Individual defensive errors proved costly as the Marlies fell to defeat in a Boxing Day clash against the St. John’s IceCaps.
With both teams missing top offensive talent, goals were always going to be at a premium.
Equally as important then was the need to be solid in your own end.
Toronto were slow to get out of the blocks and it was the visitors from the east coast who controlled much of the early possession.
The IceCaps earned the first power play of the game after a spell of offensive zone pressure stemming back to a poor piece of play from Justin Holl, who failed to clear the puck.
With Rinat Valiev in the box, Antoine Bibeau made a pair of good saves fighting through traffic to ensure the penalty was killed.
The first scheduled timeout of the period turned the tide somewhat, as some stern words from Sheldon Keefe appeared to do the trick.
Byron Froese spun and fired a no look shot to give Charlie Lindgren his first action in the visitors net, after Toronto’s first real stint in the offensive zone.
An unfortunate bounce sent Colin Smith to the box on a delay of game penalty but Toronto killed the man disadvantage with ease. The greatest danger would present itself seconds after the infraction was nullified, as another error from Holl almost gift-wrapped the opening goal to St. John’s.
After allowing the first three shots of the game without reply, the Marlies would respond by recording ten consecutive efforts on net to end the opening frame.
Justin Holl was looking better in the offensive zone and he teed up Smith but Toronto’s number nine fired his attempt wide from the slot. On the same play, Dymtro Timashov and Andreas Johnsson crashed the net but neither were able to force the puck by Lindgren.
Toronto’s incessant pressing drew a penalty but they still unable to find the net. Timashov firing just wide and the luckless Froese watched his shot crash off the crossbar.
Frederick Gauthier’s line of Kerby Rychel and Colin Greening were strong on the fore-check and created an opportunity for Travis Dermott pinching into the play. Wasting no time, the rookie made sure he hit the target but Lindgren proved equal to the attempt ensuring the game was scoreless through twenty minutes.
The middle frame would prove itself a reverse of the first period and see the IceCaps break the game wide open.
Tobias Lindberg appeared to have a great chance just a minute in but for a great defensive play by Jonathan Racine.
Forty seconds later and Brett Findlay would have had himself a tap-in if smith had been able to feed the puck across to the man making his seasonal Marlies debut.
Mere moments into the first power play of the period, Johnsson was robbed by Lindgren after excellent work from Rychel and Toronto would fail to score despite other good looks.
Against the run of play, St. John’s broke the deadlock just before the six minute mark.
Viktor Loov turned the puck over deep in his own end and it proved fatal. Max Friberg and Jacob de la Rose setting up Daniel Audette for his fourth goal of the season with a pretty tic-tac-toe play.
It was now one-way traffic, even with a Toronto power play at the midway mark.
Andrew Nielsen decided to play with fire not once but twice as he handed possession to Jeremy Gregoire in front of the Marlies net. The St. John’s centreman gratefully accepted the late Christmas present to put his team up 2-0 with a shorthanded marker.
Bibeau had allowed two goals on nine shots at this juncture but he was certainly not at fault. Without him, Toronto may have found themselves trailing further behind after forty minutes as it was their turn to be toughly out-shot and out-chanced.
Having taken just two points from nine games when trailing after two periods this season, an ill-disciplined boarding call from Lindberg was not the way the Marlies wanted to begin the final frame.
Thankfully former Marlie David Broll also took a ridiculous penalty behind Toronto’s net, ensuring a power play for the home team after 21 seconds of 4-on-4 play.
A controlled zone entry presented Nielsen time to measure his shot from the left point and although Lindgren made the save, Rychel was on hand to crash home the rebound to halve the deficit with the extra man.
With sixteen minutes remaining on the clock there was plenty of time to attain something from this game and Toronto come close to doing so immediately.
The shift following the goal ended with a scramble in front and then Smith and Rychel both tested Lindgren on consecutive shifts.
The plan from St. John’s was apparent. Cling on for dear life to what they had and hope for breakaway’s as Toronto pressed and took more risks.
At the midway point it was Racine who handed possession to Froese in the high slot but the ring of iron was heard around Ricoh Coliseum as the puck clanged against Lindgren’s left post.
Froese’s line looked most likely to provide a tying goal and another strong shift from them set-up Loov, but the defenseman’s attempt whistled just wide of the net. The bounce off the backboards was accordingly huge due to the power of the shot but Froese was unable to jam home the rebound, nor draw a penalty despite being rugby tackled in his attempt to regain possession.
Valiev took the bull by the horns and single-handedly tried to draw his team level with a little over five minutes remaining. Allowed to drive to the net uncontested from the left wing, the defenseman may have had more success releasing a shot before allowing himself to be excellently poke-checked by Lindgren in tight.
Another backhand effort from Froese would be the closest Toronto would come before Bibeau was pulled for the extra attacker with 2:52 to play.
The goaltender would remain on the bench for the remainder of the game as his team-mates threw everything at the IceCaps.
Despite spending almost the entirety of the remaining time in the visitors zone, Toronto were unable to fashion the one great scoring chance to level up proceedings and for the third time this season tasted defeat at the hands of their old foes.
Post Games Notes:
Kerby Rychel scored his sixth goal of the season, matching last years tally for Lake Erie Monsters, in eleven fewer games. The left winger has five points in as many games.
Andreas Johnsson was adjudged to have tipped Nielsen’s shot and grabbed himself an assist on the goal. His seventh helper of the season, to go along with as many goals.
Andrew Nielsen’s secondary assist gives him twenty points this year through 28 games.
Antoine Bibeau is yet to record a victory against St. John’s this season. He was a passenger for long passengers of this game but certainly wasn’t at fault for the defeat.
Brett Findlay made his seasonal debut, centering Colin Smith and Andres Johnsson. Findlay is currently Orlando’s leading scorer with 33 points this season.
Kasperi Kapanen and Brendan Leipsic are both still injured and are huge misses for Toronto.