The Toronto Marlies returned to home ice Saturday afternoon, to face the Springfield Thunderbirds for just the second time this season.
Florida’s affiliate have struggled to find the net with any regularity competing in a tough Atlantic Division and they certainly showed no signs of reversing that trend during the opening period at Ricoh Coliseum.
Toronto began brightly with Justin Holl drawing a penalty inside the first minute of play but did little to worry Sam Brittain between the pipes for Springfield.
The Marlies utterly dominated possession in the visitors zone, as the Thunderbirds struggled to live with Toronto’s cycle game.
The home team were being kept to the outside however and were unable to consistently create chances to threaten Springfield’s net.
Travis Dermott thought he had broken the deadlock with six minutes on the clock but the officials made a mistake in whistling the play dead early.
It’d take Springfield another sixty seconds to record their first shot on net and they failed to test the returning Garret Sparks on a power play shortly after.
The Marlies second power play of the period would prove as fruitless as the first and the two teams would head into the intermission scoreless.
The middle frame featured less controlled play from the home team but they were able to create clear cut opportunities and eventually open up the game.
A burst of speed from Brett Findlay forced Ian McCoshen into a hooking penalty in an attempt to stop him scoring. Findlay’s effort would be turned aside by Brittain, who lost his skate blade on the play.
There was a lengthy delay before officials told the Springfield bench that play had to resume and back-up goaltender Adam Wilcox was called into action.
He had to make one save on the power play during the eight seconds he was on the ice before Brittain returned.
He may have wished he’d stayed on the bench however as 15 seconds later Toronto opened the scoring with a swift passing movement finished off by Andreas Johnsson in the slot.
Almost immediately at the resumption of play, Brendan Leipsic was given space to get up a head of steam, and made an inside-out move beating two defensemen before releasing a tricky backhand shot that Brittain stopped with his right toe.
With the skate blade once more dislodged, Adam Wilcox returned to the ice in what was becoming a farcical situation.
With further chances exchanged on the rush, Wilcox would be pressed hard to turn aside Frederik Gauthier and Leipsic, whilst Sparks had to be alert at the other end of the ice.
Having gone to the dressing room to fix his skate issue, Brittain finally returned to the ice for good but within a minute allowed the second goal of the game.
A turnover allowed William Wrenn and Seth Griffith to execute a perfect give-and-go and the defenseman made no mistake with a top-shelf finish that a forward would have been proud of.
The visitors weren’t phased by their predicament and immediately pushed back.
Steve Oleksy was forced into an incredibly brave block to deny a slapshot from McCoshen whilst Sparks turned aside Chase Balisy’s tipped effort after a nice set-up from Jayce Hawryluk.
Having quelled Springfield’s minor offensive burst, Toronto increased their lead with a little over two minutes remaining. Able to change on the fly thanks to the kind of puck possession witnessed through the opening period, Andrew Nielsen would put home the rebound after Gauthier’s initial attempt had been blocked.
The scoring might have been done before the second intermission but the action certainly was not.
Jared McCann and Griffith would head to the box for an altercation that saw both tagged for roughing penalties.
Then Leipsic would follow suit after being guilty of a trip.
A 4-on-3 power play for the visitors so nearly saw them register a first goal and a way back into the game. Mackenzie Weegar clipped the outside of the post from the slot before Gauthier’s stick broke and essentially it was now a 4-on-2.
Sparks made two outstanding stops to prevent Paul Thompson from adding to his sixteen goals this season before Toronto could finally clear their zone and the sound of the buzzer was somewhat of a relief.
The Marlies killed the final seconds of the penalty with ease to begin the final frame but proved unable to set a tone like they had done in the first period and for portions of the second.
A fantastic outlet pass from Justin Holl sent Leipsic in on goal at the three minute mark but the opportunity passed after McCoshen delivered an emphatic high stick.
The resulting power play would produce only a fight as the two Kyle’s, Rau and Rychel, set about one another.
Rau had been running around all game throwing late hits and generally being a pest. He was also responsible for Leipsic’s concussion sustained in January, that led to the left winger missing a whole host of games.
It was no surprise then that Rychel dropped the gloves and comprehensively put down his opponent.
The Thunderbirds were presented with a power play of their own at the eight minute mark after Nielsen had sent the puck flying over the boards.
It was the hosts who had the best chances while short-handed – Frederik Gauthier denied by the shaft of Brittain’s stick and Sislo robbed in tight after a pin-point set-up play from Sergey Kalinin.
The game appeared to be meandering to a finish and a 3-0 Marlies victory until Nielsen found himself back in the box.
A face-off win allowed Jared McCann to rifle a shot over the blocker of Sparks, just three seconds into the power play.
With over two minutes still remaining, the visitors may have harboured hopes of a miraculous fight back. That wasn’t to be however as the Marlies controlled possession from the face-off and tallied a fourth goal within thirty seconds. Johnsson collected a floated pass from Mike Sislo and proceeded to drive across the crease and fired a forehand shot past Brittain.
A late save from Sparks to deny Jared McCann a second tally ensured a 4-1 final and a third straight victory for Toronto.
Post Game Notes:
Toronto keep pace with Syracuse in the standings – both teams on 77 points but the Crunch have a game in hand. The Marlies next three games are against Syracuse, beginning Sunday afternoon at Ricoh Coliseum.
Toronto have scored 4+ goals in seven consecutive games.
Andreas Johnsson hit the twenty goal mark with a two tallies in this game.
Mike Sislo and Brendan Leipsic both recorded a pair of assists.
An exuberant celebration from Andrew Nielsen alluded to the fact he’d just broken a nine game scoreless streak by scoring his 13th of the season.
Garret Sparks returned to action since injuring his groin on February 25. He made 28 saves for the win and Sheldon Keefe alluded that he may be given the start on Sunday.