On many occasions this season it’s been the offense that has bailed out sub par goaltending.
Those roles were certainly switched this weekend in back to back games against the Manitoba Moose.
Less than 24 hours after Bibeau stopped 35 of 37 shots, Garret Sparks slammed the door shut in this Saturday matinee affair.
As they had Friday night, Manitoba began on the front foot and would garner the best of the opportunities in the opening five minutes.
Toronto weren’t helping themselves with turnovers in their own zone and Andrew Nielsen would take a seat after taking the first infraction.
The Marlies penalty kill efficiently did it’s job and the home team were able to build upon that momentum with a better effort back at even strength.
After carrying a little more of the play, it was Toronto’s turn to try their hand with the extra man at the eleven minute.
Seth Griffith would prove luckless on three occasions. What looked a certain goal was blocked, another effort missed by a hairs breadth and with the goal at his mercy, a pass from Rychel bounced over his stick.
Both teams had chances to take a lead into the first intermission , the best of which fell to the Moose.
Scott Kosmachuk would be denied on a rebound attempt by a sprawling Sparks, after Manitoba had driven to the net with intent to cause havoc.
With ninety seconds remaining, a giveaway allowed the visitors a 3-on-2 break. Quinton Howden was the trailing man on the play and he would have two excellent scorings opportunities taken away by an inspired Sparks.
The middle frame began with Toronto asserting pressure in the Manitoba zone for sixty seconds. With the Marlies unable to make it count, the Moose responded by serving some of that medicine back to their hosts. Patrice Cormier the next Moose forward to be denied from the slot.
The three-man officiating crew missed a host of infractions before finally nabbing the visitors for holding.
A couple of long range bombs from Andrew Nielsen resulted in rebounds that eluded his team-mates before a frustrated Griffith gave the officials no option but to call him for slashing.
Toronto would end up with a shortened penalty kill, which almost worked in their favour.
Frederick Gauthier ringing a shot off the post with Eric Comrie beaten, and the puck deflected to safety.
Neither team was able to generate much in the way of sustained offensive zone time pressure for the majority of the second period. It was mostly poor puck management that led to opportunities and certainly allowed Manitoba to dominate proceedings inside the final five minutes.
Howden found himself with space on the right wing, but after driving to the net he contrived to whistle his shot over the crossbar.
Any words said during the second intermission had little effect as Toronto found themselves under the cosh from the drop of the puck in the final frame. Sparks making an excellent save thirty seconds in and the relentless pressure was only released by a penalty to Brendan Lemiux at 1:39.
Another long rang effort from Nielsen tricked wide after hitting bodies in front, whilst a rush from Justin Holl would result in Comrie grabbing onto his effort to deny a second opportunity.
Less than sixty seconds after the penalty had expired, the deadlock would finally be broken.
Dmytro Timashov found himself some space on the right side of the Moose zone and the rookie didn’t hesitate to drive into the middle of the ice. His shot would bank off Dan DeSalvo in front, taking a wicked bounce which gave Comrie no chance.
Kerby Rychel was awarded a secondary assist on the goal and he deserves much credit for tying up DeSalvo in the crease.
Nielsen was having an excellent game offensively, firing shots through traffic and distributing the puck well. That was until he coughed up possession at the Manitoba blue line, allowing Kosmachuk to escape on a breakaway. Enough back pressure was placed on the Moose forward to make sure he wasn’t entirely comfortable and Sparks came to the rescue with a pad stop.
As the period approached the midway mark, Toronto were still prone to turnovers – this time inside their own zone. JC Lipon was the recipient on this occasion but Sparks made his best save of the game, getting a piece of his glove to a shot he couldn’t have fully seen through a screen.
Both teams appeared a little tired at this juncture, especially the Moose, who weren’t able to keep up the frantic pace and relentless fore-check that had given Toronto so much trouble.
Despite no Byron Froese in this game, Griffith and Moore were still combining to good effect with Colin Greening as their new line-mate. Moore was certainly the standout and he would have a further three chances to give Toronto an insurance marker.
The bulk of Manitoba’s thirteen, third period shots had been taken by the time the game wound down into the final five minutes – the home team looking more comfortable with the lead with every shift that ran down the clock.
Comrie would be pulled with 65 seconds remaining but the Moose would be kept to the outside as the home team did a terrific shot of getting in the shooting lanes and blocking any attempts on net.
Sparks will deservedly take the plaudits but credit a depleted Marlies line-up who dug deep to grind out a 1-0 victory, completing the two game sweep.
Post Games Notes:
Toronto extended their point streak to six games on home ice (5-0-1-0) in what was their 15th victory at Ricoh Coliseum this season.
Marlies lead the season series with the Moore 5-1, with two games remaining in Manitoba.
Toronto’s seventh shutout of the year and the second recorded against Winnipeg’s affiliate.
Garret Sparks has four of those shutouts and made a season high 37 shots to attain this latest clean sheet.
Dmytro Timashov’s game winner was his tenth goal of the season. Six of those have been scored in his last ten outings.
Frank Corrado led all skaters with six shots but Toronto failed to consistently create enough traffic to screen Eric Comrie.
Byron Froese was injured late in Friday’s victory and no timetable on his return or nature of the injury.
Sheldon Keefe indicated that he had been considered for this game before erring on the side of caution.