Different opposition and a return to home ice but it proved a case of déjà vu for the Toronto Marlies.
They gave up two first period goals, putting in another poor performance and fell to a 3-2 defeat for the second consecutive game.
Sheldon Keefe had thrown his line-up in the blender and Garret Sparks returned from suspension, but it made little difference to the outcome.
It took over two minutes for the Marlies to find their way across the Hartford blue line, as the visitors began brightly and owned the majority of possession.
In typical Rich Clune style he battled behind the Hartford net and set up Andrew Campbell for the first real chance, which Magnus Helberg used his blocker to turn aside.
Toronto were unable on that opening chance and were quickly on their first penalty kill of the game. They would be lucky to come through unscathed as Niklas Jensen and Adam Tambellini combined with the latter robbed by Sparks who made a fine right pad save. Any elevation of the puck would have been a goal but some credit must go to the returning goaltender.
The Marlies would be on a power play of their own shortly after the kill but only contrived to gift the visitors a short-handed break, as Matt Bodie sent defenseman Chris Summers in alone on net.
Summers averages just a single goal per season through his nine year AHL career but he made Sparks work hard to deny him, with two excellent pad saves.
Toronto’s poor discipline ensured they were on the penalty kill in next to no time and on this occasion were made to pay. In truth it was far too easy for Hartford and Justin Fontaine in particular, who had time to measure his shot top shelve for his second of the season.
The parade to the penalty box continued for both teams and Dymtro Timashov was guilty of allowing Steven Fogarty to strip him of the puck and only Sparks denied a short-handed goal against.
Having not heeded the warnings, Hartford would finally help themselves to a short-handed tally with 24 seconds remaining in the first period. Jensen again was the provide of the opportunity off the rush and Marek Hrivik lifted the puck over the pads of the sprawling Sparks, as Hartford finally learned to shoot high on Toronto’s goaltender.
With teddy bears ready to toss on the ice after the scoring of the first Toronto goal, the expectation of the Ricoh crowd was a pushback from their team in the middle period.
It failed to materialise however, as just a single Marlies forward line drove forward with any purpose or intent.
It was the unlikely trio of Mason Marchment, Rich Clune and Marc-Andre Cliché who found some chemistry and caused the visitors some problems.
Ninety seconds in and that line combined, with Clune and Marchment only denied by a pair of good saves.
A minute later, a turnover from Viktor Loov was almost costly but Sparks was alert to deny Chris Brown.
Toronto responded through Cliché and Marchment, as Keefe responded by giving that line some deserved extra ice time.
The Marlies penalty kill was much improved in the second period but the power play failed to show any signs of life as another opportunity went to waste.
It took until the final five minutes for the action to heat up and for the best scoring chances to materialise.
Byron Froese failed to score on two opportunities that he would likely have buried last year after some fine work from Tobias Lindberg.
Hartford’s Jensen was certainly a standout player for his team and almost extended the lead but for hitting the post and then finding Sparks in his way on the second attempt.
The middle frame finished with a great deal of ill will between the two teams and a line brawl that ensured the final twenty minutes would begin with 4-on-4 play.
The game appeared to be dead and buried 3:33 into the third period, as Hartford extended their advantage. Loov was guilty of losing the puck at the offensive blue line, allowing Cristoval Nieves to race away. Again lifting the puck over the pads of Sparks proved the way to go, as Nieves put his team up 3-0.
Robin Kovacs came so close to making it 4-0 on a setup from Brown, which would surely have been the killer blow for any thoughts of a comeback.
Almost exactly two minutes after the visitors had scored their third, Toronto got themselves on the board.
Kerby Rychel drove down the right wing before pulling up and in one move spun to slid a forehand pass across the crease. Somewhat surprisingly, there was William Wrenn jumping into the play and he out waited Helberg before chipping the puck under his arm and into the net. There was some debate as to whether the puck had crossed the line and only after a video review could the bears be set free from the stands, to hit the ice for a great cause.
On his second shift after scoring the goal, Rychel drew a boarding call and Hartford would be down by two men after shooting the puck out of play.
A 5-on-3 for over a minute was the perfect opportunity to draw within one and heap the pressure on the Rangers affiliate.
For whatever reason, the Marlies were incredibly negative in possession of the puck and implausibly failed to register a single shot on net throughout the entire power play.
Om their next advantage with a little over eight minute remaining, Toronto finally made it count.
Kasperi Kapanen sending a laser beam of a shot from the bottom of the left circle, that found a way past Helberg via iron.
The push for a tying goal never really gained any sort of momentum until the final three minutes.
Defensemen Nielsen and Holl doing some good groundwork but no forwards could find a way to force home the puck during several goalmouth scrambles.
Even with Sparks pulled for the best part of two minutes, there would be no tying goal as again it was too little, too late with the victors claiming a deserved two points in their quest to climb the Atlantic Division.
Post Game Notes:
William Wrenn’s goal was not only his first tally of the season but also his first point for the Marlies.
Kasperi Kapanen scored his tenth of the season, surpassing last year’s goal tally achieved in 44 games.
Brendan Leipsic recorded his 18th assist of the season and Andrew Nielsen reached nine with a helper on the power play goal.
Garret Sparks marked his return with 27 saves. A defeat not on his shoulders as Toronto left him hung out to dry on several occasions.
Three straight reverses for Toronto is their longest losing streak of the season.
Marlies are 2-4 in games decided by a single goal.