The first two games of this weekend were incomplete performances in differing ways.
Sheldon Keefe would have been delighted by Sunday’s victory, in that his team absolutely dominated Manitoba, showcasing the kind of possession game that’s now expected from the Marlies.
It took just 54 seconds for Toronto to assert themselves over the visitors, despite the presence of a veteran goaltender between the pipes for Manitoba.
Frederik Gauthier found Kasperi Kapanen with an excellent outlet pass and the young winger had time to assess the situation. Taking aim from the right face-off dot, Kapanen fired a shot into the top right hand corner of Ondrej Pavalec’s net, a goal reminiscent of Brooks Laich’s opening tally on Saturday
Antoine Bibeau began a little shakily and almost coughed up a tying goal two minutes later.
The Quebec native could only direct JC Lipon’s weak shot into the path of Andrew Copp but responded by denying the Manitoba centre man with a fine save.
Bibeau had to be alert thirty seconds later, as talented forward Marko Dano tested him with a snapshot.
Rookie Trevor Moore was robbed by Pavalec after more fine play from Gauthier but despite Toronto’s control of possession during the opening period, they were unable to increase their lead.
Some of that was due in part to a lack of a killer final pass but also a couple of late saves from Pavalec to deny Colin Greening and Tobias Lindberg.
Whatever was said during the first intermission worked for Toronto as they came out flying in the middle frame, driving the play and creating half a dozen chances in as many minutes.
During that time Bibeau had to be alert to turn aside JC Lipon, while Dano was unable to control a cross ice pass which would have presented him with a good opportunity.
Toronto would blow the game open and effectively seal the victory with a three goal blast in a two minute span, beginning at the eight minute mark of the period.
The Marlies had the visitors hemmed inside their own zone for an extended period of time, before a blast from Justin Holl was tipped into his own net by Nelson Nogier. Lindberg was on the doorstep putting pressure on the defenseman and is using his frame well this year in front of net.
It was 3-0 at the midway point thanks to a dominating shift from the Kerby Rychel-Colin Smith-Andreas Johnsson line.
Smith would grab the final touch on a rebound in front after efforts from Rychel and Andrew Nielsen, with Pavalec helpless to withstand the assault.
Manitoba called a timeout to try and settle themselves down but it mattered not.
Handing the Marlies a power play and paying the price 17 seconds into the double minor.
Byron Froese jammed home the puck after a huge scramble in front.
In a sea change from Saturday’s encounter, this was the first penalty of the game but Toronto weren’t able to capitalise on the second half of the double minor.
Gauthier is enjoying playing alongside Kapanen and is starting to show the results of the hard work to improve his skating and offensive skills. Taking the puck down the right side, the sophomore centre man, skated swiftly around the net and dished a perfect pass out to Kapanen waiting in front but Pavalec responded with a great toe save.
Ending the second period on the penalty kill, Gauthier showed his defensive quality’s with a huge shot block which left him in pain, while Bibeau stayed solid to deny JC Lipon once again.
If you were in any doubt of the Marlies domination during the middle frame, the shot-clock read 20-7 and the three goals scored could easily have been double that number.
The third period was very much a case of after the lord mayors show, both teams knowing the game was essentially done as a contest.
That said, the Marlies roster is stacked and players know if they take their foot off the gas, they’ll likely be out of the line-up.
Rychel is yet to light the lamp for Toronto but he came close to doing so two and a half minutes into the final frame, as his line continued to give an impressive showing.
Certainly Bibeau knows his place in the team is as under threat as anyone’s and no goaltender wants to give up a potential shutout.
Young Nielsen didn’t help out his goaltender with a no-look reverse pass behind his own net which fell kindly for Scott Kosmachuk. Manitoba’s right winger looked a good bet to score but the Marlies netminder came up with his best save of the game.
As the game slipped into the final ten minutes it was all about whether the Marlies could record the first duck egg of the season.
A flurry of late penalties, for and then against the Marlies, put that issue in doubt with more space on the ice and Manitoba’s desire not to be shutout on the road.
A final 33 seconds on the penalty kill was played with as much determination by the home team as throughout the rest of the game, earning their goaltender a first shutout of the season and a small piece of franchise history in the process.
Post Game Notes:
Antoine Bibeau ties a franchise record for shutouts with this victory. It stands at eight and Bibeau shares the record with Jussi Ryannas and Ben Scrivens.
Jeff Glass was the back-up with Garret Sparks said to be feeling sore.
Kerby Rychel had his best game of this young season and is beginning to find his feet in Toronto. He registered six shots on net and I would not be surprised to see his play result in better numbers on the score sheet soon.
A pair of assists for Brendan Leipsic, who has registered at least a point in very game this season. He sits atop AHL scoring with nine points.
Byron Froese scored for the third straight game and tallied four goals in total over the weekend.
Justin Holl failed to register a shot last week again Utica. Ten shots in three games this past weekend and his first goal as a result. He’s more than capable of overhauling last season’s goal tally of five.
Toronto’s power play was 1/3 and the penalty kill perfect on two occasions.