With so many key players out, the Toronto Marlies are relying on some to step up and those getting opportunities, to take it with both hands.
Josh Leivo and Rob Madore encapsulated just that and were the standouts in what was a tough outing in Winnipeg.
The Manitoba Moose may have struggled this season but they are on a good run of late, especially at home, and they set about the visiting Marlies with gusto in what was a fast beginning.
It wasn’t a good start for Toronto as Morin and Leivo failed to connect in what looked like a golden opportunity and then Justin Johnson left the game with what looked an extremely serious left leg injury.
Madore’s first big save came at the five minute mark, coming out to the top of his crease to deny Matt Halischuk who had made himself room with a nice move from the high slot.
A Manitoba power play followed shortly after and shots from Kichton and Lipon were handled well by Madore, not allowing second opportunities.
Toronto’s first shot would not be recorded until over eleven minutes had passed and it almost opened the scoring. Positive work from Brendan Leipsic saw him benefit from a broken play and his shot on the turn was fortunately saved by Eric Comrie who was unsighted by traffic in front.
The Marlies were unfortunate to go back on the penalty kill right after that good piece of play but they remained unscathed and came close to scoring down a man through Zach Hyman.
The visitors were starting to get some sort of foothold in the game as the first period wound down and Matt Frattin earned the right to win a battle for the bouncing puck before heading for the net but Comrie robbed him with a fantastic left toe save. Manitoba roared back the other way but Chase De Leo saw his effort covered by Madore.
Jeremy Morin’s first shot in a Marlies uniform was a wicked one and handcuffed Comrie who made an uncomfortable looking left arm save and the puck bounced away safely.
Out-shot 13-5 in the opening period, Toronto responded with a dominant showing in the middle frame.
Morin earned a power play 2:35 in and despite Leipsic dictating the play, the Marlies were unable to break down the hosts penalty kill. Even a Manitoba power play failed to break Toronto’s momentum as Nikita Soshnikov showed some fancy moves on a short-handed rush but was ultimately denied what would have been a contender for goal of the season.
Under Sheldon Keefe’s tutelage, Toronto’s defenseman have the license to roam with forwards being told they have to cover for their team-mates. A rush from Viktor Loov down the left side opened up Manitoba’s defense. Pulling up, and spinning back, he found Ryan Rupert with a reverse pass but Comrie would hold the resulting shot.
Toronto’s dominance was evident on the shot clock (7-1 at the midway point) and eventually they would break the deadlock on a second consecutive power play.
Better movement and swifter passing of the puck would prove the key. Morin choosing not to shoot and deferring to Brennan, who faked a shot and shifted the puck left for Josh Leivo to fire home with a one time effort. Comrie might be slightly disappointed with that goal but the release and power was simply too much for him.
The opening marker was timed at exactly 16:00 and for the remaining four minutes Manitoba were hanging on, constantly icing the puck and in the end were forced to call a timeout.
In front of family and friends, Leipsic was doing his best to impress. Taking a pass from behind the net, he drove across the right of the cage but Comrie stonewalled his backhand effort to Leipsic’s clear frustration.
The opening seconds of the third period saw more exasperation from Leipsic. Going to the net once more, his diving effort would be stopped and no one in a Marlies jersey were able to pounce on the loose puck in the crease.
Soshnikov tried to double the lead off his own back. From the right wing he made a move inside his man and drove hard to the blue paint, eventually trying to go short side on Comrie who stayed tight to his post to deny him on the initial effort and rebound,
A fourth Marlies power play would be fruitless and only seemed to stoke up the home team who almost scored as it concluded. Patrice Cormier driving past Brennan on his way to the goal and he would force Madore into an incredible save that seemed to defy the laws of what the human body can do.
Madore’s physical build is not what we expect in today’s game but it’s more than made up for by his athleticism which was called into action again on the next play. Brenden Kichton finding Ryan Olseon backdoor, but the centreman would see both his efforts turned aside.
Good passages of play from Toronto were being followed by mental lapses. A good cycle and spell of puck possession drew them a powerplay with nine to play but was undone by a poor penalty taken along the boards. The 72 seconds spent down a man were killed with relative ease and the task ahead was clear with a fraction under six minutes remaining.
You require a little luck sometimes to record a shutout and Madore received his with five to play. Saving a shot from Lipon but allowing a huge rebound that would have been an easy tap-in had there been a Manitoba forward even vaguely in the vicinity.
The two teams would exchange chances off the rush before Leivo fired high and wide from a great position, possibly his only blemish of the evening.
His team-mates kept the cycle going and the pressure on however. Frederick Gauthier decided to keep things safe and simple by finding Stuart Percy at the point with nothing much else on. Percy had some time to measure a shot top shelf and with traffic in front, Comrie only saw the puck as it bounced back out of the cage.
The vital insurance marker with 2:19 left on the clock deflated the home crowd who quickly watched their team fall 3-0 behind. With the net empty, Rupert settled down a loose puck from a dump in and from his own goal line sent a shot the length of the ice that only had eyes for the home team’s cage.
Toronto made sure of the shutout for Madore and in doing so recorded their 16th road victory of the season.
Post Games Notes:
Four starts and four victories for Rob Madore. He was unlucky not to record a shutout against Syracuse earlier this season and tonight’s was earned by making 26 saves.
He’s the third goaltender to record a shutout for the Marlies this season.
Josh Leivo’s goal was his tenth on the year and extends his point streak to four games.
Stuart Percy isn’t know for his goal scoring exploits but that’s his second in four games. He should shoot the puck more but many of this years Marlies defensemen own a terrific shot.
Jeremy Morin tallied an assist on the game winner on debut. We saw flashes of his talent and he wasn’t shy of shooting, registering four efforts.
Special teams were absolutely key tonight. Manitoba’s hot of late power play was shut down on four occasions although Sheldon Keefe will be slightly disappointed with the discipline that led to a couple of those. The power play looked a little more potent and the goal came through moving the puck with intent but also simplifying in not looking for the perfect play.
A fourth straight victory for Toronto who will be looking to make that five when the two teams do battle once again Saturday night.