These two teams endured an epic battle during a seven game playoff series last spring and both have begun this season strongly with a 5-1 record.
Scott Wedgwood was incredibly good during the aforementioned series but he had an off-night as Antoine Bibeau outplayed the more experienced goaltender, on the way to creating some franchise history.
The first period gave no indication of what was to follow, with Toronto heavily on top after the opening skirmishes.
Andrew Nielsen had to be alert in the first few seconds to break up a 2 on 1 rush for the home team and shortly after Kerby Rychel made a brave dive to block a rasping shot from just above the hash marks.
Toronto’s first shot came courtesy of Justin Holl just over two minutes in but Wedgwood clung on to the puck through traffic.
Albany would garner the best chance thus far after a misplay from the visitors at the Devils blue line.
Joe Blandisi was left to head in on net alone but Bibeau came up with the right pad save to deny the Albany Centreman.
Rookie Miles Wood was a constant thorn in the Marlies side with his impressive speed and the winger blew by Holl on a rush down the right side, but failed to test Bibeau after cutting to the net.
The opening goal, timed at 5:34, was something of an anti-climax and one that Wedgwood would certainly want back.
Colin Greening picked up a pass from Travis Dermott but was forced wide heading into the Albany zone. With nothing else on and not much in the way of support, Greening chose to shoot and was pleasantly surprised to see his effort sneak through the defences of the Devils goaltender and trickle into the net.
Albany tried to respond a couple of minutes after allowing the first goal but were denied by Travis Dermott. Wood showing yet another burst of speed to set-up an odd man rush but there was Toronto’s rookie defenseman with the diving play to cut out the danger.
Just 15 seconds later and Andres Johnsson showed his skating ability to beat Seth Helgeson to a stretch pass but Wedgwood was equal to the resulting attempt.
Toronto were fully on top at this stage, holding possession for long stretches and would go close through Nikita Soshnikov and Kerby Rychel
The Marlies would be thankful to Bibeau one last time before doubling their lead however. A redirect from a Ben Thomson pass-come-shot brought an excellent reflex stop from Toronto’s goaltender.
The power play has been hot so far this season and tallied twenty seconds into the first man advantage. Soshnikov with the perfect feed from the right boards and from the slot Tobias Lindberg redirected the pass through the legs of Wedgwood.
A 2-0 lead after twenty minutes could have well been doubled granted some better fortune and less stellar play from Wedgwood.
Johnsson and Rychel were turned aside, as was Frederik Gauthier on a wraparound effort after causing a turnover behind the Devils net.
A second power play to end the period created various opportunities but there was no puck luck for the Marlies, Byron Froese ringing his effort of the short side post from the right circle.
Toronto’s domination was clear on the shot clock, holding a 17-5 advantage, and the home team set about clawing their way back into the game early in the second period.
Earning a power play a mere 26 seconds in, Bibeau was forced into a pair of saves to keep Albany off the board.
Ben Sexton sniped a one-timer from the slot but watched the effort gloved by Toronto’s net minder, who was also well positioned at the top of his crease to snaffle an effort from defenseman Karl Stollery shortly after.
Surviving that initial push back from the home team, Toronto created two great opportunities to increase their lead.
Brendan Leipsic jumped off the bench to instigate his own breakaway but lost control at the last second, making Wedgwood’s job a little easier than it might have been.
The line of Smith-Johnsson-Rychel has proved a revelation so far and the former two combined with swift passing to tee up Rychel who was once again frustratingly denied from opening his Marlies account.
Soshnikov was unfortunate to be called for interference at the midway mark of the game but Toronto held firm during the penalty kill despite being hemmed in their own zone.
The remainder of the middle frame was all about scoring chances for the visitors and the dropping of gloves.
The combination of Smith-Johnsson-Rychel teed up Nielsen jumping into the play backdoor, but with a whole net to score into, the rookie defenseman contrived to fire his effort against the inside of the left post.
Gauthier is showing far more confidence in possession and after dancing past two Albany players to gain entry into the offensive zone, dropped the puck back for Greening, whose shot brought a good save from Wedgwood.
That play brought about the first altercation as Helgeson engaged with Greening, but it proved a folly as the Toronto man pounded him to a pulp in a one sided tilt.
Twenty seconds later and we had ourselves a second fight with Blake Coleman taking umbrage with Andrew Campbell. It was a duel much ado about nothing and all it really did was disrupt the flow of Albany’s performance.
In the dying moments of the second period a Devils player’s stick somehow got stuck in the Zamboni door, enabling Toronto to garner possession. Soshnikov was the benefactor but Wedgwood was able to keep him off the score sheet and ensure his team only trailed by a pair.
Sheldon Keefe would not have been impressed by his team’s performance in the third period but some credit is due to Albany and the way they threw everything at the Marlies in the final twenty minutes.
A minute and 40 seconds in, Nielsen coughed up the puck at the Devils blue line and yet another breakaway ensued for the home team.
Max Novak was challenged by Bibeau and consequently fired his effort wide of the cage.
John Quenneville and Viktor Loov dropped the mitts at the three minute mark with the Toronto man getting the worst of the altercation – another fight for no real good reason and not to the benefit of the home team who required a response on the scoreboard.
More strong play from Gauthier behind the devils net drew a penalty but despite good puck movement, Toronto created little in the way of goal scoring opportunities.
Upon killing that penalty, Albany were on a power play of their own but would be denied by Bibeau making one save with his arm and then the goaltender’s calmness during a scramble in his crease, with sticks and bodies flying everywhere.
A third goal would be a dagger in the heart of the Devils, especially the way it came about.
Toronto chipped the puck in and Wedgwood went behind his net and attempted to clear around the boards.
Trevor Moore was in quickly on the fore-check and blocked the goaltender’s attempt to clear his zone, the puck bouncing of his shin pads and dropping favourably, enabling the rookie to net his first professional goal.
Another slightly dubious call sent Albany back on the power play but it was Bibeau to the rescue once more. A fabulous right toe save to deny what appeared a certain goal for Blandisi on a rebound attempt.
The only question to be answered was could the Quebec native between the pipes record his second shutout of the season. Gauthier almost unwittingly aided Albany with a clearance across Bibeau’s crease by the net minder was alert to the danger.
One last power play for the home team with 2:30 remaining certainly didn’t make life easy for the Marlies, especially when Wedgwood was pulled for a two man advantage.
To a man, Toronto scrapped and fought for their goaltender, who came up with one last huge stop to ensure his duck egg, after some pinball type play in front of him.
It was Bibeau’s 37th save of the game and his finest performance of this young season thus far.
Post Game Notes:
Antoine Bibeau now holds the Toronto Marlies franchise for most shutouts, with nine.
This was his second clean sheet of the season and propels his save percentage to 0.951.
Travis Dermott recorded two assists and now has five for the season.
Tobias Lindberg scored for the second straight game and is enjoying his role in front of net.
Nikita Soshnikov put in his best performance of the season and looks to be 100% healthy now.
Rinat Valiev dropped out of the line-up to be replaced by debutant William Wrenn. The former San Jose draft selection played a solid game and did his chances of further ice time no harm.
Milan Michálek was a healthy scratch.