The Toronto Marlies were looking to get their season back on track.
Not just in the win column but also in level of performance.
They did both of those things in a Friday night tilt in Rochester, which was a Star Wars themed game for the Amerks.
The opening period saw no scoring but did wonders for the confidence of Jonathan Bernier between the pipes. Toronto were on the penalty kill inside the first minute of the game and Bernier turned aside all four shots faced. The story was pretty much Marlies domination at even strength, efforts from Arcobello and Gauthier were close while Panik couldn’t quite deal with a rebound effort lying in the blue paint in front of Nathan Lieuwen.
It’d be the Marlies special teams who broke the game wide open in the middle frame.
An early powerplay looked to be heading nowhere until finally Toronto set up inside the hosts zone.
Arcobello tried to tee up Brennan but with the defenseman covered by wary Rochester penalty killers he swiftly transferred the puck to his right to a certain young Swede. With so much attention on Brennan, Nylander had time and space to measure a beautiful top shelve shot, past the blocker of Lieuwen.
Leivo broke away with Nylander on an odd man rush following the opening goal but his shot produced a rebound that eluded both of them.
Toronto fired the first six shots of the middle frame and Bernier wasn’t tested until Bobby Sanguinetti fired wide and then an effort from the left wing circle by Dan Catenacci knocked his mask off such was the ferocity.
It was mostly one way traffic for the most part with the visitors drawing penalties due to their dominance at 5-on-5.
William Nylander had the next big chance, sent away on a breakaway, but his high glove side effort brought a fine save from Lieuwen.
Nylander would not be denied however, as the fourth powerplay of the game would see the lead doubled.
A scramble in front of the net ensued after Arcobello’s intended pass was blocked and after seeing his initial effort blocked, Nylander turned on the rebound and fired home a wrist shot from the right circle.
A pair of solid saves from Bernier with five minutes to play kept Rochester off the scoreboard while Nylander was hungry for his hat-trick. Filling in for Stuart Percy at the blue line, he received a pass from the former but saw his blast denied by the pads of Lieuwen.
A late Rochester powerplay gave the home team fans some optimism, but it was short lived as Toronto dashed their hopes with a shorthanded marker. Freddie Gauthier deflecting an intended Rochester pass into the vicinity of Nikita Soshnikov.
It was a 2 on 1 break for the Russian but finally he converted on one his many shorthanded opportunities this season, beating Lieuwen far side to make it 3-0
Toronto have failed to let slip a lead after two periods this season and they weren’t about to give Rochester a chance to break that record. Casey Bailey would be denied on a breakaway as his five hole effort only just failed to sneak under Lieuwen’s left pad. From the resulting face-off Soshnikov fired a shot which brought a rebound off the pads and the Russian would slot home his second of the game as he proved an unstoppable force driving to the net. With that goal coming so early in the period and still much time left to play, Toronto kept up the pressure on their hosts, playing a full sixty minute game and denying them any thoughts of an improbable comeback.
Zach Hyman came close with a backhand effort but as the clock wound down, all thoughts turned to preserving Bernier’s perfect record on his Marlies debut with a 4-0 lead looking more than enough to secure victory.
Rochester forced the Marlies goaltender into three good saves with around six minutes remaining as the puck bounced around the slot but all looked fine until captain Andrew Campbell took a penalty with 2:04 on the clock.
The Marlies rallied around their new team-mate and kept the play to the outside. Just one shot to be saved until the final second of the game where Bernier turned aside Rochester’s 22nd effort on net to record a shutout on his Toronto Marlies debut.
Post Game Notes:
Jonathan Bernier couldn’t have asked for a better performance from those in front of him. The team provided offense and didn’t allow Rochester to create a whole ton of good chances. Bernier was solid when called upon and this will be a nice shot of confidence for him. The 15th shutout of his AHL career.
William Nylander was somewhere back near his brilliant best. His second two goal game of the season and that propels him back to the top of the scoring charts with 26 points in twenty games.
Mark Arcobello responded to being scratched on Sunday with a pair of powerplay assists and a far better performance than in his two previous starts.
Two assists for Freddie Gauthier who puts up the first multipoint game of his professional career. Paired back with Soshnikov, the chemistry between them is still there as they were a handful along with Bailey all game long.
Nikita Soshnikov fired a season high six shots and ended with his second two goal game on the year.
He continues to impress and could find himself in with a shot at the Leafs roster come trade deadline time.
Just under an hour or so before puck drop, the changes were rung as the Toronto goaltending situation becomes more bizarre by the day. With James Reimer apparently injured, Antoine Bibeau was recalled to the Leafs and Rich Clune reassigned to the Marlies.
Rob Madore has been recalled from Orlando but unable to make the game in time, the Marlies signed Dave Ayres, a Zamboni driver, to an ATO as Bernier’s back-up.