Photo Credit: Christian Bonin / TSGPhoto.com
Putting pucks towards the net gives us a pretty good long-term outlook on the quality of a player or a team, but in the heat of the moment, those shots only matter if they go in. The Toronto Marlies were certainly feeling that for the first half of today’s game against the Utica Comets. Their opponents put tremendous pressure on them, but with a few fortunate bounces and some solid goaltending, the team managed to persevere through to win for the 18th time in their past 22 games by a score of 4-2.
Toronto’s first goal came just two minutes into the game. While Utica had already started putting on the pressure on one end, the Marlies made quick work of an established offensive zone. A point shot from Viktor Loov rebounded off of Joe Cannata and fell right into the proverbial lap of newcomer Rylan Schwartz, who banged home his first goal as a member of the Marlies to give the Leafs a lead. From there, though, the Comets really poured it on, making the most of their two powerplays to pour pucks in the direction of Garret Sparks. Thankfully for Toronto, Sparks looked much better than his showing on Sunday, easily lining up with whatever came his way.
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A penalty to Ashton Saunter gave the team an opportunity to extend their lead early in the second period, and it took the first powerplay unit just ten seconds to take it. Mark Arcobello, who continues to dominate at the AHL level, took in a pass from Kasperi Kapanen and buried his fifteenth of the season. Utica responded a few minutes later with a powerplay goal of their own; rookie powerplay specialist Hunter Shinkaruk blasted a one-timer from the slot to presumably keep the game close for a while, but the man-advantage pendulum swung once again to set Kapanen up for his first goal since his postage-stamp Gold Medal tally in Helsinki.
The third was probably the most even of the bunch, with the Comets starting strong but Toronto finishing the night off with their most dominant offensive control of the game. Jordan Subban brought the Comets within one with a gorgeous wrister from the point to beat Sparks high blocker, but an empty netter by Nikita Soshnikov with eleven seconds to cemented the result.
There were standout Marlies on both sides of the spectrum tonight. Sometimes it feels like buzz-wording to say that a player looks more confident out there, but Kasperi Kapanen has been fantastic since coming back from Helsinki. He’s attempting to chase after pucks that he wouldn’t have taken the chance on previously, going for (and succeeding on) dekes that would have been seen as risky beforehand, and overall making himself an essential presence on the ice. It’s showing on the scoresheet too; while he was pointless in his first game back, he has a goal and four assists in his last four. On the opposite end, I didn’t feel that this was Casey Bailey’s best night; he looked undisciplined at times, lost a bunch of skating battles, wasn’t able to escape traffic for a few potential scoring opportunities, and his second penalty led to one of the Utica goals.
With the victory, the Marlies move to 33-8-2 on the season, good for a 0.791 points percentage. Their goal differential of +61 is the highest in the league by 16. They’re on pace to have a higher goal differential than the 2nd and 3rd best teams combined within the next ten games. The Marlies have a chance to widen their gap tomorrow, when they’ll face the Comets once more. Puck drop is at 3 PM.