It may not have technically been home ice, but a return to Toronto was all the Marlies required to get back on track after some recent poor results.
The Utica Comets were the visitors to the ACC for this matinee encounter, and entered this game far from the pushover team Toronto beat in a pair of games to begin the season.
Having bolstered their roster, Vancouver’s affiliate had won four straight games including a fine victory in Rochester Friday night.
Utica lined up with Michael Garteig making his AHL debut between the pipes while making his first appearance for Toronto was veteran Jeff Glass. It was the rookie who would see far more action as the Marlies got on top of their opponents early and never relented.
Comets forward Borna Rendulic fired the first shot in anger from the high slot but it nestled the wrong side of the netting as far as he was concerned.
Toronto’s opening attempt on goal would see them opening the scoring with exactly 2:40 on the clock.
Andreas Johnsson cutting to the middle from the right side before sliding a reverse pass to Colin Smith.
As Smith drove to right of the cage, he was able to draw Garteig away from his net and from the goal line, slid a feed back into the crease for Tobias Lindberg to slot home.
Jeff Glass wouldn’t be called upon until four minutes after that strike. He responded well to turn aside Carter Bancks, who had settled down a floated pass and beaten two Toronto player’s before firing on net.
Brendan Leipsic should really have doubled the lead on two quick opportunities. The first of which was his best, as Garteig was down and out but defenseman Colby Rabak made the sliding save to deny Toronto’s left winger from scoring into the empty net.
The fans at the ACC would only have to wait until the twelve minute mark for the second goal to arrive.
Milan Michalek was the architect, marauding his way toward net, leaving Comets players behind in his wake.
The veteran forward looked certain to score but fanned on his shot, but with Garteig committed to making a save on a shot which never came, Trevor Moore followed up and smashed home his third goal of the season.
There would be some late period chances for Utica, who would come to rue missed opportunities.
Michael Carcone fired high of the target after being the beneficiary of a turnover inside the Marlies zone.
Rendulic then danced around Andrew Nielsen with ease, headed to the net and looked to have created an opening before he was blocked off by an excellent back-check from Smith.
Glass would be called upon to make two final saves inside the last thirty seconds during a scramble in front of him, though Toronto would draw a penalty when finally able to clear their zone.
It’d prove to be the first of four penalties drawn by the Marlies in a twelve minute span as the Comets failed to cope with relentless pressure from the home team.
Toronto failed to tally on the power play that carried over into the middle frame but came close at even strength on several occasions. Kasperi Kapanen teed up Byron Froese in the slot but his effort brought a fine pad save from the rookie netminder.
Leipsic tormented Utica throughout with his speed and skill, forcing Garteig into another good stop and a panicking Comets defenseman sent the puck over the glass, sending his team back on the penalty kill.
On the resulting power play, Leipsic, Nielsen, Rychel and Lindberg were all denied while Johnsson should have done better when having a clear sight of goal from the slot.
Kapanen and Nielsen would draw two consecutive penalties to send Toronto on a two man advantage, which would lead to the third goal. Speed of puck movement would prove key, with Kapanen and Smith turning provider for Leipsic to put home his second power play goal of the season.
After squandering a three goal lead Friday evening in Syracuse, Toronto needed to be wary of complacency.
A turnover in their own zone presented Bancks with the puck once more but Glass was equal to the top shelf, short-side attempt.
Toronto thought they had a fourth goal but the officials deemed Rychel had redirected Andrew Campbell’s shot with a high stick. Twenty seconds later and Leipsic had himself a partial breakaway but was unable to get much on his backhand effort which was easily smothered.
Casey Hamilton would draw a penalty from Tobias Lindberg and force a fine save from Glass with four minutes of the middle frame remaining.
Glass would be called upon to make the majority of his nine saves from this point on, and Toronto killed Utica’s first power play opportunity.
The Comets though they had gotten themselves on the board with 21 seconds left on the clock.
The old hand Pascal Pelletier finding Jake Virtanen to the left of the crease but Glass denied him with an out-stretched right pad to ensure a 3-0 lead through forty minutes.
The second intermission would doubtless have featured the coaching staff reiterating the need for a sixty minute performance after just one win in the last five games.
It was encouraging then that Toronto were once again dominant once play restarted.
The line of Rychel-Greening-Kapanen setting the tone and Greening was inches away from scoring when trying to jam the puck past the left pad of Utica’s goaltender.
The Marlies should really have ensured a shutout for their debutant goaltender but a pair of errors led to the visitors getting themselves on the board.
Toronto taking a too-many men penalty whilst on a power play on their own, meant the Comets would have the extra man for 75 seconds.
Cody Kunyk was allowed to sneak behind the Marlies defense and scored with a deft finish after receiving a pass by Subban sent from just inside the blue line.
There may have been some nerves amongst the home crowd but not on the bench as Toronto restored their three goal cushion a little over two minutes later.
Rychel winning the battle behind the net before leaving the puck there for Johnsson to gain possession.
The Swedish winger came out to the left side of the net and put a pass on the tape of Smith in the slot and he made no mistake.
There was still eight minutes remaining after the home team’s fourth goal but Toronto never really looked in real danger of relinquishing their advantage.
Glass had to make one more fine save to turn aside a short-handed rush opportunity for Darren Archibald, while Michalek came the closest to adding to the lead.
A crowd of 8702 enjoyed their first taste of Marlies hockey at the ACC this season.
A rapturous applause to celebrate the victory, was certainly deserved by a team who responded well after what’s been a tough week.
Post Game Notes:
Toronto improve to 7-1-0-0 on home ice.
Colin Smith had failed to record a single point in his last six outings before this game. A goal and two primary assists should hopefully provide him with some much needed confidence.
Andreas Johnsson broke his five game slump with a pair of points. He frustratingly continues to miss the net when presented with good scoring chances but it‘s of some comfort he‘s still finding those positions on the ice.
Brendan Leipsic continued his offensive production with his sixth goal of the season and takes his seasonal point tally to 22.
A two-point game for Tobias Lindberg who has found some early chemistry alongside new partners, Johnsson and Smith.
He appears to be firing on all cylinders after an injury meant he missed two games last weekend.
Colin Greening centered a new line featuring Rychel and Kapanen. The veteran forward fired a team high five shots and was unlucky to add to his season’s tally.
Jeff Glass made a strong debut performance considering he hasn’t seen regular season action since February 16, in the KHL. He made 22 saves in all and was helped by a strong defensive outing from Toronto in general.
Garret Sparks was not on the bench (Bibeau was the back-up) having been touted as the starter.
It’s been confirmed that Sparks has been suspended indefinitely by the Toronto Maple Leafs for violating team policy.