The Toronto hockey landscape is rarely boring but never have we quite seen a goaltending situation like the one witnessed the past week.
I’ll get to that later but lets begin with the action on the ice as the Marlies played their second straight three-in-three weekend. The goaltender merry-go-round saw Jonathan Bernier take the start between the pipes and he would be backed up by David Ayres, building operations manager at Mattamy Athletic Centre and occasional zamboni driver at Ricoh Coliseum. Toronto were too good from start to finish for Rochester but had to wait until the second period to break this game open. It would be special teams to the fore as Nylander struck twice on the power play. With under a minute to play in the middle frame, Soshnikov finally scored his first shorthanded marker of the season after so many chances this year.
Up 3-0 after forty minutes, any Rochester thoughts of a comeback vanished as early as three minutes into the third period, with Soshnikov grabbing a second goal, scoring on his own rebound.
From that point on it was about ensuring that Bernier had every chance to record a shutout, which he duly did to the obvious enjoyment of the whole team, who mobbed him after the final buzzer.
Saturday’s Star Wars themed game against Manitoba saw a patient and controlled performance from the Marlies back at Ricoh Coliseum. Out-shooting and out-chancing the visitors, the breakthrough would take 46 minutes. Richard Panik in front of the net putting the garbage away for his fifth of the season and with just over five minutes to play, Zach Hyman scored what looked like the insurance marker.
Re-called from Orlando, Rob Madore was making his Marlies debut and looking very assured between the pipes. His shutout bid would be denied as Manitoba set-up a tense last three minutes or so. There was no panic from the home team who stayed true to their game plan and sealed the eventual 3-1 victory thanks to an empty net goal from Stuart Percy.
The previous game at the ACC saw the Marlies produce a stinker in possibly their worst performance of the season that saw a lack of discipline amongst other things against the St. John‘s IceCaps. They wiped that slate clean with a nine goal rout of the Moose on Sunday, dominating the Winnipeg affiliate from start to finish, at no point taking their foot off the gas. Nine different players hit the net as the Marlies scored three times in the opening period through Campbell, Clune (SH) and a beautifully worked powerplay goal that was finished by Arcobello.
Bailey and Leipsic tallied inside the first six minutes of the middle frame, before Leipsic, Panik, Leivo and Gauthier completed the scoring in the third. Leivo ending the game with four points and a second shutout for Jonathan Bernier, who was a passenger for long stretches of the game.
The 9-0 victory is the biggest winning margin of victory in franchise history and only the second time they’ve scored nine goals in a single game. The previous occasion was against Connecticut in February of 2011 but both fall short of the ten goals tallied against Grand Rapids in 2009.
Winning three straight games this weekend propelled the Marlies to the top of the AHL standings, and their 96 goals is far and away the most by any team in the Eastern Conference.
Saturday’s win with Rob Madore between the pipes meant at that point, the last five victory’s had been gained with five different goaltenders. Sparks, Bibeau, Massa, Bernier and then Madore.
Friday’s victory was the Marlies tenth win on the road, the most by any team in the AHL.
Special teams were excellent throughout the weekend, and proved decisive in Saturday‘s game.
The penalty kill was perfect through the nine times required, with the power play responding in kind, going three for seven.
The powerplay has now produced twenty goal this season and is currently ranked tenth.
So if Jonathan Bernier being sent to the Marlies for a conditioning stint wasn’t enough of a story in itself, then an hour before Friday’s puck drop, the goaltending situation in Toronto took another twist.
With Reimer not 100%, the Leafs called up Antoine Bibeau to join Garret Sparks.
Ryan Massa had already been released from his PTO, so Rob Madore would receive the call from Orlando but there was no way he would be able to make the Rochester game in time.
Left with few options, the Marlies signed Dave Ayres to an ATO as Bernier’s back-up for the evening.
Garret Sparks was named the AHL goaltender of the month for November, celebrating by recording a shutout on Leafs debut and then awarded the first star for his performance in St. Louis.
It was a Saturday treble for Toronto goaltenders as joining Sparks with the first star honours were Madore for the Marlies and Massa in Orlando (28 save shutout).
Jonathan Bernier looked a different person on and off the ice during this past weekend. Playing with more confidence behind a buoyant team, he was all smiles when being interviewed and it’s obvious he’s feeling better about himself already. His pair of shutouts were the 15th and 16th respectively of his AHL career and the Maple Leafs have indicated he will stay with the Marlies through next weekend where he’s likely to face more work against stronger opposition.
William Nylander led the way with five points of which three were goals, extending his lead as the AHL’s top scorer.
Mark Arcobello and Josh Leivo also tallied five points a piece (both 1G/4A) with the latter impressing most in Sunday’s game. Leivo’s problem has been consistency this season as is shown by his scoring in batches. He’s now third in Marlies scorers with 21 points in as many games.
Another to surpass the twenty point mark is T.J Brennan. No goals but three helpers this weekend as the offensive defenseman extended his point streak to four games.
Slowly but surely Frederick Gauthier is improving offensively and he hit double figures in points with a goal and two assists at the weekend. Confidence in front of net is growing and it’s evident that he’s looking to shoot more instead of looking for a team-mate when in good positions. Eleven shots in his last six games as apposed to 13 efforts in the previous 16 outings is a fair measure of that.
There were 19 different players tallying at least a point with six defenseman getting in on the act. Scott Harrington amongst those as he recorded his first point for the Marlies.
Toronto’s aggressive penalty kill doubled the teams shorthanded goal’s tally with Nikita Soshnikov and Rich Clune both scoring. The former has been a real threat when his team has been down a man and it was just a matter a time before he recorded a shorthanded marker. His skating ability has seen him generate many opportunities this season so it would be a nice confidence boost for him to finally convert one of those chances.
The final three-in-three weekend of 2015 will see Toronto face North Division rivals in Utica and Syracuse.
Fri, Dec 11, 2015 Toronto at Utica 7:00 pm EST
Sat, Dec 12, 2015 Toronto at Syracuse 7:00 pm EST
Sun, Dec 13, 2015 Utica at Toronto 3:00 pm EST