The Toronto Marlies dressed a line worth 8.3 million dollars but this was more like a bargain basement performance from the second ranked team in the AHL.
Milan Michalek, making his Marlies debut, Brooks Laich and Colin Greening began the opening shift but were largely ineffective in another below par Toronto outing on the road.
In a game that was played at a frantic pace throughout, it was the home team who almost had themselves the perfect start 25 second in.
Brett Lernout blasted a long range effort on net, but thankfully for Toronto the puck found the right post of Antoine Bibeau’s net and bounced away to safety.
The speed of the game was such that there was little quality from either team and a lack of possession or time in the offensive zone
Toronto’s first real effort on net wasn’t until 3:45 had elapsed.
Frederik Gauthier with an offensive zone face-off win, allowing Andrew Campbell to release a trademark rocket from the right side.
St. John’s goaltender Charlie Lindgren did well to cling onto the shot through traffic, showing why he’s won all five starts this season
The best opportunities for the home team were courtesy of errors from Toronto.
Viktor Loov whiffed on a pass, handing possession to Charles Hudon who dished off to a team-mate on his left.
What looked like a certain goal was denied by William Wrenn who made a full length dive to block the goal bound shot.
During a two on one break for the hosts shortly after, it was only the brilliance of Bibeau that denied Max Friberg from opening the scoring.
The Marlies were finally awoken but that top save from their goaltender and created a chance of their own. It was all due to persistence and hard work for Kerby Rychel who chased a puck down the right side down onto the backboards. Winning the battle for possession, he fed Johnsson in the slot with a fine pass but Lindgren made the first save and the rebound would never settle for the Swedish forward.
The Icecaps would take the lead just before the fourteen minute mark. A long stretch pass from Daniel Audette was tipped around Andrew Nielsen by Hudon, who carried on his merry away alone on net.
A fine move by Hudon, left Bibeau flat on his back and an easy tap in ensued for his eighth goal of the season.
The first power play of the game would draw Toronto level. Nielsen, Brendan Leipsic and Kasperi Kapanen involved in a triangle tic-tac-toe play that resulted in the later netting his fifth of the season.
The young Finnish forward almost double his tally with 1:40 left on the clock but his effort from the slot found iron.
After improving through the first period, the middle frame would prove something of a non event as far as the Marlies were concerned. Just two shots registered on net and a golden opportunity missed inside the opening sixty seconds. Lindgren misplayed the puck behind his own net and Gauthier jumped on the error and dished the puck off to Kapanen in the slot. Somehow the winger fired high over the net, when it could easily have been a hat-trick in the space of five minutes.
Sven Andrighetto would be the next Icecaps to bring the best out of Bibeau, who would be required to come up be on the penalty kill.
Three straight penalties would be called against the Marlies, including 85 seconds of a two man advantage for the home team.
To Toronto’s credit, they dug their heels in and made it difficult for a St. John’s power play that had been flying heading into this game. Passes found plenty of Marlies sticks while shooting lanes were occupied by bodies of those wearing blue and there was more than a couple of brave blocked shots from the road team.
The home fans may have been frustrated by the Icecaps failure to capitalise with the extra man but they almost celebrated a goal back at even strength with 2:30 remaining. A fine feed from Bobby Farnham found Stefan Matteau alone in front but Bibeau performed more miracles to ensure the teams would be deadlocked at one heading into the third period.
The turning point of the game was a pair of penalties taken by Josh Leivo taken just 83 seconds into the final frame. Hooking and Unsportsmanlike conduct were the calls and Toronto paid a heavy price.
It took just seven seconds for McCarron to win a battle in front to sweep home his first goal of the season.
Fast forward 21 seconds and the home team were up 3-1.
Andrighetto was allowed far too easily to ghost past two Marlies players and he rarely misses such a good opportunity to score.
After conceding a pair of power play markers, the Marlies were gifted one of their own shortly afterwards. Despite creating some good shooting opportunities, Toronto were wasteful, failing to hit the target and test young Lindgren between the pipes.
Markus Eisenschmid blew past Marlies captain Campbell and looked likely to make it 4-1 back at even strength, but there was Bibeau once again to the rescue.
That save kept the game alive for the time being and the Marlies created themselves another good opening, only for Tobias Lindberg to be guilty of firing wide of the cage.
Toronto would finish the final eight minutes of the third period as the stronger team. Finally finding their feet and playing the kind of game that was required for the whole sixty minutes.
Lindberg turned creator and with a deft backhand pass found Byron Froese in the slot but Lindgren made a fine save to keep the two goal lead intact.
Offensive zone pressure led to a power play and a real chance to make the final minutes really uncomfortable for St. John’s.
It proved another opportunity wasted, as passes went astray and attempts on net were all too infrequent.
Sheldon Keefe removed Bibeau from play earlier than may have been expected but it truly was all or nothing at this stage.
Toronto would still have two late chances but Leivo fired wide after good work from Kapanen and Rychel spin and shoot attempt from the hash marks whistled wide.
An empty net goal from Matteau sealed the victory for the Icecaps, who have won four of five at home this season.
For Toronto, it’s about figuring how to play a complete sixty minutes on the road.
Post Game Notes:
Toronto’s road record now stands at 1-2-0-1.
Kasperi Kapanen’s goal was his first on the power play.
Brendan Leipsic’s helper on the lone goal is his eleventh assist of the season.
Andrew Nielsen now has six points on the power play this season, only one behind Brenan Leipsic.
Antoine Bibeau allowed three goals on 18 shots. Those statistics look terrible on the face of it but he was not at fault for any of the three goals and made a handful of really good saves.
Josh Leivo looked rusty as you might expect, while Michalek showed very little on his Marlies debut.
William Wrenn was drafted into the defensive ranks to cover for the absence of injured Travis Dermott.
Sixteen of the Marlies 27 shots were fired in the third period. They were guilty of not testing Lindgren enough and I lost count of the amount of times Toronto failed to hit the net from good positions.
Discipline and special teams continue to be of concern and proved the difference tonight.
Toronto have now been short-handed on 49 occasions in nine games. With a penalty kill operating at 75%, that’s a recipe for disaster.