Marlies mauled in Lehigh
Just 24 hours after putting in their best road performance of the season, the Toronto Marlies came crashing back to earth.
The Marlies are undoubtedly the bar many teams are aiming at around the league and therefore there’s a large target on their back.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms have been loaded up with offensive talent for this season and were intent in making a statement on the way to a fifth straight victory.
The opening ten minutes set the tone as despite Toronto owning a fair chunk of possession, they did very little with the puck and failed to capitalise on two breakaways.
Tobias Lindberg and Milan Michalek failed to get a shot on net between them despite being alone in on goal.
After various chances, thanks in part to some turnovers from Toronto, the Phantoms finally found a way past Antoine Bibeau on their first breakaway of the game.
A slapshot from Brendan Leipsic was bravely blocked by Colin McDonald, the puck falling to Scott Laughton who wasted no time in sending Taylor Leier away. There was some back pressure on the Lehigh forward but he gave Bibeau no chance with a top notch finish.
The opening goal was time at 9:54 and it took another minute for Toronto to register their first shot on net – William Wrenn forcing Anthony Stolarz into a save.
Kasperi Kapanen, Colin Smith, Kerby Rychel and Brendan Leipsic all had opportunities they couldn’t turn into goals and the Phantoms scored for the second time inside five minutes.
A defensive breakdown allowed Reece Wilcox to pinch in, swing around behind the net uncontested and throw the puck on net. Toronto lost the battle in front as Danick Martel and Cole Bardreau both showed more determination, with the latter credited with the final touch.
Inside the final minute of the period, Rinat Valiev inexplicably coughed the puck up in front of his own net, having to take a slashing penalty to deny what looked to be a certain third goal for the hosts.
Toronto finished the opening period down by a pair but would fall a further goal behind 12 seconds into the middle frame.
It was far too easy for Lehigh on the power play, as Chris Connor and Jordan Weal combined to give Greg Carey an easy backdoor finish for his seventh goal of the season.
It would have been 4-0 shortly after but for Bibeau denying Weal on yet another great opportunity for the home team.
The Marlies finally got their feet moving and were on the board at the four minute mark.
Tobias Lindberg with a move around the back of the net and looked the throw the puck on net.
A deflection from a Phantoms stick denied that intention but the puck fell into the path of Byron Froese who wasted no time in rifling a shot past Stolarz.
The goal certainly gave Toronto some impetus and for the remainder of the second period, it was a performance more reminiscent of Friday evening.
Efforts from Andrew Nielsen and Andreas Johnsson were well held by Stolarz who certainly came up big when required by his team.
A following Toronto power play presented the road team with a handful of decent looks but not a second goal.
That almost came back at even strength but Brooks Laich’s snap shot found the crossbar instead of the twine behind Stolarz.
Johnsson should really have hit the net during an odd man rush but Toronto were guilty of failing to be clinical during their best moments of this game.
The home team were being heavily out-shot until they were awarded a fortuitous power play.
To the Phantoms credit they poured the pressure on the visitors and would have extended their lead but for Bibeau.
Toronto survived the barrage and finished the final four minutes well on top back at even strength, but once again failed to make their dominance count.
If the opening period was filled with turnovers and defensive breakdowns, that was nothing in comparison to Toronto’s frailties in the final twenty minutes.
An error from Rinat Valiev a mere thirty seconds in almost gave Lehigh the perfect start but the hosts would only have to wait three more minutes to extend their advantage.
It was the only goal you could level criticism at Bibeau, as the goaltender failed to fully cling onto a shot from T.J Brennan. It the home team ho showed more desire and desperation than Toronto in front of goal and Colin McDonald claimed the last touch to make it 4-1.
Toronto were able to halve the deficit less than 45 seconds later after some fine work from Trevor Moore. His endeavour provided a chance for Michalek in the slot, and the experienced forward made no mistake with a classy finish
It proved a short-lived reprieve from the Marlies as they would cough up two further goals in the space of 2:40 to leave them down 6-2 with ten minutes still to play.
Scott Laughton is undoubtedly a class act at the AHL level but three Toronto players stood and watched in awe as he skated around them before teeing up Leier for his second of the game.
Yet another turnover turned into an odd man rush for Lehigh, with Johnsson ending up as the last man back for the Marlies.
The Swedish winger could do nothing to prevent Ravel Fazleev scoring his first professional goal on a feed from Corban Knight.
In the remaining time it’s no exaggeration to say that the home team could have embarrassed Toronto further and gotten close to hitting double figures with better luck and without some fine saves from Bibeau.
Some late penalties left Toronto down by two men and Jordan Weal couldn’t miss when left unguarded to score his team’s seventh goal with 21 seconds remaining.
A harsh reminder to the Marlies youngsters that the American Hockey League is full of improving teams and that you’re required to bring your A-game every night to compete.
Post Game Notes:
Byron Froese scored his sixth goal of the season.
Brendan Leipsic’s lone assist was his 13th of the year, extends his point streak to five games and he continues to lead the AHL scoring race.
Milan Michalek scored his first Marlies goal, which was his second point of the weekend.
Trevor Moore was back in the line-up for the first time since October 29. The rookie replaced Colin Greening and was very noticeable for good reasons. He’s riding a three game point streak and his performance will make it tough for Sheldon Keefe to consider leaving him out for the next outing.
Toronto’s road record is now 3-3-0-1.