The Toronto Marlies struggles against the St. John’s goaltending this year, continued as this game headed into the third period of this Sunday afternoon tilt.
Rookie net minder Charlie Lindgren had performed admirably to ensure there was no score with twenty minutes remaining.
Toronto’s work-rate throughout this game was relentless and was no different as the puck dropped for the final frame to begin.
Brooks Laich with a fine opening shift and released a shot from the side of the net that produced a rebound for Trevor Moore, but his attempt would also be denied by Lindgren.
Toronto drew a penalty on the play and made one great chance while on the man advantage.
A shot from Andrew Nielsen hit a defenseman in front and then bounced up high toward Brendan Leipsic waiting by the side of the goal. The winger skilfully batted the puck out of the air and looked a certain goal but for Lindgren’s acrobatic blocker save, diving to his left.
Undeterred by failure to convert on the power play, Toronto finally broke the deadlock with 3:39 on the clock.
It was back to some old fashioned hockey as the veteran presence of Rich Clune and Milan Michalek caused havoc in the crease, allowing a rocket of a shot from the rookie Nielsen, to creep through the pads of Lindgren.
A quick second goal would have taken all the air out of the visitors sails but the puck wouldn’t quite fall for Toronto.
The new line of Leipsic-Froese-Kapanen was causing consternation in the Icecaps ranks every time they held possession. During one particularly nice move, all three would have chances to score, ending in a crazy scramble in front of net, with the officials blowing the whistle too early as Lindgren didn’t have full control of the puck.
Toronto kept digging however, which led to Jeremy Gregoire and Nielsen being called for roughing, some 4 on 4 play and almost a tying goal.
A passenger for the first eight minutes of the third period, Sparks was required to come up big to deny Mark Barberio from the slot. The Marlies were running around a little in their own zone as St. John’s controlled the puck, but once relieving the pressure, almost made it 2-0.
Dmytro Timashov drove to the net from the right wing but watched as his effort hit the far post and the rebound eluded the unfortunate Colin Smith.
With a little under nine minutes to play, Nielsen was so close to scoring a carbon copy of his first goal.
This time Lindgren getting enough on the puck to send it trickling wide of his right post.
The insurance marker would eventually come for Toronto and it was the Byron Froese show.
The Marlies had hemmed the Icecaps in their own zone for at least 45 seconds before losing possession. Froese however had other ideas, stripping the puck from Barberio, who retaliated by slashing the centreman.
Froese won the following face-off back to Nielsen, who shifted to the centre of the ice before firing a wrist shot on net. Froese drove to the net and was on-hand to redirect the puck past Lindgren to double the home team’s advantage with a power play marker.
The game may have appeared dead and buried to the Ricoh faithful but there was almost a sting in the tail inside the final three minutes.
With Laich called for slashing, the Icecaps went with six attackers and so nearly benefited from the gamble.
Sparks having to deny Jacob de la Rose and quick on his feet to scramble the rebound away from Daniel Audette.
Sven Andrighetto was able to beat Sparks with a beauty of a shot from the top of the right circle, but the effort only found the crossbar.
Seconds later and Andrighetto was equally frustrated as Viktor Loov bravely blocked another ferocious shot with his hand. A painful price to pay for his bravery but much needed by Toronto.
That was as close as the Icecaps would come to threatening Sparks’ shutout bid, and having left Lindgren on the bench, Toronto would seal the deal with an empty net goal.
Leipsic’s hard work finally paying dividends, as he was able to skate the puck into the yawning cage after a nice pass from Froese.
The game finished with some shenanigans instigated by Bobby Farnham with 14 seconds remaining, and despite Toronto somehow ending up with a seven minute penalty kill, there would be no further drama.
Garret Sparks may not have had to work hard for his shutout in number of shots faced but he was called upon early in proceedings, with the visitors having begun the game smartly.
A 3 on 1 break for the Icecaps resulted in Markus Eisenschmid firing a shot destined top shelf but for the blocker of Sparks. The goaltender also had to turn aside Andrighetto and Tom Parisi as St. John’s controlled the first two minutes of play.
A big hit from Rich Clune behind the Icecaps net changed the momentum and led to a turnover. William Wrenn pinching in on the play but couldn’t beat Lindgren with his low shot.
On the following shift it was Kapanen showcasing his electrifying speed but thanks to a trailing defenseman and an excellent poke-check from Lindgren, the Marlies winger would be denied.
Andrighetto would be guilty of lifting a backhand shot wide of Sparks’ left post from a promising position, though his team would earn the first power play of the game.
It didn’t last for long though, thanks to the brilliance of Kapanen, who drew a penalty from Barberio.
The Marlies would have to kill a full power play for the visitors just before the midway marker of the opening period but back at even strength, came close to finding a way past Lindgren.
Wrenn and Smith combining to tee up Kerby Rychel. Despite a pair of goals to finally open his account last weekend, the winger has been luckless thus far in Toronto career and watched as his effort rang off the far post and still failed to cross the goal line when hitting the backside of Lindgren on the way back out.
Andrew Campbell showed his skills with a spin move around his man on the right boards and released a nice shot that seemed destined for the far corner. Lindgren just saw enough of the puck through traffic and threw out his glove to snaffle the effort.
Eisenshmid and Farnham couldn’t capitalise on a late 3 on 2 rush, thanks in part to Sparks and chances for the Icecaps to score during the rest of the game would be prove few and far between.
Gauthier’s new line alongside Clune and Timashov drove the early play of the middle frame but Lindgren stood tall to deny the best effort from Clune.
St. John’s came close with three quick fire efforts on net, but the rest of the period was owned by the home team, though they were unable to create many scoring chances.
Rychel’s slap-shot was well held, and on Toronto’s next power play, Leipsic was unable to corral a pass from Kapanen when a great opportunity presented itself.
The aforementioned pair would combine again at even strength but Lindgren robbed Kapanen with a tremendous glove save.
Kapanen would impress further by single-handedly killing a minute of a St. John’s power play, creating a short-handed chance for himself that was turned aside but the visitors goaltender.
Toronto may have had to wait until the third period to breakdown St. John’s but they were well worthy of a 3-0 victory and a return to winning ways.
Post Game Notes:
Garret Sparks made 19 saves for his shutout. He misplayed the puck a few times, gave up a few too many rebounds on occasion but this was a decent performance in his first outing for two weeks.
A goal and an assist for Andrew Nielsen, who breaks a three game pointless streak. There’s still much work to be done on the defensive aspect of his game and needs to cut out the habit of turning the puck over in his own zone.
Two points for Byron Froese, who had a fine game playing between new line mates Brendan Leipsic and Kasperi Kapanen.
Brendan Leipsic’s late goal extends his point streak to seven games. It also fired him back to the top of the AHL’s scoring charts, with 19 points from fourteen games.
A special mention to Rich Clune. He’s been out of the line-up since October 29 but has not sulked about the situation. He was a constant thorn in the side of St. John’s and really fired up his team-mates with some big hits and strong play. Excellent on the penalty kill to boot, he’s made it hard for Sheldon Keefe to drop him.
Frederik Gauthier appeared to hurt his arm, possibly his wrist, early in the second period.
He headed for the tunnel and would not return for the rest of the game.