Only time will tell if this game will turn out to be a turning point in the Toronto Marlies season.
In what was arguably their best home performance of the season, Toronto recorded their largest margin of victory in thumping Rochester 5-0.
Slow starts have been a feature during the Marlies struggles but after surviving one very early scare it was the home team who got themselves off to the perfect beginning.
A turnover presented the puck to Nick Baptiste just forty seconds in, Rochester’s leading goal scorer was denied by the pads of Garret Sparks.
Toronto responded with an effort from Travis Dermott which was redirected wide but a poor shift from Brendan Leipsic ended with the winger in the box and the Marlies down a man for two minutes.
It mattered not as the home killed allowed just one chance, a shot from Baptiste that Sparks did well to deal with, before scoring their fourth short-handed goal of the season.
Byron Froese won an offensive zone face-off back to Rinat Valiev. By the time the defenseman had wound up to take his shot, Froese was providing the screen in front of Ullmark and the puck whistled by both men to open the scoring.
What followed was an intense two minutes of play which emphasised the small margins in hockey and how important it is to be on the right side of those.
A shot from Brady Austin was stopped by Sparks, but the Toronto netminder was down and out on the play, with no clue as to the whereabouts of the puck. Resorting to a snow angel position on the ice, somehow Sparks found a way to deny Daniel Muzito-Bagenda from levelling proceedings.
The Marlies would head straight back the other way, with Frank Corrado unleashing a wicked effort that hit Ullmark flush on his mark with the rebound not falling kindly for the home team.
Justin Holl had one of his better games offensively and after leading the rush, dropped a perfect pass back for Andrew Nielsen, who tested Ullmark with one of his trademark one-time blasts.
Exactly 130 seconds after getting on the board first, Toronto doubled their lead thanks to desire to win back possession and then some patience.
Kerby Rychel with the strong fore-check along the boards freed up the puck for Colin Greening to take control on the right side. After waiting for his line-mate to crash the net, Greening then delivered the perfect backdoor feed for Rychel to score at the second attempt.
Trevor Moore almost made it 3-0 inside a minute later but Ullmark kept his team in the game before they attempted to halve the deficit.
Rochester best chance was created by Cole Schneider, who stripped Andrew Campbell of the puck behind Toronto’s net. Evan Rodrigues was he recipient of Schneider’s pass out front but Sparks reacted sharply to the one-time effort from the slot.
A wraparound attempt from Tim Kennedy was the Amerks last opportunity to get themselves on the board and Toronto would hold a well earned two goal lead through twenty minutes.
The Marlies could easily have put themselves out of sight in the first six minutes of the middle frame had they been more clinical in front of net.
Greening and Froese both missed the target before Andreas Johnsson was denied by a fine save after excellent work from Colin Smith.
Toronto would try to be too cute on their first power play of the game and carved themselves just one opportunity as the penalty expired. Dymtro Timashov was afforded too much space by Rochester but his measured shot from the left circle would find the iron.
A poor line change from Toronto handed the visitors a huge chance and altered the momentum of the period for the best part of ten minutes.
A 2-on-0 break was lead by Baptiste but instead of shooting, he dished off to Cal O’Reilly on his left.
A goal looked a certainly but for Sparks stretching way out to his right, getting enough on the attempt from Rochester’s captain to send the puck wide of goal.
Toronto were now sloppy in possession of the puck, inviting pressure in their own zone.
Rochester weren’t able to create much in the way of goal scoring opportunities, being kept mostly to the outside, despite dominating the majority of the play.
Schneider would ultimately have the only other chance of the period on an odd-man rush. His five-hole attempt on Sparks would be denied by Toronto’s goaltender and a third Marlies goal wouldn’t be too long in arriving.
He wouldn’t receive an assist on the goal but a great play from Travis Dermott denied the Amerks the opportunity to clear their own zone. The result was Tobias Lindberg recovering a dump-in from Campbell behind the Rochester net and then finding Froese to the left of the goal. The latter looked to be passing to Leipsic instead of shooting, but whatever the intent, the puck found it’s way into the net via an Amerks player in the crease.
A poor clearance from Ullmark almost allowed Froese to tally his third point, but Lindberg was unable to beat the goaltender after he had recovered his ground.
With victories so infrequent of late and confidence low, Toronto were in no mood to coast heading into the final twenty minutes of regulation.
Not even a minute in and a bullet shot from Rychel ricocheted off the post after a nice drop pass from Greening.
The home crowd would be celebrating exactly a second after the two minute mark of the period however. Froese blocked an attempted clearance up the wall and dished off to Leipsic, before accepting a return pass.
With one goal already, Froese wasn’t going to pass up the chance to get a second and did so by firing over the glove of Ullmark.
For all intensive purposes the game was now dead as a contest and it was only a matter of Toronto staying focused and keeping their structure as the final 18 minutes played out.
Six minutes passed before the Amerks registered their first shot of the opening frame and Sparks was certainly dialled in as he turned aside Rodrigues who had been teed up by Schneider once more.
Froese would be robbed of a hat-trick after being unselfishly picked out by Leipsic, with the latter then turning provider for Lindberg who was also denied.
Kyle Bonis would be denied on an opportunity after Sparks spilled a shot from the blue line. It was the one piece of luck the goaltender would require in the final frame, on his way to recording a shutout.
Johnsson was frustrated to be heading to the box for a retaliation penalty after being the recipient of at least two cheap shots in front. Toronto would kill the penalty with ease and the officials put their whistles away for the rest of the game despite both teams guilty of bending the rules somewhat.
A fifth Marlies goal certainly wasn’t undeserved on the balance of play and made Johnsson feel much better about life.
Trevor Moore teed up Tony Cameranesi but Ullmark denied the rookie forward from scoring his first AHL goal of the season. Johnsson was following up the play and smashed home the rebound for his eighth of the season.
Kasperi Kapanen almost added a sixth with a backhand effort, but more importantly Toronto locked the door for their fifth shutout of the season and their first since November 20.
Post Game Notes:
Toronto recorded consecutive wins for the first time since November, when they proved victorious on the 6th and 11th.
After the shots had favoured Toronto 18-12 after twenty minutes, they played a far more solid game defensively for the remaining two periods. The final count would be 42-24 Toronto.
Garret Sparks made 24 saves in recording his second shutout of the season. His best outing since suspension, the number one job with the Marlies is his for the taking should he step up to the plate.
A second three-point game of the season for Byron Froese, who rebounded after failing to record a shot or a point during the two games in Winnipeg. He’s now tied with Kasperi Kapanen in goals with both having hit the twine on fourteen occasions this season.
Every single Marlies skater recorded at least one shot on goal. Dymtro Timashov led the way with five, the second time this season he’s managed that many attempts on net.
For the first time this season Kerby Rychel has scored in consecutive games. He and Andreas Johnsson both took their seasonal goal tally to eight.
With no Brooks Laich, Rich Clune, Milan Michalek, Marc-Andre Cliché or Daniel Maggio in the line-up, Toronto dressed seven defenseman and a fourth line of Trevor Moore and Tony Cameranesi.
The two aforementioned rookies both had a positive impact on the game and have added much need speed and energy since their return.