It’s been a weekend to forget for the Toronto Marlies in many ways.
Dominated during long spells in three games, the Marlies managed just one goal during the opening forty minutes of each, as opponents were allowed to build leads that would ultimately prove insurmountable.
Sunday’s matinee game against the visiting Utica Comets was no different as Toronto were collectively poor and out-worked by a confident opponent for the first two periods.
The opening frame was notable for it’s physicality as the dislike between the teams stemmed from the Comets shutout victory on Friday evening.
Toronto were on the power play just 18 seconds in but failed to test Joe Cannata in net for Utica.
The rough stuff took less than three minutes to rear it’s head as noted AHL enforcer Darren Archibald decided to mix thing up with Rich Clune and then John Kurtz.
Archibald would take a goaltender interference penalty shortly after but his team would turn the tables and open the scoring.
Josh Leivo tried to intercept a pass from Nic Pedan but inadvertently sent the puck past Antoine Bibeau to hand the visitors a short-handed goal. Utica were only denied from scoring twice while down a man by the previously unfortunate Bibeau, who denied Chris Higgins, a constant threat during the game.
A shot on net after the whistle from Ronalds Kenins ended with a line brawl as emotions well and truly boiled over. Somehow the home team ended up with the extra penalty and it was Utica’s turn to head on the power play.
A fight between Clune and Alexandre Grenier ended with the Toronto man winning the fight but saw his team down by two men for 89 seconds.
Bibeau held onto efforts fired on net during that period while Connor Brown, Frederick Gauthier and Stuart Percy were also excellent. Utica would come closest to scoring with just the one extra man, as Jordan Subban rang his effort off the post.
The final five minutes were controlled by a dominant Comets team who were only denied scoring at will by more excellence from Bibeau, as those in front of him were caught running around and missing assignments.
A late power play for the Marlies would see Colin Smith fail to take advantage of a great chance and Brand Prust come close to scoring short-handed on a partial breakaway.
The power play carried over into the middle frame proved fruitless and upon it’s expiry the Comets doubled their lead. Subban allowed to spin and turn onto his forehand all too easily and he owns a terrific shot which gave Bibeau no chance. A 2-0 lead quick became three with not even five minutes played.
Grenier with his twelfth of the season as Prust picked up his second assist of the game.
It took until the ninth minute for any sign of life from the Marlies, such was the Comets control of proceedings. A shot from Mark Arcobello presented a rebound which Valiev shifted to his left for Brown, who unfortunately wasn’t able to get everything on the attempt in front.
The returning Kasperi Kapanen would whiff on a great opportunity a couple of shifts later before any momentum gained was ruined by yet another needless penalty this weekend.
Stuart Percy the guilty party for the umpteenth time and once out of the box he coughed up the puck with an attempted pass down the middle of the ice but thankfully Bibeau was on hand to rescue his team-mate. Bibeau was battling hard despite little help from those in front of and he was finally rewarded for his efforts. Finally the skaters on the team replicated Bibeau’s tenacious qualities by winning a battle on the wall. Brendan Leipsic advanced the puck to Carrick and drove to the net. In good scoring form of late, Carrick wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to shoot and blasted a snapshot by Cannata, who had shutout the Marlies in the Friday night encounter.
Like flicking a switch, it was Toronto who were on top for a couple of minutes. Justin Holl would be denied while a feed from Brennan only required the merest touch to find the net but was not forthcoming. A shot from Loov was tipped inches wide by Arcobello and a second goal was a real possibility before the end of the period.
Shooting themselves in the foot once more, this time it was Campbell to the box and another Utica power play. Valiev almost potted a short-handed marker but fired wide and within twenty seconds a shot from Travis Ehrhardt was deflected in front, possibly by Valiev, giving Bibeau little chance as the Marlies would trail 4-1 after forty minutes.
Many times this season, Toronto have expunged themselves from similar situations while having played far better than this, so perhaps it was a sense of pride that saw a far better third period showing from the home team.
How much Utica took their foot off the gas we’ll never know but Toronto were at them from the get-go.
Just 42 seconds in and Loov was allowed to pick up the loose puck down the middle off the ice but his effort rang off the crossbar. A minute later and Brennan would also be frustrated as his attempt rang off the iron as well.
A missed hooking call from the officials on Tobias Lindberg allowed Utica to break on the rush but Bibeau made a splendid double save, the second to deny Higgins sliding to his left was great athleticism.
Higgins would be called for a penalty on his next shift and Toronto finally tallied on the resulting power play. Denied once from the high slot, he would not be twice as Lindberg’s wrist shot from lower in the slot found the net after a perfect feed from Smith.
The perfect start continued ninety seconds later as the Marlies drew within one. He may not be the most talented player on the roster but nobody has more heart or desire than Sam Carrick to do whatever it takes to win. Finding himself on the left wing, he darted around his man with a great move before driving across the net. His five hole effort just trickled through Cannata despite protests from the visitors as Carrick fished for a rebound that wasn’t there. The play had been whistled down but the puck snuck by the goaltender on the first shot and therefore the goal stood.
Utica were scrambling with their lead down to a single thread and Toronto looked certain winners if they could tie the game. They almost did immediately as Brown and Leivo both somehow failed to score on the same rebound while Leipsic from the resulting face-off tested Cannata to the full.
The balloon wasn’t so much popped as slowly deflated by a pair of consecutive penalties by Valiev.
The first was well sold by the Utica forward but there was no need for Valiev to have had his stick up high on the play. The second was interference as the rookie defenseman came out the box with his head down. The visitors would only threaten on the initial penalty but thank to Bibeau and some incredibly brave shot-blocking from Carrick, Toronto survived and trailed 4-3 with just over six minutes to play.
The tying goal would come and it encompassed everything that’s good about Toronto offensively when they’re on song. An outlet pass to Smith on the right wing found the new acquisition in some space. He drove forward before choosing to drop the puck back for Brown, who immediately spotted Loov jumping into the play on the opposite wing. A tape to tape pass enabled Loov to fire a one timer that forced Cannata into a save but produced a rebound. After the drop pass, Smith had driven toward the net and was Johnny on the spot to chip home the fourth and game tying goal.
Brennan would almost prove the villain with 2:46 to play as his giveaway in Toronto’s zone presented the puck to Blair Jones. Thankfully Bibeau was alert to the danger and made another outstanding save.
Cannata would show equal brilliance thirty seconds later as he flat-out robbed Josh Leivo in tight on a rebound from Valiev’s shot.
The Comets would break the hearts of Marlies players and fans with 63 seconds remaining.
Darren Archibald was too strong and determined for Percy and Loov behind Toronto’s net. Eventually coming out with the puck in front of Bibeau, he was allowed to fire home what would prove the game winner.
It was a game the Toronto Marlies should have won with their third period domination but their level of play this weekend has not warranted them that luxury.
A tale of home truth’s by Sheldon Keefe has come home to roost with a lack of discipline, collective poor play and a lack of desire at times.
It’s another lesson to be learnt for this young team and a reality check that the AHL is not an easy ride.
Post Game Notes:
Brett Findlay and Eric Faille made way for the returning Brendan Leipsic and Kasperi Kapanen.
Faille was unfortunate to miss out in my opinion when other’s could easily have been dropped.
It’s possible he could be sent back to assist Orlando in their quest for a play-off berth.
It’s the first time this season that Toronto has dropped three straight games and they were out-scored 13-6 in the process.
Sam Carrick’s two goal was his first double of the season, taking his total to nine on the year.
Brendan Leipsic, Connor Brown and Matt Frattin each registered two assists.
Two points for Colin Smith takes his total to seven in as many games.