Despite the dominance of the Toronto Marlies this season, they have been owned on home ice by their rivals from St. John’s.
Montreal’s affiliate has won three of the four games in Toronto this season, scoring 16 scores in those successes. The only win for the Marlies in the series at home came on Boxing Day at the ACC, but this was a much changed team from that success.
There was yet another addition for Toronto in the shape of Shane Conacher who was signed to an ATO.
The right winger and young brother of Cory, would make his debut fresh from the NCAA.
Joining him was the returning Josh Leivo, with something to prove upon being reassigned.
The Marlies may have fired the opening two shots of the game but it was the visitors who would light the lamp with just 2:27 on the clock.
Shortly after Stuart Percy had denied Bud Holloway from setting up a certain goal, a long range effort from Brett Lemour found it’s way through traffic and past Antoine Bibeau.
Just a minute later and Toronto’s goaltender had to make a smart save to deny a wraparound effort from Alexandre Ranger.
Toronto weren’t helping their own cause at all and it should have been 2-0 St. John’s at the six minute mark. Justin Holl guilty of some sloppy play in front of his own net, gifting possession to the IceCaps. He would be thankful for Bibeau denying Holloway and then Charles Hudon.
A moment of individual brilliance would alter the course of the first period.
An ill-times change from the visitors allowed the Marlies some space and David Kolomatis picked out Colin Smith with a tape-to-tape pass. Faking the shot, Smith had his opponent down and out before driving to the net. Going backhand to forehand, Smith out waited Zach Fucale as he went across the crease before sliding the puck home. A goal to grace any game but one that certainly sparked his team mates and the 15,000+ inside the ACC.
Brendan Leipsic would come close to pushing the Marlies ahead, the first after some fine work from Sam Carrick. Toronto were starting to win the small battles now as they controlled the flow of the game. A broken play in the right circle resulted in John Kurtz taking control of the puck and he made the simple if effective playing in a drop pass to the waiting T.J Brennan. Not so much a blast from Brennan as a measured knuckleball type effort as he was being slashed. The effort defeated Fucale 5-hole with the young goaltender possibly unsighted by one of his own defensemen in front of the net.
The Marlies were certainly good value for the lead at this juncture but having not taken their chances in previous games it was good to see them claim a third goal on yet another smart finish. Another drop pass, the time from Mark Arcobello found Josh Leivo trailing the play. Shoot on sight was Leivo’s motto in this game and upon seeing his first effort hit a skate and fly up into the air, the winger smartly batted it out of the air and into the net, over the shoulder of Fucale.
Toronto’s flourish to the end the opening twenty minutes carried over into the second as they increased their advantage just two minutes in.
It was all about Sam Carrick, who has returned from injury like a man on a mission, surrounded by so much young talent. He out-fought and out-worked two IceCaps opponents with a strong fore-check along the backboards. Gaining possession, Carrick handed off to Leivo whose quick as a flash wraparound was just too good for Fucale.
It took until three and a half minutes off the second period for the first penalty of the game to be awarded and it was the home team who had to send the penalty killers to work.
Keeping St. John’s to the outside, Toronto saw the penalty out with relative ease and almost scored upon it’s expiry. Andrew Campbell taking the outlet pass after exiting the box, the Captain held up play for Smith joining him. Trying to replicate the move on which he scored the tying goal, Smith was hauled down, sending his team on their first power play.
Despite three efforts on net from Leivo, Fucale was equal to each one and the power play opportunity ended fruitless.
Toronto would dominate the middle frame, out-shooting St. John’s 16-7, but unable to turn that into more goals. Fucale was forced into making an acrobatic if awkward looking save in denying Mark Arcobello after a nice set-up from Kasperi Kapanen.
Against the flow of play the visitors put themselves back into contention with just under eight minutes of the period remaining. A shot from Gabriel Dumont brought a save from Bibeau but the rebound fell to his right and into the wheelhouse of Holloway. The IceCaps leading points producer doesn’t miss those chances and it was a two goal game once again.
The home team weren’t bereft of chances to take a bigger lead into the third however, as Fucale was forced into action once again. A pair of terrific saves to deny Carrick and then Leipsic from the slot, with the latter perhaps his bets of the entire game.
T.J Brennan would draw two penalties in relative quick succession to earn the Marlies 40 seconds of a 5 on 3 power play. A blast from Brennan would be the closest Toronto would come to pulling further ahead, while Leivo forced yet another good save from Fucale.
The opening seconds of the final frame almost produced a goal for the debutant. Freddie Gauthier with the bulldozing drive down the left wing before throwing the puck out in front of the net. Busting a gut to get there was Shane Conacher but Fucale once again bailed out his team with a brave save as the Marlies new forward crashed into the net.
There was little in the way of action around the net in the following minutes, with St. John’s appearing a little jaded after playing the night before and Toronto happy to settle the game down. At the seven minute mark a brave shot block from John Kurtz brought appreciation from the home crowd, with the puck ending up back with Fucale such was the force of the initial effort.
Kurtz attempted to drive a little offense as the clock ticked over the midway point. A give and go with Tobias Lindberg gave Kurtz a look from the high slot but the effort was comfortably dealt with.
The pace of the period only really stepped up after the IceCaps pulled within one with a goal out of nowhere.
Max Friberg sent Hudon away on the left wing and from the face-off dot he released a wicked shot that beat Bibeau to make it a 4-3 game. Toronto’s goaltender would want that back, as the effort flew just over his pad and past his glove.
The response from the home team was almost immediate. Drawing a penalty, Arcobello would find the iron on the power play but the rebound fell to safety for the IceCaps.
Back at even strength, Gauthier once again almost set-up Conacher for a first goal with good work from behind the net. Though Conacher’s effort was from the slot, Fucale pulled off a wonderful save to give his team some hope that they could retrieve something from this encounter.
It was a short-lived dream however as the fifth goal and insurance marker arrived with a little over three minutes to play. Leipsic with a shot that took a wicked deflection off the skates of Morgan Ellis, which totally hoodwinked Fucale before finding the net.
A penalty taken by John Scott shortly after that goal put paid to any thoughts of a miraculous comeback.
Despite Toronto being unable to score into an empty net late on, they held on for a 5-3 victory which was more comfortable than the score line suggests.
Post Game Notes:
A two goal game for Josh Leivo to take his seasonal total to 16. Leading all skaters with eight shots on net, he could easily have had a hat-trick.
Four points for T.J Brennan, who moves into second place in scoring on account of his goals total. Chris Borque has a five point lead in the scoring race but you wouldn’t bet against Brennan pushing him close.
Shane Conacher had a decent game on debut and his line including Clune and Gauthier proved troublesome for the IceCaps despite being matched up against their better players.
Although missing a few games through illness recently, Mark Arcobello extended his point streak to four games.
A 23rd win of the season for Antoine Bibeau but it wasn’t his best effort, especially come off a fine performance last weekend in Lake Erie.
The victory was Toronto’s 47th of the season and takes them to 99 points. They are just ten points shy of the franchise record which was set over an 80 game season.