St. John’s may have become familiar surroundings this season but this was a much changed Marlies team visiting Newfoundland for the last time this season.
With Brendan Leipsic and Jeremy Morin late call-ups to the Leafs, they would join Mark Arcobello in being notable absentees.
With Casey Bailey and Ryan Rupert traded away there were debut’s for Tobias Lindberg and T.J Foster.
Foster was joined on a make-shift fourth line by Rylan Schwartz, signed on his second PTO of the season, and defenseman David Kolomatis, as Toronto were down to the bare bones in manpower.
It was encouraging then that despite recent poor performances and slow beginnings to games, it was Toronto who were on top in the early going. Plenty of puck possession would result in the Marlies opening the scoring with three minutes on the clock.
Kasperi Kapanen switching the play from left to right in finding Andrew Campbell.
Toronto’s Captain made a nice moved around his man before firing a trademark rocket on net. Zach Fucale made the save but could do nothing to deny Campbell scoring on his own rebound.
The Marlies superiority would earn them three straight power play chances, including a short two man advantage but they were unable to extend the lead.
With eight minutes to play Rylan Schwartz would escape on a partial breakaway. Fucale would turn aside his short with the defenseman snapping as the Toronto’s forwards heels making sure he couldn’t get a second effort.
The home teams best spell saw them draw a penalty but a brave piece of shot-blocking from Campbell set the tone for Toronto. At the tail end of the penalty kill, William Nylander came close to setting up a gilt edge chance but the puck refused to settle for those joining him on the rush.
The Marlies would hold a 1-0 after twenty minutes and a 9-7 advantage on the shot clock.
The IceCaps would respond by edging the middle frame and almost tied the game 50 seconds in.
Charles Hudon escaped the Marlies defense but Antoine Bibeau was on hand to deny the five-hole attempt.
Connor Brown’s hard work in the offensive zone would earn his team their fourth power play.
Despite Bibeau having to come up with another fine save, it would prove Toronto’s best chance to score with the man advantage. A booming shot from Nikita Soshnikov took a wicked deflection, floating just wide and agonisingly out of reach of debutant Tobias Lindberg. Justin Holl loves to shoot the puck and after showing speed down the right, he had nothing much in the way of support and almost beat Fucale with a stinging effort that just about lodged between the net minders equipment. Connor Brown was the next to be turned aside by Fucale with an attempt from down low, but St. John’s goaltender rose to the occasion again.
Bud Holloway proved a threat every time he hit the ice and is clearly the IceCaps best player on this current roster. He got the better of Viktor Loov before sending an excellent cross ice pass to Nikita Scherbak, who must have watched in disbelief as Bibeau dived away to his right to turn his effort away to safety.
The tying goal wouldn’t be long in coming for St. John’s and it’s one Sheldon Keefe would not have been happy about. Bud Holloway sweeping his way past two Toronto players before heading directly to the net from the right side. Bibeau did well to stop Holloway’s backhand attempt but Max Friberg was on hand to bang home the juicy rebound.
To the Marlies credit they responded in the right manner and would create some chances during the remainder of the second period. Matt Frattin, now on loan from Ottawa, beat his man on the outside before watching his wicked wrist shot well saved by Fucale. Brett Findlay and Loov would also see some fine efforts on net receive similar treatment as the teams were tied at one after forty minutes.
Toronto had been better in the opening two periods than in recent games but not perfect by any means. The third period would prove their best of the game as they often pinned the home team in their own zone but there would be no reward for their efforts.
St. John’s were forced to ice the puck twice inside the opening two and half minutes and Toronto then drew their fifth power play of the game. It was earned by the Marlies top line but not one shot was fired in anger as they let the home team off the hook.
If Holloway was St. John’s best player then Fucale was a close second as he denied Toronto once more at the seven minute mark. Nikita Soshnikov had scored four times against the IceCaps before this game but in on a breakaway, Fucale failed to bite on his move and gloved the low backhand attempt.
Soshnikov’s line of Gauthier and Hyman would monopolise the home team on the next shift but again couldn’t turn that into a go-ahead goal.
As the game approached the midway mark of the third period Findlay was inches away from connecting with a Connor Brown feed as that line gave the home team plenty to think about.
Bibeau was almost a passenger as St. John’s were struggling to gain control the puck for any period of time.
A big save from Toronto’s goaltender after a turnover almost became even more crucial seconds later. Zach Hyman capitalising on the IceCaps failure to clear their zone and corralling the loose puck. Immediately spinning back towards net, his shot from the right circle rang off the post with Fucale beaten.
Hudon is always threat when on his game and after some nice play to the test he fully extended Bibeau who did well to make the save and ensure no second effort out in front for IceCaps forwards driving the net.
The defining moment came when Nylander took a high-sticking penalty behind the St. John’s net.
A minute into the powerplay, Michael McCarron won an offensive zone face-off and Holloway wasted no time in firing a shot on Bibeau. Toronto’s goaltender made the save but the rebound bounced out in front and Hudon beat three Marlies to the loose puck to score what would prove the game winner.
The closest Toronto would come to tying up the game would be through Nylander. His retribution for taking the penalty only just failed as his shot rang off the crossbar.
With Bibeau pulled, T.J Brennan coughed up the puck when crossing Toronto’s blue line, allowing Holloway to score the easiest goal this season and seal his fine performance with a third point.
A far better performance from the Toronto Marlies than of late, and they deserved better than a 3-1 defeat.
Post Game Notes:
Andrew Campbell scored his ninth goal of the season, breaking a fourteen game barren spell. He’s just three points shy of his best points return in a single season.
Tobias Lindberg did not have a spectacular debut on a line with Nylander and Kapanen.
Hard to be critical in the circumstances but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a line change or two.
T.J Foster was the other debutant and fared well on his odd looking line with Schwartz and Kolomatis.
They weren’t a liability besides being caught against St. John’s top line on one occasion and often made sure they were playing in the IceCaps zone.
Toronto out-shot their opponents 33-22, allowing just six shots against in the third period.
Special teams were the difference in the end and Toronto’s struggles against the IceCaps continue in that department. St. John’s were one for two with the man advantage while Toronto let five opportunities slip through their grasp.
The two teams go back at it Sunday afternoon with a 2:30pm ET puck drop.