The Marlies took their impressive road record (15-1-1-0) to Lake Erie, where the Monsters have won seven of their last nine on home ice.
The home side owned the second best penalty kill in the league before this encounter and were confident after defeating the rampaging Grand Rapids Griffins, who had won fifteen straight games.
A T.J Brennan shot brought the first save of the game from Anton Forsberg between the pipes for Lake Erie but despite the fast pace, their weren’t many shots, let alone chances in the opening six minutes.
Toronto were fortunate that a few turnovers in their own zone weren’t fully capitalised on and it’d be the road team who went on the first power play of the game.
Nikita Soshnikov had a fantastic opening from the high slot but his effort hit Frattin in front and bounced away from net. Mark Arcobello would tee up Soshnikov with a cross ice feed but the Russian’s effort drifted wide of the far post.
Back at even strength, Leivo came close to combining with Zach Hyman at the nine minute mark, but this only served to stoke up the home team who controlled the play from that point on.
Lake Erie responded with a pair of chances for Joe Devin, including a huge one timer and then defenseman Steve Weinstein would be denied by Bibeau, who was able to hold his stinging shot.
On the next play, Daniel Zarr was afforded space down the right side and he comfortably found Monsters Captain Ryan Craig driving down the centre of the ice but he fired wide on the great opportunity.
Lake Erie was almost gifted a goal as Andrew Campbell knocked Bibeau flat on his back but the goaltender produced a miraculous save as the home team looked to take advantage of their good fortune.
The closest Toronto came to opening the scoring came after good work from Justin Holl but the puck wouldn’t quite fall, especially for Ryan Rupert on the play, who would have had a good scoring chance had he gained control.
Joe Devin would be the next Lake Erie players to be frustrated before the teams exchanged a power play, with neither able to take advantage. Toronto coming the closest as the finals seconds ticket down, Clune almost finding Carrick in the crease while short-handed.
Toronto were able to kill the final few seconds of the penalty but back at even strength it was the home team who continued to drive the play. Right winger Josh Anderson saw his pair of shots turned aside by Bibeau. A horrible giveaway at the eight minute mark should have been costly but as Daniel Zaar walked alone into the slot, it was Bibeau to the rescue for the umpteenth time.
That stop from their netminder prompted a reaction from the Marlies.
Carrick drove to the net before dropping the puck back to the trailing Clune, but his one-timer was snaffled by the otherwise redundant Forsberg.
The opening goal would come courtesy of Lake Erie’s top scorers.
Kerby Rychel from the left side, looked up to see T.J. Tynan in space and found him with a perfectly weighted pass. Tynan showed patience to shift the puck around Bibeau before sliding the puck home from the acute angle and just past the flailing glove of Toronto’s goaltender.
In the five minutes that followed, the Monsters could have added two or three goals but Toronto hung tough, in most part due to Bibeau.
Soshnikov was Toronto’s standout player and on a second effort he came within a whisker of tying the game up. Carrick drew a penalty on the play, but his team failed to test Forsberg and coming out of the box, Craig gained possession and Bibeau had to be alert to turn the effort aside.
A hooking penalty taken by Clune with six second remaining of the second frame, would turn out to hurt his team 39 seconds into the third period. Michael Paliotta was given time to measure his shot and Bibeau was screened in front by Craig, who was conspicuously let alone in front by an absent Marlies penalty kill. Two minutes later and it should have been 3-0. Michael Chaput was allowed the freedom of the slot but Bibeau brought out poke-check from his box of goaltending tricks and it worked just a treat.
Lake Erie must have wondered how the score-line wasn’t larger as Oliver Bjorkstrand saw his booming shot turned aside by a fine toe save from Bibeau and then Anderson was guilty of a bad miss after a feed from Rychel.
It never really looked as though Toronto were going to gain a foothold in this game, and they would be heavily out-shot in the third period, 13-5.
They eventually denied Forsberg a shutout by getting on the board with just under five minutes to play. Good work from Clune and Carrick on the back boards let to the latter finding Soshnikov out front, and his quick release was too much for the Lake Erie goaltender to deal with.
Despite pulling Bibeau with 90 seconds remaining, Lake Erie never looked in any danger of giving up the lead or the two points they had well and truly earned in a full sixty minute performance from the home team.
There would have been much to mull over on the bus ride back over the border for a Toronto team, who were never able to match their opponents in any department bar goaltending.
Post Game Notes:
Only the second time this season that Toronto have lost consecutive games.
A 28 save performance from Antoine Bibeau, who couldn’t have done much more to keep his team in the game.
Nikita Soshnikov tallied his tenth goal of the season and has a season high three game point streak going.
Special teams proved to be the difference on the scoreboard. Toronto were 0/4 while Lake Erie scored once on their four opportunities.
Sam Carrick’s assist was his 15th point of the season and is currently riding a six game point streak.
Rich Clune also put up his 15th point of the season. December has been a good month for Clune, with nine points in as many games.
The two teams will do battle once again on Thursday afternoon, as Toronto host Lake Erie in a matinee game.