Just two games for the Toronto Marlies this past week but a pair of memorable comebacks wins against some of the better opposition in the AHL.
Beginning a six game home stand, Toronto welcomed second place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to Ricoh Coliseum on Friday evening.
Young goaltender Matt Murray is probably the best prospect between the pipes in the AHL right now and he went about proving that in the first period. He turned aside 19 shots from Toronto in the opening twenty minutes as both teams relied on excellent goaltending to keep the game scoreless.
Antoine Bibeau was the first to blink in that regard as the visitors tallied twice in the first two minutes of the middle frame, once on the power play. It was thanks to Bibeau however, that the Marlies didn’t fall further behind. Toronto never really got their wheels under them during the second period and would require a big effort in the final twenty minutes. The comeback began just 34 seconds into the third with T.J Brennan scoring for the 20th time this season. Toronto’s power play finally clicked and Connor Brown’s goal at the midway point tied the game. At even strength there only looked to be one winner and William Nylander put the Marlies up 3-2 with seven minutes to play. Brett Findlay’s fourth of the season was the Marlies fourth straight goal and sealed a remarkable third period comeback victory.
Portland Pirates were the opponents for Saturday’s matinee game at the ACC. This was the first meeting between the two teams since Toronto’s inaugural season and it was the visitors who began on top despite having to travel the previous evening. Toronto were out-shot 2:1 in the opening period and Garret Sparks had to be on his mettle to deny all 14 attempts.
Portland deservedly took the lead 85 seconds into the middle frame, with a long range effort that weaved it’s way through traffic in front of Sparks. The Marlies gradually clawed their way back into the game and began to play somewhere near the standard that Sheldon Keefe expects.
With a little under five minutes to play in the second period, Tobias Lindberg created a turnover through a hit and then a terrific pass later on the same play to enable Frederick Gauthier to score. Toronto would strike less than 120 seconds later through Brendan Leipsic to carry a 2-1 lead after forty minutes.
The next goal was always going to be crucial and it was the home team who scored as the period passed the midway mark. Brown making the brave play in taking a huge hit to make a pass to Findlay. The latter made a lovely pass taking two Portland players out of the play and sending Leipsic away alone on net. The left winger showed some nifty stick-work before releasing a wonderful backhand finish to score what would prove to be the last goal of the game.
Saturday’s victory was the 40th of the season for the Toronto Marlies, taking their points total to 84 (40-9-4-0).
It’s the fifth straight season that the Marlies have attained forty wins, doing so with four different head coaches.
The magic number for Toronto to make the playoffs is now just 18 points and there’s still 23 games left in the regular season.
Tobias Lindberg made him home debut and recorded an assist in each game over the weekend.
He flourished alongside Soshnikov and Gauthier in what could be a line we see a lot more of moving forward.
Both goaltenders were excellent in one outing a piece. Garret Sparks rightly took the plaudits with a 37 save performance against Portland with his team under the cosh for long stretches.
Antoine Bibeau should not be forgotten however as he kept the Marlies in the game during a second period of woe against WBS Pens and then kept them off the board during a crucial penalty kill when the game was tied up at two.
Zach Hyman registered three primary assists Friday night as he continues to go from strength to strength. Still on a line with Kasperi Kapanen and William Nylander but thriving and has 31 points in 51 games.
A goal and an assist for Brett Findlay who extends his point streak to four games.
Rinat Valiev flies under the radar offensively as he receives little to no power play time and his partner Andrew Campbell has taken the plaudits with his goal scoring exploits.
Three assists in four games for Valiev who is now one point shy of twenty for the season.
It was yet another week of change for Sheldon Keefe to deal with.
Viktor Loov is up with the Leafs as are Brendan Leipsic and Stuart Percy.
Justin Johnson and Scott Harrington were both confirmed as out for the rest of the season.
Rylan Schwartz was released from his second PTO and the Marlies would have to sign him to an AHL contract in order for him to play for them again.
James Martin was re-assigned to Orlando but is now back with the Marlies.
Sam Carrick made his return from an ankle injury on Saturday. Was his first game since January 8 and strengthens the centre position for Toronto.
With the trade deadline less than a week away, Toronto have signed John Kurtz to a PTO. The expectation is that he‘s just a warm body to be used if absolutely necessary.
More known for his physicality than putting points on the board, Kurtz has played for Syracuse, Norfolk and Utica (this season) in the AHL.
Attained in one of the latest trades, the Marlies will be glad to have some more help at centre in the form of Colin Smith. With no Arcobello, Leivo or Leipsic available, Smith is currently third on the Marlies in scoring with 34 points for San Antonio Rampage this season.
In his third season of professional hockey, Smith has already posted a career high in goals and points, despite being held of the score sheet in his last eight games. Breaking down his production, Smith has scored 23 (10-9-4) of his points at even strength, ten on the power play and a single short-handed goal.
With 28 of his overall points total either goals or primary assists, he’s no mug at the AHL level and should be able to help the Marlies out.
He’s a smaller guy, offensively gifted and not lacking in foot speed. Would not be surprised to see him slot in next to Connor Brown, with Brett Findlay moving to Left Wing in the absence of Brendan Leipsic.
Wed, Feb 24, 2016 Binghamton at Toronto 11:00 am EST
Fri, Feb 26, 2016 Hershey at Toronto 7:00 pm EST
Sat, Feb 27, 2016 Rochester at Toronto 3:00 pm EST