The Toronto Marlies evolution continued with yet more new faces and changes.
A visit to Syracuse saw Rich Clune named captain in the absence of Andrew Campbell.
Tony Cameranesi, Willie Corrin and Kasimir Kaskisuo all made their professional debut’s fresh out of college.
Making their Marlies debut were recently reassigned Connor Carrick and Ben Smith, as Toronto dressed seven defensemen through choice, not necessity.
The Syracuse Crunch were not to be taken lightly however. Winners of five straight heading into this contest, they still had their sights set on a playoff berth with Jonathan Drouin amongst their ranks.
Huge credit should be given then for the way the young Toronto Marlies team set about their hosts.
Only thirty seconds had elapsed when Ben Smith looked a shoe-in to score a wraparound goal, but he be denied by a fine right toe save from Kristers Gudlevksis.
From the resulting race-off Mark Arcobello would be presented with a gift in front but once again the home teams goaltender made a successive wonderful stop.
Yet another piece of robbery from Gudlevksis on Arcobello kept the game scoreless, as Toronto’s pace and intensity was too much for their hosts, out-shooting the Crunch 8-0 inside the opening five minutes.
It took until the seventh minute of play for Syracuse to have a foray into Toronto’s zone and it really should have resulted in a better outcome. Matthew Peca with the perfect pass on an odd man rush but Tye McGinn fired wide on the golden opportunity.
Arcobello hasn’t enjoyed much luck in front of goal in his last couple of outings and he must have been frustrated to see his next effort deflected wide of the net with Gudlevksis beaten, following good work from Connor Brown.
There was a lot of skill on show and none better than the stick handling from Tanner Richard.
Not once or twice, but three times he batted the puck out of mid air as he raced out of his own zone.
Heading into Marlies territory, the centre man cut to the centre of the ice but Kasimir Kaskisuo was equal to the five-hole attempt.
Ben Smith and the returning Zach Hyman somehow failed to score with eight minutes of the first period to play, with the Marlies dominating the shot-clock 10-1.
Having survived the onslaught and with Toronto’s play dropping a few percent, the home team finally gained a foothold and created three good chances inside a minute.
Jeff Tambellini should have done better after good work from Drouin on a 2-on-1 rush.
Kaskisuo then produced a pair of fine stops, especially the second to turn aside Richard’s effort.
Josh Leivo thought he must have scored shortly after but Gudlevksis’ glove save would translate into play swiftly transferring to the other end of the ice, with the home team opening the scoring.
Who else but Drouin, who chose to shoot during an odd-man rush and his NHL blast was too much for Toronto’s rookie goaltender.
It probably should have been 2-0 but Joel Vermin wasn’t able to deliver the killer pass to Henri Ikonen, as the Crunch jumped on top of the Marlies following the goal.
Hockey isn’t often fair but some justice was served as Toronto would tie the game up before twenty minutes were through. A long range effort from David Kolomatis glancing off debutant Ben Smith for his first goal.
The middle frame began with Kaskisuo blocking Peca’s attempt to go upstairs on him.
Josh Leivo would retort with his best chance of the game up until that point. Connor Carrick showing tremendous speed down the right side but with nothing on, the defensemen went around the net before finding his new team-mate in the slot. Leivo’s one timer brought the best out of the impressive Gudlevksis.
The first penalty of the game went the Marlies way and saw Drouin almost score yet another NHL calibre goal. Dancing through Toronto’s defense with consummate ease it appeared, he would only be denied by a top sliding save from Kaskisuo that he may consider the best of his night’s work.
The quality of the game broke down somewhat after, with plenty of broken plays and neither team being able to manufacture much until the final seven minutes of the period.
A more confident Tony Cameranesi may have found Brendan Leipsic during an odd man rush while Holl made a nice play to find Brown in the slot but Gudlevksis was playing like a man possessed for his desperate team.
The breakthrough would finally come for the Marlies and it was only another deflected play that would find it’s way into the Syracuse net. Ty Stanton with the shot from the point toward the vicinity of Ben Smith who definitely knew more about this one as he deftly redirected the effort by Gudlevksis.
The game would be deadlocked after two periods however, as the Syracuse power play got to work quickly given a second opportunity. It was a broken play from a face-off but defenseman Matt Taormina showed great hands to make a move around Hyman before measuring a wrist shot through traffic for the tying marker.
Like a wounded tiger, the Marlies responded by controlling the remaining 56 seconds of play but were just unable to force home the puck before the buzzer.
Both teams had sequences of pressure early in the third period but it was the Marlies who scored the fifth goal from almost nothing. Leivo grabbing the bull by the horns as he drove across the blue line before finding Arcobello away to the left of the net. The centre man threw the puck on net, across the crease and Leivo was on hand to tap home past the evidently frustrated Gudlevksis.
At the midway mark the teams shared chances as the game opened up somewhat.
Drouin showcasing yet more of the talent that has teams chasing him but firing wide at the crucial moment.
Ben Smith and Hyman would again both come close while Rinat Valiev should have done better on a breakaway attempt, his effort not really testing the Syracuse goaltender.
It wasn’t Hyman’s net in front of goal as he failed to get away a shot on a partial breakaway with seven minutes to play and that appeared to be a big chance missed very soon afterwards.
The officials had called very little in a contest that could have featured a double figure count in penalties. It was some surprise when Toronto were called for a third straight penalty but the home team sure weren’t complaining.
It took just 18 seconds of swift and effective puck movement and a rebound effort from McGinn to tie the game at three.
Unable to do anything about that tally Kaskisuo pulled of a telling save seconds later and the Marlies rallied by scoring inside a minute.
We’ve seen it many times before but not nearly enough this season.
Leipsic stripped Drouin of the puck before sending Matt Frattin away down the right wing.
Without a moment’s hesitation or thought, the winger fired home a trademark wicked wrist shot from the top of the right circle, past the glove of Gudlevksis.
A telling strike from a veteran on this young team and would proved the game with a little over four minutes to play.
Kaskisuo would only be called upon to make one save of note as the Marlies shut the Crunch down and out-worked the hosts even when they left the net empty for the extra attacker.
Toronto’s ability to produce performances and pull out results with so many new faces is an absolute credit to all involved, especially against teams fighting hard in the standings.
Post Game Notes:
Ben Smith scored twice in his Marlies debut, recording his ninth and tenth goals of the season.
Brendan Leipsic (two assists) and Josh Leivo (one goal) extended their point streaks to three games.
With a single assist, Mark Arcobello extended his point streak to six games.
Arcobello has fired 17 shots in his last two games but has not found the net.
Ty Stanton recorded his first professional point, assisting on the second goal.
Matt Frattin scored the game winning goal, his 12th of the season.
The goal was also his 14th game winning goal in a Marlies uniform, moving him into sole possession of second on the all-time game winning goal leaders.
Kasimir Kaskisuo turned aside 26 shots to earn his first professional victory and his first victory as a member of the Toronto Marlies. There was a lot to like about the performance and the relative calmness he showed on debut.
The Marlies have now tied the AHL record for most starting goaltenders with a victory in a single season.
Eight different goaltenders have recorded wins for the Marlies; Antoine Bibeau, Jonathan Bernier, Ray Emery, Kasimir Kaskisuo, Rob Madore, Ryan Massa, Garret Sparks and Alex Stalock.