The Toronto Marlies continued their impressive form on the road this season with a deserved victory in Hershey on Saturday night.
The Bears have always provided stiff opposition since the Marlies‘ relocation to the Eastern Conference, but the Marlies proved too much to handle for a Hershey team that is struggling to keep the puck out of their net early in the 2017-18 season.
There was certainly no shortage of talking points or let-up in action as Toronto went for the jugular against a Bears side that played the night before Rochester.
Dmytro Timashov and Trevor Moore nearly opened the scoring inside the opening five minutes, but both were denied by Bears goaltender Adam Carlson. A penalty drawn on the play produced no chances for the Marlies, and they nearly fell behind when Riley Barber’s effort on a shorthanded rush struck Garret Sparks’ left post.
Toronto drew a second penalty seconds after the first power play had expired and this time capitalized immediately off of the face-off. Miro Aaltonen won the battle in the left dot before batting the puck back to Calle Rosen, who walked the line and dished to Dmytro Timashov at the top of the left circle. Kerby Rychel provided the perfect screen in front as Timashov roofed his effort past the unsighted Carlson.
Toronto’s penalty kill was put to the test at the midway mark. It was in for a stern examination against the league’s fourth-best power play, but the Bears weren’t allowed a sniff and failed to establish any offensive-zone pressure.
Toronto took back control of the game at even strength, eventually leading to an icing from Hershey. The Marlies made another offensive zone face-off win count: A long-range shot from Justin Holl was turned aside before Mason Marchment won a foot race to the loose puck on the backboards and sent a reverse pass to Adam Brooks in the slot. The rookie threw the puck on net, where Ben Smith collected and beat Carlson with a deft backhand finish.
It appeared as though the Marlies would enter the first intermission up 2-0 until they failed to clear their zone and were outworked along the boards in the final minute. Rosen blocked the first attempt by Garrett Mitchell, but the rebound fell kindly to the Bears forward between the hashmarks and the right winger didn’t give Sparks a chance to re-adjust with a quick release that put his team on the board with 49 seconds remaining in the period.
There was a healthy dislike between these two teams from the outset, and it certainly manifested itself during a second period that included eight penalties and could easily have featured more if the officials had taken a harder line.
Three penalties were called in 85 seconds, two on Toronto, but Sparks was excellent, especially at 4-on-3 play.
Sparks’ work was far from done there — the goaltender’s best save of the game occurred around the midway mark at even strength. A turnover presented Anthony Peluso with a chance all alone in the slot, but Sparks performed robbery to keep the Marlies’ narrow lead intact.
Toronto’s power play, struggling for consistency in this game, failed to take advantage of any of their opportunities in the second period.
The Marlies came closest to extending their lead through Colin Greening and Frederik Gauthier, while a blast from Martin Marincin at the point kept Carlson honest between the pipes.
On Hershey’s final power play of the period, Toronto nearly snatched a two-goal lead during an odd-man rush while shorthanded. With Gauthier and Holl off to the races, it appeared as though Carlson was beaten but the Bears goaltender came up with a desperation right pad save.
With fresher legs than the Bears (who were in a back to back), it was important for Toronto to keep the tempo high in the final 20 minutes, beginning with a power play that carried over from the second period.
On the man advantage, Rosen’s marauding drive up the ice drew a penalty, sending Toronto to a two-man advantage for 50 seconds. Hershey held firm despite a bunch of good looks for Toronto, but there was little respite for the Bears back at 5on5.
A slashing penalty taken by Trevor Moore was the Bears last real chance to tie up the game, and although they controlled the puck inside the Marlies zone, they were limited to the outside by the Marlies’ penalty killers for the most part. The one chance generated was taken care of by Garret Sparks.
Shortly after Andreas Johnsson was denied on a partial breakaway back at even strength, Toronto doubled their lead with 8:39 remaining. Marincin took control just inside the red line and sent the puck forward on the right wing for Marchment, who carried the puck over the blue line and was levelled with a hit that deprived him of his stick. Ben Smith arrived on the scene and whistled a shot past the catching hand of Carlson from the right circle.
The fourth line came to the fore again soon after. Marchment did well to keep the puck inside the offensive zone and find Smith in the right circle. After making space for himself with a spin move, Smith let fly and the rebound fell kindly to Marchment, who finished past the goaltender’s blocker into the far side of the net.
Such was Toronto’s dominance that Sparks faced only three shots in the final period en route to the Marlies’ eighth victory of the season.
Post Game Notes
– Saturday’s lines:
– Toronto went 1/7 on the power play and a perfect 0/6 on the penalty kill.
– The Marlies continue to lead the North Division and hold fifth place overall in the AHL standings.
– A three-point game for Ben Smith (2-1-3) takes his tally to 11 on the season. It’s even more impressive when you consider his primary linemates have been Brooks and Marchment — hardly the offensive stars of this team — and all of his points have been accrued at even strength.
– Mason Marchment is now on a three-game point streak (2-4-6) thanks to a goal and two assists in this game. Who could have predicted five goals in eight games for the sophomore forward?
– A third power-play goal of the season for Dmytro Timashov means he now leads the Marlies in that category.
– Garret Sparks might feel he should have had a second consecutive shutout, but he was again excellent despite Toronto limiting Hershey to 22 shots. Sparks is 6-1 on the season with a .943 save percentage.
– The defense as a group was superb in this game, especially considering Timothy Liljegren failed to complete the game and they played over half the game with five men. Liljegren left at some point early in the second period to my knowledge, but there is no official word on his status.