William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Connor Brown, Frederick Gauthier, Garret Sparks and Antoine Bibeau.
All those players have been immensely influential during their time with the Marlies, but heading into Hershey on Saturday evening, all were absent for differing reasons.
While putting extra emphasis on those left to step up their game, the holes in the roster has given opportunities to others on the periphery.
Playing their ninth game in 16 days, six of those on the road, the Toronto Marlies once more dug deep into their reserves to come up with a performance that will see them enjoy their Christmas break all the more.
Ray Emery was making his Marlies debut and made a positive start with a good right pad save a minute in.
An early power play for Toronto resulted in one great chance for Soshnikov, but for once the impressive Russian forward tried to be a little too cute with the opportunity.
Hershey killed the penalty and used that momentum to dominate in the Marlies zone.
Emery made one big save and was thankful to see the rebound effort hit the post but the luck ran out soon after. No surprise to see Chris Borque involved, as he laid the puck back for Madison Bowey who in turn found Aaron Ness with a beautiful feed backdoor. Back from the NHL, Ness fired home his first AHL goal of the season.
To Toronto’s credit they responded with two good shifts but were unable to really test Dan Ellis.
At the eight minute mark Josh Leivo could only fire wide from a promising position and you felt as much as the Marlies were pressing, they required a spark to get themselves really going.
It would come courtesy of the home team, as Chandler Stephenson mashed Brendan Leipsic into the boards at the red line. The Hershey centreman was fortunate to only receive a two minute boarding call but thirty seconds later the Bears were down by two men as Matt Frattin was slashed.
Mark Arcobello is not a man unduly rushed and from the left side he took Brennan’s pass and showed patience before picking his spot, stick-side of Dan Ellis to tie the game up.
Out of the box, Chandler Stephenson almost redeemed himself with a short-handed goal as he chipped the puck past Brennan to head alone on net. Cue the first of Emery’s big saves to deny Hershey re-taking the lead.
Toronto’s penalty kill would have to hold firm later in the first period to ensure things were level pegging after an evenly balanced first twenty minutes.
The Marlies came out in the middle frame like caged tigers and responded by taking the lead with just 29 seconds on the clock. The Clune-Carrick-Hyman line making an absolutely nuisance of themselves, winning the puck back along the back boards. Back out to Viktor Loov, the defenseman found Carrick in front and although his effort would be denied, there was Zach Hyman to reach around behind Ellis to put home the rebound. Ray Emery was certainly looking more comfortable as each minute passed in this game and a pair of saves around the four minute mark, especially the second which was a brilliant instinctive stop from in tight, kept Toronto in front.
Jack Rodewald and Brett Findlay have been the beneficiary of opportunities on the Marlies roster and they almost combined for the third goal. Rodewald driving to the net, before a drop pass to Findlay who ripped a shot that flew off the top of the crossbar and into the netting.
Brendan Leipsic’s impressive play, especially of late, was finally rewarded with a goal at the eight minute mark. Frattin with the feed, and from the left side, Leipsic took the puck around Ellis and banked his shot in off the defenseman who had flung himself across the goal line in desperation.
It took just 80 seconds for 3-1 to become 4-1 as the home side allowed Stuart Percy time and space from the high slot and the defenseman took advantage by perfectly picking his spot with a tremendous wrist shot.
That would see the end of Dan Ellis’ evening between the pipes as the Bears yanked him in favour of Justin Peters.
It certainly had the intended influence on the home team as they responded with a response inside 90 seconds, as the flurry of goals continued
A wonderful pass from Bowey, a defenseman with tremendous vision, sent Camper off and away down the left side. Driving to the net, his shot over the shoulder of Emery gave the Toronto goaltender little chance to make another save.
Emery would be called on to preserve the lead inside the last eight minutes of the period as Hershey pushed hard to draw within one.
Paul Carey was twice frustrated by Emery on the same play, while Chandler Stephenson was presented with a gilt edge chance after a giveaway in front but he was also denied.
A power play opportunity for Hershey with five minutes to play in the second period felt like a big moment in the game. Remarkably though, after the short-handed shenanigans in Wilkes-Barre Scranton the previous evening, Toronto came within inches of scoring yet another goal while down a man.
Hyman had himself quite the game in this one and drove to the Hershey net, holding off the trailing Bears player before seeing his five-hole effort only just denied by Peters.
Another fine save by Emery, this time on a tipped effort Sean Collins ensured a two goal cushion for the Marlies heading into the final twenty minutes.
The next goal was always going to be decisive and Hershey were once again the architects of their own downfall, no more so than Erik Burgdoerfer. Frattin laid a big, but clean hit on the defenseman who took umbrage and retaliated with a cheap shot. Frattin stood up for himself in the ensuing melee and when all was said and done Burgdoerfer ended up with a 10, 5 and 2, leading to a Marlies power play.
A T.J Brennan blast, fired across Peters, found it’s way into the top corner of the net for a 5-2 lead.
To Hershey’s credit, they refused to quit at any point, forcing the Marlies back and Emery to be on his game. From the seven minutes mark until around the midway point of the period, they laid siege to the visitors net but Toronto held firm.
Frustrations were mounting and Tyler Lewington took exception to Richard Panik in particular and tried to fight with everyone wearing a blue jersey, including man mountain Andrew Campbell.
The Bears defenseman was sent packing and some four on four hockey entailed.
It was when the penalty box emptied that we witnessed the sixth Marlies marker and final goal of the game.
An absolutely beauty it was as well, with T.J Brennan from the right circle, firing high into the net past Peters who had little chance from that range. Making that goal even sweeter for Brennan was that he was able to celebrate it right in front of 22 of his family members, whom he’d bought tickets to the game.
Toronto saw out the remaining seven minutes of the game for a 6-2 victory and head back to Toronto for a well deserved Christmas break.
Post Game Notes:
Ray Emery became the sixth goaltender to be used during this regular season by the Marlies, which is a franchise record.
He is also the sixth goalie to record a victory and the fourth to do so on Marlies debut this season.
A more than admirable performance from Emery, who hasn’t played a whole lot this season, he made 23 saves for the victory.
The point streaks extends to nine games for the Marlies, who are a remarkable 8-0-1 in December.
That’s the 15th road win for Toronto in just 17 games. There are twenty teams in the AHL who haven’t even recorded 15 wins for the season.
T.J Brennan recorded his first three point game of the season and his goals tally is now upto eleven.
He’s moved back into the scoring lead for all defenseman and is sixth overall in the league with 26 points.
Another to register a three point game was Mark Arcobello. His fifth power play goal of the season is team leading. Currently riding a four game goal streak.
Leipsic and Hyman both recorded a pair of points and had standout performances for differing reasons.
Hyman is responding to the extra opportunities and responsibilities with relish and that’s exactly what the management would be hoping for.
Stuart Percy recorded his third goal of the season, though his first not to be an empty net marker!
His twelve points already surpasses last year’s total in what was a difficult sophomore season for him.