It proved the toughest week of the season this far for the Toronto Marlies, as they picked up just two of a possible eight points.
Special teams and scoring were both issues but some huge line-up and positional changes led to Toronto finishing the weekend on somewhat of a positive note.
Tuesday, November 29, 2016 Lehigh Valley Phantoms 4 @ Toronto Marlies 1
Toronto will be glad to only face Lehigh twice this season after allowing a combined eleven goals to Philadelphia’s affiliate.
The Phantoms played a very astute road game, neutralising Toronto’s offense, limiting the Marlies to a combined 26 shots.
The home team found themselves down 1-0 after an evenly balanced first period but responded with a power play goal from Andreas Johnsson in the middle frame.
Toronto have struggled in third period’s this season and that trend continued in this game, in part thanks to penalty trouble. Lehigh out-shot their hosts 14-9 in the process of scoring three unanswered goals.
Friday, December 02, 2016 Toronto Marlies 2 @ Rochester Americans 3
A second loss of the season to the Amerks was in part due to another slow start.
Down a goal after just 67 seconds, Toronto were behind 2-0 after twenty minutes but halved the deficit early in the middle frame.
Viktor Loov’s first goal of the season would be all the Marlies had to show for a second period in which they out-shot the home team 11-4 and had various power play opportunities.
Toronto controlled the first four minutes of the final frame but Rochester re-extended their lead on their first foray into the Marlies zone.
A comeback looked unlikely until the last five minutes or so, when the home team climbed into their shell, allowing Toronto to heap on the pressure. There was still 1:36 to play when Andrew Nielsen brought the Marlies within one but they couldn’t find a way to tie the game before the clock hit sixty.
Saturday, December 03, 2016 Hartford Wolf Pack 3 @ Toronto Marlies 2
Toronto produced one of their worst performances of the season against a struggling Hartford outfit.
The New York Rangers affiliate did enter this game on the back of a fine win and they could easily have won this encounter by a handful of goals.
The returning Garret Sparks was left hung out to dry, as the Marlies frequently turned the puck over and gave up numerous breakaway opportunities.
Toronto trailed 2-0 through forty minutes, having mustered just 18 shots on the visitors net .
A third Wolf Pack goal early in the third period appeared to kill the game dead until William Wrenn scored his first goal for Toronto shortly after.
Toronto wasted over a minute of a two-man advantage, failing to record a shot on goal but Kasperi Kapanen would net a power play goal with eight minutes to play. The tying goal never looked likely as Toronto looked shy of ideas and Hartford did a fantastic job of protecting their slender lead.
Sunday, December 04, 2016 Hartford Wolf Pack 3 @ Toronto Marlies 5
For the third straight game, Toronto allowed two goals against in the opening period.
On this occasion it was an early double strike that did the damage, as Garret Sparks put in a below par performance on his back-to-back start.
The Marlies responded with a pair for power play markers in the middle frame to tie the game up.
Kasperi Kapanen and Kerby Rychel were responsible for those but Hartford were allowed to re-take the lead, with a backhand effort from the left face-off dot that Sparks should have stopped.
Yet to register a single point when trailing after forty minutes this season, Toronto needed to step up their game markedly.
They did so, dominating the final period and Milan Michalek netted inside three minutes.
The line of Kerby Rychel, Marc-Andre Cliché and Rich Clune were showing the way and combined for the go-ahead goal, scored by the latter.
To Hartford’s credit, they responded to going behind by firing 15 shots on goal and proceeded to crash the net and Sparks at every opportunity. Some better defense from Toronto saw them hold onto the tenuous lead until Brendan Leipsic sealed the deal with a power play empty netter inside the final minutes.
Three straight defeats is the Marlies longest losing streak of the season but they remain third in the North Division with an 11-8-1-1 record
In games decided by a single goal, Toronto have now lost their last four and are 2-4 overall.
It looked like being another bad week in the special teams department until Sunday’s game.
The penalty kill continues to remain an issue, having been scored on five times during 21 times short-handed.
Three power plays goals in the win over Hartford, certainly skewed the statistics in what had been a poor week with the extra man. Toronto were guilty of wasting 5-on-3 opportunities without even recording a shot on net.
Kasperi Kapanen led the way with five points, taking his seasonal total 21. That’s good enough for seventh in overall scoring while his eleven goals makes him the league’s joint leading goal scorer.
Brendan Leipsic is now tied in the AHL scoring race (26 points), though he’s played a game less than Chicago’s Brad Hunt. There is a long way to go, but Leipsic is currently on pace for a 90+ point season.
A goal and three assists for Andrew Nielsen, who is riding a four game point streak. His 15 points put’s him fifth overall defensemen scoring.
Kerby Rychel put up four points this past week, with three of those registered in Sunday‘s game.
He benefited greatly from playing alongside Cliché and Clune during the sole victory, a line which perhaps could find some legs on the upcoming road trip.
If Rich Clune played centre instead of wing, he’d doubtless have played more games this season. The plethora of wingers on this roster has limited his chances but he was one of the best players on show through the weekend. A game winning goal for Clune, who in his own inimitable way, is a galvanising force for this team.
Marc-Andre Cliché has been made to wait for opportunities this season. An consummate professional, Cliché was ready to play and made positive contributions, though not getting himself on the score sheet.
With injuries at the position and other veterans not performing, I’d be surprised if Cliché isn’t given a run of games this week.
Mason Marchment made the most of his five game stint with Orlando, recording two goals and an assist, all during even strength play. A pair of games for him this weekend and he was noticeable for all the right reasons. Played alongside Cliché-Clune and Smith-Johnsson, managing to find chemistry on both lines.
Travis Dermott began training in a non contact jersey last Monday, after what I’m led to believe was a high ankle sprain injury. All being well, the rookie is expected to make his reappearance during this road trip .
William Wrenn scored his first goal for the Marlies and continued to be one of the steadier defensemen. With Dermott close to a return, Wrenn may have to make way but with Viktor Loov out of favour recently, there could be an opportunity for him to stay in the line-up.
Byron Froese was an injury scratch on Sunday though the extent or nature is not known.
Frederik Gauthier missed all four games and little is known about his hand/wrist injury.
After a call-up to the Leafs, Antoine Bibeau failed to see any ice time this past weekend. He’ll remain with the team until Toronto make a definitive decision about who they wish to back-up Freddie Andersen.
Joining the Marlies ranks are goaltenders Jhonas Enroth (who cleared waivers) and Karri Ramo (PTO).
It’s expected that Ramo shall be given the majority of starts as he looks to prove his wellbeing after knee surgery earlier this year.
Jeff Glass made his second start and certainly wasn’t at fault for the loss in Rochester. His .917 save percentage is indicative of some steady early play but his opportunities could be lessened by recent additions.
Garret Sparks’ suspension was ended with little fanfare. An encouraging reappearance on Saturday was followed by a poor performance the following day. He’s another who may have to bide his time on the road.
Daniel Maggio was recalled from Orlando but is still yet to feature, while Chase Witala was sent back to the Solar Bears.
T.J Foster and Willie Corrin have been loaned to Norfolk Admirals and Brampton Beast respectively.
Both required fresh scenery in the hopes of regular ice time.
Wednesday, December 7 Toronto Marlies @ Utica Comets 7:00 pm EST
Friday, December 9 Toronto Marlies @ Providence Bruins 7:05 pm EST
Saturday, December 7 Toronto Marlies @ Hartford Wolf Pack 7:00 pm EST