, Nylander, Soshnikov, Percy and Bibeau would be rested in an effort to preserve them for a 3-in-3 weekend.
That wasn’t the biggest bombshell however as around ten minutes before puck-drop it was announced that Ryan Massa would not be backing up Garret Sparks, but actually making his American Hockey League debut.
Ryan who? Exactly.
The 25 year old, formerly of the University of Nebraska-Omaha, is playing his first season in professional hockey.
Pulled in his last start for the Orlando Solar Bears, his appearance in this road game was a total curveball.
The debutant was far from overawed however and the team in front of him pulled out all the stops to make sure he wasn’t overworked.
For the opening forty minutes, the Toronto Marlies absolutely dominated their hosts, limiting them to just a single shot on net in the first period.
That solitary effort on net brought a fine glove save by Massa through a wall of traffic and interrupted a strong spell of possession hockey for Toronto.
More prolonged offensive zone time from the Marlies led to drawing a powerplay and scoring the opening goal of the game. Leivo sniping home from the right side with Syracuse goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis slightly unsighted.
Further efforts From Leipsic, Valiev, Kapanen, Brennan and Frattin came close to extending the lead but despite this the shot clock only registered five for Toronto after twenty minutes and the scoreboard read 1-0.
A mark of the Marlies control of the game in the opening frame, was that after hemming Syracuse in their own zone for two minutes, the home team tried to make a desperate line change but were called for too many men
Kapanen and Brennan yet again were threatening the Syracuse goal early in the middle frame and it took just under five minutes for Toronto the double their lead. A terrific shift from the Carrick line produced a couple of scrambles in front and on the second of those the goal came, although it was unclear as to who had applied the final touch. It was given to Carrick, his third on the year.
It was then Ryan Massa’s time to shine as Syracuse responded to falling further behind.
Philippe Paradis with a beautiful feed from the left side found Tanner Richard driving the net and it looked all over a goal until a remarkable stretch from Toronto’s rookie net minder. The home team argued the case, claiming the puck had crossed the goal line but the officials were having none of it.
The mood wasn’t improved a minute later as the visitors made it 3-0 as simple as you like.
A booming shot from Andrew Campbell produced a rebound that Freddie Gauthier gratefully received and tucked away.
A following powerplay for the hosts almost saw them allow another goal. Gauthier winning a face-off in his own zone before heading on a rush and forcing Gudlevskis into a fine save.
Syracuse began to claw their way into the game late in the second period, although they were thankful to Gudlevskis blanking Gauthier once again after a strong Marlies fore-check created an opening.
A strong glove save from Massa was followed by a better pair of stops on a resulting Syracuse powerplay.
The shot clock still read 20-8 in favour of the Marlies after forty minutes and the home crowd were certainly becoming restless at their team’s reluctance to shoot and lack of offense in general.
Another strong fore-check for Toronto early in the final frame resulted in a terrific chance for Findlay on his seasonal debut but Gudlevskis was not going to be beaten again as he kept his team in the game.
A Syracuse powerplay gave all those in white some hope though they almost came to grief as it was Hyman’s turn to almost score shorthanded after showing excellent speed down the right wing.
Massa’s shutout bid would come to an shortly after, as Toronto failed to deal with Tyler McGinn alone in front and he had the easier task of slotting home a rebound opportunity.
The momentum of that goal was quickly erased as Henri Ikonen was sent to the box within 30 seconds.
The Crunch would not pull within one as they were mostly kept to the outside and more elaborate plays weren’t clicking for a desperate team as the clock ran down.
Massa held on to make eight saves the rest of the way, even as Syracuse pulled Gudlevskis and played with an extra attacker for the majority of the last three and a half minutes.
It says something that the Marlies can go into another teams building and outplay them with a rookie net minder and a team missing some of it’s best offensive players.
It’s a five hour journey back to Toronto and an early start to face the St. John’s IceCaps at the ACC with a 2pm puck drop.
Post Game Notes:
T.J Brennan took his assists tally into double figures with a pair of primary helpers.
Ryan Massa stopped 16 of 17 shots and I’m not sure he or the team could have asked for much from him.
Josh Leivo’s goal was his sixth of the season and his third on the powerplay.
Mark Arcobello’s assist takes him to six points on the man advantage, just one behind William Nylander.
Sam Carrick’s goal was his third on the year and his sixth point, all at even strength.
With a healthy Sparks making the trip, I would expect him to back-up Bibeau tomorrow before taking the start on Sunday.
There were altercations after the final buzzer by all accounts, in what became a testy affair late on.
If any suspensions are forthcoming from those events, I shall post them as soon as they are announced.