Toronto made their first trip of the season to St. John’s this past weekend, in what shall be the last year of the Marlies – Icecaps rivalry.
The two teams would split the pair of games, with Toronto producing a Jekyll and Hyde display.
Saturday would see the home team claim victory, as their ability to be clinical when it truly mattered, overshadowed a lacklustre outing from the visitors.
The sides would be deadlocked after twenty minutes, a power play marker from Kasperi Kapanen tying the game up at one. Toronto managed just two shots in the middle frame, spending too much time in the penalty box and never able to find their feet thereafter.
There would be no further scoring until early in the third period, when the Icecaps capitalised on a piece of ill-discipline from Toronto. Josh Leivo was called for hooking but then compounded the error by taking an unsportsmanlike penalty while play continued. The home team tallied on both power plays, with just 21 seconds between the two goals.
Despite Toronto finally playing to their potential inside the final ten minute of the final frame, Charlie Lindgren turned aside all 16 shots and an empty net goal sealed the Marlies fate.
Sheldon Keefe decided to stick with the same line-up on Sunday. The only change occurring between the pipes as Garret Sparks made his return from injury.
The first period was full of momentum changing moments and both teams could have held a sizeable lead after twenty minutes.
Toronto controlled the opening five minutes and could have easily taken the lead until Sparks allowed a weak shot from the left boards to sneak through his pads.
It was St. John’s on top now and Sparks redeemed himself with a pair of fine saves. The home team could easily have built themselves a three or four goal lead before a piece of magic drew Toronto level.
Kapanen with a fine individual goal that began with collecting the puck inside his own zone before finally darting inside two Icecaps players in the slot and firing over the shoulder of Lindgren.
As per Saturday’s encounter, the game changed with two quick power play goals.
Brendan Leipsic struck at 19:20 and Kapanen scored his second this 23 seconds later to give Toronto a 3-1 lead through twenty minutes.
Though the Marlies would dominate the majority of proceedings during the middle frame, Lindgren kept them at bay and Chris Terry brought the home team within one, with a huge slapshot on the power play.
The Icecaps were still lucky to only be down by one midway through the third period but pushed Toronto all the way in the final few minutes. Thank to stoic defensive work and some solid stops from Sparks, the Marlies held on for a 3-2 final.
Toronto’s power play looked far more of a threat this weekend and they were able to punish St. John’s on three occasions for a 33% strike rate.
The penalty kill statistics of three goals against on twelve times short-handed looks poor in isolation. Two of those goals were down to individual sloppy play and in general the PK looked as solid as it’s been so far this season.
The Marlies road record is now 2-2-0-1, but averaging three goals against on their travels must be of concern to Sheldon Keefe, with sterner tests just around the corner.
Nikita Soshnikov was called up to the Leafs and Josh Leivo joined for conditioning stint.
Leivo looked incredibly rusty during the first game, only really looking like we player we know late in the third period. Sunday was a far better outing for him, though it was disappointing that he only registered one shot on net, which came in the opening thirty seconds. His shot is a mightily effective weapon – even more so at the AHL level.
Teaming up with Gauthier and Kapanen, it was a line that proved hugely effective on Sunday, causing the home team problems on every shift.
Leivo is now back with the Leafs and looks ready to go, if given the chance by Mike Babcock.
Kasperi Kapanen just keeps on rolling and Sunday may have been his most impressive performance yet.
He was clearly the best player on the ice, including on both special teams. His eight shots during the game was a career high and he could easily have netted a handful of times but for some excellent goaltending.
Three goals over the course of the weekend takes his total to seven for the season, just two shy of last years total achieved in 44 games.
Twelve points in ten games propels Kapanen to seventh in overall scoring.
Brendan Leipsic may not have looked as visually impressive as Kapanen over the two games but picked up another two points to remain top of the scoring charts. Leipsic’s goal was his first on the power play and his fourth overall. He now shares the lead for overall AHL scoring.
Andrew Nielsen can’t stop producing from the blue line, and now has four points in his last three outings. Two power play assists gives him nine points for the season and puts him ninth overall in rookie scoring.
Antoine Bibeau may have allowed three goals on 18 shots on Saturday but that does not tell the story.
He made at least five first rate saves to keep Toronto in the game and was sorely let down by his team-mates. I expect him to retain the number one position.
Garret Sparks returned to action for the first time since October 21.
His play was erratic, no more so than allowing a very weak goal early in the first period.
He made some crucial stops when required and will look to build on this reappearance next weekend.
Milan Michalek made his Marlies debut and played on an expensive line alongside Brooks Laich and Colin Greening. It was a largely unsuccessful weekend for the trio, who were arguably the weakest Marlies forward line on show. Michalek did show a couple of flashes of his talent and hit the crossbar, but overall it simply wasn’t good enough.
Travis Dermott did not make the trip to St. John’s. As far as I’m aware he’s a doubt for next weekend, though still no official word on the extent of his injury.
William Wrenn stepped into the line-up to replace Dermott and showed he’s a reliable defenseman, though without the offensive flourish of the young rookie. He partnered Loov through the weekend, playing the right side.
Friday, November 11 2016
Toronto Marlies at W-B/Scranton Penguins 7:05 pm EST
Saturday, November 12 2016
Toronto Marlies at Lehigh Valley Phantoms 7:05 pm EST