Today's Marlies game was an exciting afternoon affair at the Air Canada Centre. It started with a surprise a few hours before the first face-off.
Shane Conacher signs ATO with Toronto Marlies https://t.co/5sUCHJX7IJ pic.twitter.com/FPxb3ZEVKJ— Pension Plan Puppets (@PPPLeafs) March 26, 2016
Conacher joined the Marlies today from Canisius College, where he led the team with 46 points in 39 games this season. If the name sounds familiar, you are probably thinking about his brother, Cory. Cory played 141 games with various NHL teams before leaving this season for the Swiss league.
The first period started with an aggressive attack by the IceCaps. At 2:31 Brett Lernout fired a wrist shot from near the blue line, through heavy traffic in front of the net, and right past Marlies' goalie Antoine Bibeau, getting the IceCaps first on the board. Less than a minute later the IceCaps' Brandon McNally almost put them up 2-0 with a well executed wraparound for which Bibeau was not quite prepared. The shot fortunately deflected off the stick of a Marlies defender away from the net.
The Marlies were also aggressive through the first period, and kept up some sustained pressure of their own. Stuart Percy responded to the IceCaps' goal by stealing the puck on a turnover, which eventually led to a great scoring chance by David Kolomatis, but IceCaps goalie Zach Fucale managed to keep it out.
The payoff for the Marlies strong attack came at the halfway mark of the period when Colin Smith received a perfect pass from Kolomatis, slipped past the IceCaps' defence, and fired the puck past Fucale. The Marlies had tied the game 1-1.
Three minutes later the Marlies scored again when T. J. Brennan shot the puck through Fucale's 5-hole off a pass from Colin Smith.
Brennan ended the game with four points, picking up three assists. I asked him about how he stays focused on battling for every scoring chance, not only as the season winds down, but when they've already clinched a playoff spot.
"We've gotta keep that same mentality; that no excuse kind of work hard mentality, and create our own opportunities."
Two weeks ago Solar Bears' coach Anthony Noreen told me that for his team's push to the playoffs the philosophy was that it is not important to focus on the standings, but always "focus on ourselves, and make sure we're sharp at what we do... we feel like as we keep doing that, and we keep building together as a team, we'll be playing our best hockey."
Brennan echoed that philosophy, saying, "We're sticking to the process, we're getting ready for a good playoff push as we go here. We just stick with it, and try and keep persevering and getting better every day."
The Marlies did indeed keep persevering and wound up the first period with another goal.
He can only name 6 pizza toppings, but he sure can score; Leivo slaps in a bouncing puck and .@TorontoMarlies are up 3-1 at end of first.— Pension Plan Puppets (@PPPLeafs) March 26, 2016
Leivo's goal was dirty and fun, batted with his stick, mid-air, right into the net.
Asked about the goal after the game, he seemed happy and amused by it. "Arco dropped the puck for me, I think it hit a skate and [then] it was up in the air. I just got lucky on the bat, and I think it just went over the shoulder."
Leivo started the Marlies' second period with another goal; a wraparound shot after receiving the puck from Carrick.
"There was a great forecheck by Carrick, and I just had to tuck it under the goalies' pad," he said after the game.
Oh, and for the record, the Marlies ran video clips during the game asking players how many varieties of specific items they could name. Leivo had to name pizza toppings, and he listed an eclectic six: pepperoni, tomatoes, mushrooms, feta cheese, jalapenos, and peppers, but was then out of ideas.
I suppose that's better than in 2012 when Jake Gardiner could only name three kinds of cheese.
The Marlies took the first penalty of the game at 3:34 in the second - Andrew Campbell for interference - but they killed it off with a big assist from Rich Clune who blocked a point blank slap shot.
At 5:47 in the second the IceCaps picked up their first penalty; Lernout tripped Connor Smith. Both Leivo and Taylor Doherty had scoring chances on the PP, but the IceCaps killed it off. The Marlies kept up the pressure, with Kapanen having a scoring chance on a pass from Arcobello, but not converting.
A response finally came from the IceCaps' Bud Holloway at 12:13 in the second when he picked off an awkward rebound from Bibeau, and buried it in a wide open net. Marlies' coach Sheldon Keefe was asked if at that point he thought the team was getting away from where it should be playing.
"You're letting them hang around [the net] and that's always dangerous, and it's been a problem for us with this team in the past," Keefe said.
The Marlies did have more great scoring chances to wind up the period, including during a brief 5-on-3, but no more goals. The second period ended with the Marlies up 4-2 (SOG were 28-13).
The highlight of the third period was Marlies' defenceman Justin Holl. He tripped over himself and fell flat on the ice, but somehow kept control of the puck, managing a pass to keep the attack going. It didn't lead to a goal, but it was an amazingly coordinated play for someone sprawled on his back on the ice.
The third and final IceCaps goal' was by Charles Hudon, at 11:53 in the third, but then 30 seconds later he took a penalty for a high stick to Carrick's face.
The Marlies didn't score on the power play, but at 16:53 Brendan Leipsic scored the final goal of the game on a shot possibly deflected in to the net by one of the IceCaps.
The physical play continued through the rest of the third, including the infamous John Scott knocking Colin Smith over with a crosscheck in front of the IceCaps net, sending him to the box for interference. That penalty almost ran out the clock. The IceCaps briefly pulled their goalie, but it was all for nothing. The Marlies won, 5-3.
Coach Keefe appreciated the strong possession game by the Marlies.
"We played a pretty good and efficient game," he said. "We had the puck a lot."
Keefe was also pleased with the team's continued pressure after going down one goal early in the game.
"Giving up the first goal, giving them the lead was not ideal, but we did well after that, and had a lot of really good moments in the game," he added.
This was the 11th of 12 games the Marlies play against the IceCaps this season. The next and final meeting of these two teams is 7:00PM Tuesday at Ricoh Coliseum. PPP will be there to cover it for you.
For more on today's game you can watch the post-game interview by coach Keefe below.