Two of the Toronto Marlies biggest issues this season reared their head in this second reverse on home ice.
Namely poor third period performances, now out-scored by a ratio of 2:1, and a penchant for taking far too many penalties.
The visiting Lehigh Valley Phantoms have been excellent on their travels, winning seven of ten heading into this Tuesday night tilt.
They played a canny road game, neutralising Toronto’s speed and consistently pressuring the puck carrier.
Antoine Bibeau was tested early as Lehigh had the step on Toronto inside the opening sixty seconds.
Andreas Johnsson would have the Marlies two best chances in the opening ten minutes, but rookie goaltender Alex Lyon denied the Swedish winger.
In-between time, Trevor Moore took a hooking penalty that showcased a little of his inexperience at this level. His team responded by killing those two minutes with relative ease.
A second Marlies penalty, this time taken by Colin Smith, would lead to the visitors opening the scoring.
Chris Connor was left alone in front and whilst Bibeau made a terrific first save to deny the left winger, the puck dropped in the crease. Neither Kasperi Kapanen or Rinat Valiev could react quickly enough to deny Connor from giving his team the lead on the second effort.
That goal was timed at 11:26, just twelve seconds into the power play, and it’d take until the last five minutes of the period for Toronto to finally test Lyon in trying to tie the game.
Milan Michalek found Valiev pinching into the play but Lyon swallowed his attempt from the hash marks.
Brendan Leipsic was able to pick up an errant pass in one of few errors made by the Phantoms, but after making a move around two player’s, lost the handle and his final effort would prove a weak one.
Finally able to match Lehigh’s work-rate, Toronto kept the puck alive in the offensive zone, in part down to fine work from Kerby Rychel. That presented a lane for Ty Stanton to fire on net, but with little traffic in front, Lyon held on easily to ensure his team held the lead through twenty minutes.
The pace quickened in the middle frame and Toronto were luck to not find themselves down 2-0 early.
Bibeau forced to come rushing out of his net to deny a breakaway but gifted possession to Mark Zengerle who was unable to take advantage.
The Marlies best period of play through the game would eventually see them tying the game up.
Kerby Rychel should have shot instead of passing after being teed up Kapanen.
The latter then found himself some space on the right and used his speed to crash the net.
Though unable to beat Lyon, a penalty was drawn on the play and Toronto would capitalise on their first power play opportunity.
Leipsic with what appeared more a slap-pass than shot from the right circle, was redirected in front by Johnsson.
There was no momentum gained by the Marlies from tying the game and instead there was a huge push-back from the visitors.
Greg Carey was denied twice by Bibeau, with both chances created off the rush.
Lehigh drew a penalty on yet another rush but were unable to take advantage on this occasion.
The parade to the penalty box wasn’t done however.
With the Marlies under siege in their own end, Andrew Nielsen fired the puck out of play.
If that penalty was somewhat understandable, then the next that followed twenty second later was ridiculous.
As a veteran player Brooks Laich should know better, but a clear high stick in the neutral zone put his team down by two men and he was fortunate not to draw blood and add a pair of minutes to his infraction.
Bibeau was excellent in tracking the puck as it was passed at pace, and made four saves to deny the Phantoms.
That allied with excellent work from Kapanen and Andrew Campbell ensured Toronto came through the penalties unscathed.
The final seconds of Laich’s misdemeanour would be wiped by a Lehigh penalty but Toronto could not deliver what may have been a dagger blow to the heart of their opponents.
Tobias Lindberg had the best opportunity with five second left of the second period but the story of missed chances continued.
Bibeau would be required upon to make more huge saves during a penalty kill early in the final frame.
Back at even strength, Lehigh pounced upon a Toronto turnover and controlled possession inside the Marlies zone.
A shot from the left boards by Samuel Morin would be tipped home by Danick Martel. Zengerle did an excellent job of screening Bibeau on the go-ahead goal but it was all too easy for the Flyers affiliate.
Toronto were on a power play of their own 15 seconds later but apart from attempting a carbon copy of their first marker, they failed to test Lyon.
The Marlies were failing to generate much in the way of offense, barely able to spend more than a handful of seconds at a time in Lehigh’s zone. The visitors however came close to extending their advantage with nine minutes on the clock.
Captain Colin McDonald and Taylor Leier both had excellent chances turned aside by Bibeau, who was receiving little help from those in front of him
Toronto would record just nine shots on net in the third period and most of those were late in proceedings.
Leipsic had the best of those, benefiting from a broken play but failed to beat Lyon who did well not to bite early on the skilled winger.
Colin Greening then tested the rookie goaltender, who would receive his one piece of luck on the following face-off.
One of too few great screen’s in front of Lyon, had him totally blind to the incoming shot from Justin Holl, but the attempt his the glass behind the net, rather than twine.
A power play for the home team should have been the perfect opportunity to build upon that momentum but they failed to set-up once and back at even strength fell further behind.
A miscommunication between Byron Froese and Campbell let to the puck being left unattended for Jordan Weal to seize upon. He made no mistake, scoring at the second attempt on Bibeau, who was hung out to dry once more.
Sheldon Keefe pulled his net minder for the extra attacker but another penalty halted any chance of a late push. McDonald put salt into the wound with an empty net power play maker to seal a 4-1 victory for the hosts, who thoroughly deserved the two points.
Post Game Notes:
Toronto failed to put up a double figure shot count in any period and were out-shot 14-9 in the crucial third.
Andreas Johnsson scored for the first time in 15 games. It was his fourth marker of the season and all have been power play tallies.
An assist for Brendan Leipsic extends his current point streak to three games.
Ty Stanton dressed for the first time this season, replacing Viktor Loov in the line-up.
This was the last time these two teams will meet during the regular season. Lehigh won both games by a cumulative 11-3 score line.