The Toronto Marlies finished off a tough end to 2017 in style by beating the Belleville Senators 5-1.
A three-point performance from The Goat Frederik Gauthier, the first AHL goal for rookie centerman Adam Brooks, and a three-assist afternoon from Travis Dermott helped the young Leafs snap out of a recent spell where they lost six of seven games.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe sent out a much more balanced forward group for this game with Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Kerby Rychel, and Miro Aaltonen all on separate lines.
Freddy the Goat, who miraculously recovered from a terrible broken left hamstring in last years’ playoffs, got his first shot on the first line with Kasperi Kapanen and Dmytro Timashov as his running-mates.
Gauthier recovered from his injury back in October and has been a good soldier ever since, but this was the first game where I really noticed him as a force, rather than just the big guy who is steady in all three zones and allows his teammates to be the special players on the ice. In this game, Freddy was more aggressive and showed off more of his skill rather than the conservative style we are so used to seeing him play.
Andreas Johnsson was paired up with two veterans in Ben Smith and Chris Mueller on a second line that would prove to be extremely effective in this game.
The defense sees the top-4 stay intact but with Travis Dermott and Andrew Nielsen coming together as the third pair.
Calle Rosen has steadily improved his confidence in this league as the season has gone on and it has shown in his defensive game. He’s tying up sticks in front and using his feet to get out of trouble rather than make risky passes or chip the puck off the glass.
Lineup vs Belleville Sunday— Todd Crocker (@HockeyCrock) December 31, 2017
Timashov - Gauthier - Kapanen
Johnsson - Mueller - Smith
Greening - Aaltonen - Moore
Rychel - Brooks - Clune
Rosen - Loverde
Valiev - Holl
Nielsen - Dermott
The first sees Johnsson become the centre of attention when it comes to special teams.
Six minutes into the game Johnsson gets the attention of top Belleville defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer after going hard into the corner with him in the Senators zone. Long after the puck is played away from the two, Burgdoerfer trips Johnsson as he tries to get back to the action. The whistle is blown, but it does not stop Chris DiDomineco from jumping into the fray and trying to draw a coincidental penalty from Johnsson, who is not biting.
Marlies get a few good chances on the power-play but ultimately fail to score. Their patented low-high pass from behind the net to the crease have been succcessful in terms of creating chances but the attempts have yet to bear fruit.
Burgdoerfer leaves the box after serving his two minutes but as soon as he gets into the play, he slashes Johnsson’s stick out of his hands.
38 seconds into Burgdoerfer’s second penalty, Johnsson’s stick gets slashed again! This time it is Chris DiDomineco (hey, I remember you) who disables Johnsson just as he is about to get a shot on goal from the wing.
Mr. Centre-of-Attention Andreas Johnsson gets his revenge on the powerplay after Chris Mueller sets him up with a one-touch cross-crease pass that Hammond couldn’t reach in time. Travis Dermott started the play with an aggresive move to the net before sending a sharp pass to Mueller.
The Marlies get into a little penalty trouble in the second period. For a team that has given up six power-play goal’s in their 14 kills (57.1% (!) in five games) this is a tough situation for the team to be in. Justin Holl gets the first Marlies penalty of the game, he goes to the box for high-sticking 6:53 into the period.
Or just go out and score a short-handed goal with your new-found confidence. Freddy the Goat and Kasperi Kapanen keep hold of possession in the neutral zone after breaking up a zone entry and push forward on a 2-on-2 rush. The leaner and more agile centreman sends a saucer to Kapanen who finishes with an easy redirection for the goal. Dermott recieved his second secondary assist of the day on the short-handed tally.
Timashov takes the second high-sticking penalty against the Marlies in the period.
Later in the period, after the Marlies kill off a Timashov high-sticking penalty, Jack Rodewald gets tangled up with Freddy the Goat along the boards in the Marlies zone and goes down hard. Gauthier gets up from the ice but looks back to see that Rodewald has not. Freddy is left there staring at his injured adversary, not sure whether to help him or wait for a whistle. In the end, he pulls himself away and joins the rest of his line in the offensive zone.
Rodewald takes about several seconds to get back up and eventually stumble towards the bench for a change, all his body weight on his right leg and none on his left. The Marlies carried possession for the entire shift so the refs were unable to blow the whistle.
Ben Smith tries to be aggresive in the offensive zone but gets a little too excited as he slashs the stick out of DiDomineco’s hand. He gets called for the Marlies’ third penalty of the game. Spoiler alert, the Marlies didn’t give up a goal while without Smith but...
... Belleville did! Freddy the Goat gets his second short-handed point of the game and this time it’s a goal! Gauthier beats a Senators player to a loose puck in the neutral zone and bears down on Andrew Hammond. He has Kapanen trailing him but elects to keep and snipe glove side on the goaltender.
If you didn’t think Gauthier had an eye for the net and a surprising release, you do now. The goal is his first unassisted goal of his career and boy, was it pretty.
Ten minutes left in the game and a shutout for his goaltender — who is trying to prove every day that he should be in the NHL — on the line, Andrew Nielsen gives the puck away right to a wide open Max McCormmick in the slot. McCormmick finds his teammate, and supporting actor in the first-period drama, Chris DiDomineco for an easy tap in.
Let’s be frank here, Andrew Nielsen had a bad game. He gave the puck away a lot, consistantly lost battles in the defensive zone, and gave up the blueline far too easily.
I told you the Goat’s got moves. Frederik Gauthier caps off his first career three-point night with his second goal of the game and it is a thing of beauty. Timashov chips the puck up to his teammate so he and Kapanen can head off for a change. Gauthier pushes the puck past a pinching defenseman and skates ahead into the open space. In one motion, Gauthier picks up the puck, sets onto his left — formerly injured — foot, and rips the puck top shelf on Hammond.
Leafs Nation writer Mike Stephens and I lost all semblance of professionalism when Gauthier scored that goal. Laughing, jumping, popcorn you name it. The showcase of skill from someone with Gauthier’s physical frame looked so odd. But it was his third point of the night and he scored an almost identical goal off the other wing earlier that same frame. Is this the new Frederik Gauthier?
Adam Brooks gets his first goal in professional hockey! It is only fitting that Brooks starts the play that ends with his first goal in the AHL. Rich Clune bring two Senator defensemen with him as he falls behind the net while retrieving the puck on the cycle. Brooks grabs the puck and sends it into the crease for a flying Dermott. Unlike Bobby Orr, Dermott’s shot is saved but the rebound is not smothered. Brooks makes sure to lift the puck over his spilled teammate before politely waiting for his teammates to hug him. What a good Manitoba boy.
The Marlies were ecstatic to see Brooks score his first goal. Each player went to hug the rookie after the game. Jeremy Bracco, who was a scratch for the game, ran down to the dressing rooms and gave his fellow first-year a big bear hug.
“Everyone loves Brooksie in the room. He’s one of those guys that doesnt say much but everyone loves him for the guy he is,” said fellow 21-year-old Travis Dermott. “All of us wanted him to get that goal just as bad as he did. Right when he scored, I think everyone throughout the whole bench was pretty excited for him.”
Happy New Year!