A new year often brings new hope, but it was the same old issues for the Toronto Marlies.
In fairness this was far better performance on the road than of late and the Marlies controlled the lions share of the play.
Ultimately it was goaltending and specials teams that would prove the difference between them and Winnipeg’s affiliate.
In what was a penalty ridden affair, Toronto would find themselves on the power play inside the opening minute.
A promising beginning saw the Marlies spend the first 54 seconds camped inside the Moose zone, with the home team grateful to Ondrej Pavelec who bailed them out.
Manitoba’s goaltender denied both Colin Smith and Brendan Leipsic before Kevin Czuczman was called for cross-checking.
Toronto failed to test Pavelec on the first man advantage but controlled the opening five minutes before yet more penalties were called.
It was during 4-on-4 play that the Moose finally got their feet moving, doing enough to draw a call on Frank Corrado.
The home team should really have scored with the extra man and space, but after Czuczman was stopped by Garret Sparks, Dan DeSalvo contrived to fire wide with half an empty cage to aim at.
When the penalty kill was back to a more conventional 4-on-5, Colin Greening had himself a short-handed breakaway but fired wide of the net under no pressure.
The Marlies dominance at even strength was forcing the home team into multiple infractions and Toronto would have three power opportunities in the final eight minutes of the period.
Tobias Lindberg and Byron Froese would be turned aside on the first of those, and Kerby Rychel struck iron.
The second man advantage went to waste, with the best chance falling to Quinton Howden for the Moose but Sparks stayed alert to make the save.
Andreas Johnsson was the next man to be frustrated by Pavelec, who made a fine save to deny the winger’s one time effort from the slot. In the dying seconds of the opening frame, Sparks again had to be on his mettle to ensure Brandon Tanev didn’t sneak in a short-handed effort with the final seconds counting down.
As has been the way on many occasions this season, Toronto began the second period on top but a defensive error would cost them.
Trevor Moore and Greening were within inches of combing for a goal but kept the cycle alive to allow Frank Corrado to let rip with an effort that forced Pavelec into an awkward shoulder save.
On the following face-off, another shot from Corrado this time hit Froese in front, the puck fell to Lindberg but there was Pavelec again – this time making an excellent glove save.
Andrew Nielsen has been guilty of making some errors from the blue line and with three minutes on the clock he did so once again. Turning the puck over just outside his own zone allowed the Moose a 3-on-2 break. Manitoba wasted little time in shifting the puck to Chase De Leo waiting in the right circle, and the left-handed shot fired back across Sparks to open the scoring.
That was just the fifth shot on net for Manitoba and their first of the middle frame.
Toronto weren’t downhearted however and responded within 29 seconds.
Andreas Johnsson winning a battle on the right boards inside the Moose zone, enabling Kasperi Kapanen to take possession. The right winger immediately sent the puck towards the blue paint, upon where Smith applied the faintest of touches with the toe of his stick to beat Pavelec.
It was no more than the Marlies deserved and more strong play sent them on yet another power play. Leipsic with a drive down the left side, almost found Froese in the slot bar for a trailing Manitoba stick and slashing was called.
It was a man advantage cut short by Andrew Nielsen and set off a chain reaction, which resulted in Toronto taking three consecutive minor penalties.
Manitoba were flying on the first shortened power play but were unable to connect with the final pass or shot.
However on the second opportunity, after surviving a short-handed attempt by Kapanen, the home team would re-take the lead.
A blast from the top of the circle by Jimmy Lodge beat Sparks, with Brendan Lemieux providing an excellent screen in front.
Sparks denied Kyle Connor on the third straight man advantage for the visitors to keep Toronto within striking distance but the game was beginning to turn nasty and more penalties weren’t far away.
Andrew Campbell guilty of kneeing but his penalty was off-set by JC Lipon, who cross-checked the captain in retaliation.
There would be nothing doing during 4-on-4 action and all hell would break loose with a little under two minutes remaining.
With Lodge was rightly called for holding, and Toronto continued to play on a delayed penalty.
In possession of the puck in the Manitoba zone, Lindberg was stumbling and clearly cross-checked from behind by an opponent. No call was made, which seemed to send Rychel off the edge as he took umbrage with who he felt was the guilty party.
Seven penalties would be dolled out after a melee along the boards, including a ten minute misconduct for Rychel, but the Marlies were still heading on the power play.
Having failed to score with the extra man once again, Toronto found themselves in the familiar position of trailing when heading into the third period.
Manitoba own an excellent record in one goal games this season and set about shutting the visitors down in the final frame.
Scoring an insurance marker wasn’t much on the minds of the home team, who would muster three shots through the final twenty minutes.
Constant whistles and icings weren’t helping Toronto’s cause as they failed to generate anything offensively in the opening five minutes.
They were fortunate not to fall further behind as Czuczman didn’t test Sparks as much as he should on an odd man rush for the home team.
Toronto’s best opportunities would come on the power play and that was certainly the case after scorer Lodge was back in the box.
Kapanen and Leipsic somehow didn’t score during a scramble as the puck refused to settle for anyone wearing a white jersey.
Despite not seeing much action, Pavelec made a wonderful left pad save to deny Johnsson and the rebound came to Leipsic in such a hurry, that the Manitoba native was unable to direct his attempt on target.
Dymtro Timashov was the next to de denied, this time by a blocker save from Pavelec.
It should really have been a second straight power play for the Marlies as the final seconds clicked down on the Lodge infraction, but the officials decided to ignore a blatant cross-check on Colin Smith behind the home team’s net.
Toronto’s next chance with the man advantage came with a little over eight minutes remaining but they would produce just one chance.
Froese fired from the high slot, Pavelec made the save and the rebound fell to Lindberg. He was denied from jamming the puck home in part due to an excellent poke-check from Manitoba’s goaltender – who was in the zone for the entire sixty minutes.
Though dominant in possession, the home team were denying Toronto anything like an excellent scoring chance, keeping them to the outside.
With Sparks pulled, there was one final push from the Marlies but Pavelec remained stoic.
Nielsen’s first shot of the game came with exactly a minute remaining and cannoned back off Pavelec.
The puck could have ended anywhere but rebounded off a Manitoba player and toward the net.
Pavelec was cool, calm and collected in making his 34th and final save of the game to secure the two points for the home team.
Post Game Notes:
Toronto out-shot Manitoba 35-16.
Toronto failed to connect on eight power play opportunities while Manitoba scored once on four power plays.
Toronto are now 1-12-0-0 when trailing after forty minutes.
Tony Cameranesi made his seasonal debut though his ice time was limited by all the special team play. He proved a worthy addition to the line-up with his speed and tenacity just two attributes this team is in dire need of right now.
Trevor Moore made his return from injury, having not played since December 2. He’s another all-action type player and his line (Timashov and Greening) had an excellent cycle game going, though more shots on net would be a criticism you could level at them.
Frank Corrado played a steady game alongside Rinat Valiev, with no glaring errors on show.
He seemed to be in the offensive zone most of the time and certainly wasn’t shy of letting fly when given sight of goal.
His five shots on net were only equalled by Byron Froese and Brendan Leipsic.
If Toronto lose in regulation tonight (Wednesday), they’ll fall out of the last playoff berth.