The Leafs did some goalie shuffling on Tuesday, and part of that was signing UFA goalie Karri Ramo to a PTO for the Marlies. The plan is to start him for a few games and then re-evaluate. But no one is buying that this isn’t a try-out for the backup job on the Leafs. There might be other teams watching with interest, but Ramo will sign with Toronto if the Leafs want him.
Todd Crocker informed the radio and streaming audience that Kyle Dubas was in the pressbox with some other Marlies executives, leaving Brad Lynn, director of hockey operations, and Piero Greco, goalie coach, to sit in the crowd.
Backing up Ramo was Garret Sparks.
Also making an appearance after missing a lot of games was Travis Dermott.
As per Todd Crocker the lines were:
Leipsic Froese Lindberg
Johnsson Smith Kapanen
Rychel Cliche Clune
Timashov Greening Michalek
Defense pairings were:
Frederik Gauthier has been injured and out of the lineup for some time. Rich Clune and Marc-André Cliche drew in recently and impressed enough to be the nominal first line in the last game. The Cliche line were the starters for this game tonight, and they didn’t disappoint in their efforts after a bit of a rocky start.
The Cliche line took to the ice and Clune took to the penalty box 33 seconds in for high sticking. It turned out okay when Brendan Leipsic and Colin Greening got a shorthanded two on one and made Thatcher Demko cheat a little assuming a pass that never came. Leipsic with the shorty made it 1-0 Marlies at the 1:28 mark in the game.
This game was supposed to be about Ramo working his way back in, and for an easy ride, a determined Marlies team up against the Utica Comets is the way to go. Ramo barely saw any early pressure.
The Cliche line continued to press well in the offensive zone and Rychel had 4 shots on goal barely half way through the period.
The Marlies had two powerplays in the period which led to it seeming like they never left the Utica zone, and they peppered Demko with shots in both of them, but came up dry.
Halfway in, just after the first powerplay was over, the Comets had a breakaway with Marco Roy, their most active looking forward, getting the jump on Dermott. Roy beat Ramo clean, glove side with Ramo way, way, yeah, seriously, way out to take this shot. It was Frederik Andersen level over-aggression on his worst day. I think we can all cut Ramo some slack considering this is his first game since his injury last February.
The shots were 13-10 Marlies after one, with the score tied at 1-1. Ramo looked fine most of the time, and he certainly has a similar puck-handling style to Andersen. He looks nothing like Jhonas Enroth with his conservative, stay on the goal line, sliding style.
Andreas Johnsson, Dmytro Timashov and Leipsic were all great on the powerplay.
Cliche, Clune and Rychel were dominating at five-on-five.
At the start of the period, Clune was not on the bench so Kapanen played a shift in his place. Again, this line of Cliche and Rychel with whomever they were with, were providing the five-on-five offensive pressure.
Ramo made some good saves in traffic, and he seemed very tuned in most of the period.
The Marlies got the first powerplay, and Johnsson worked hard in tight and was rewarded with Demko way out of position, which gave him an easy goal got the hard way. 2-1 Marlies.
Johnsson gets the power play goal to put Marlies in the lead pic.twitter.com/ExJBwdH1T0— Utica Comets (@UticaComets) December 8, 2016
Leipsic had an amazing shift shortly after. He is a one man scoring chance factory when you give him space.
Ramo make some good saves and was solid on a Utica powerplay early in the period.
Leipsic had another good opportunity with a point blank chance, but he was robbed by Demko, who can be spectacular and dreadful all in the same game.
Nielsen took a penalty, and the usual Marlies penalty parade was in danger of starting up. This is partly what sinks them, particularly in road games.
Utica put on a good powerplay effort, and Ramo made half a save, but the puck dribbled behind him. It was kept out, but the whole net was open for the cluster of players and in it went off of Jake Virtanen’s stick. tie game at two apiece.
Leipsic was injured on this play, although it’s not really clear how, but he left the ice quickly.
The Marlies were on the powerplay again, but with no Leipsic, they were short their usual sparkplug. Nielsen could not keep the puck in under pressure and tripped a Utica player to prevent a breakaway. So much for that powerplay chance.
At four-on-four, Curtis Valk took off on a breakaway, and Ramo got him, but so did Valiev with a bit of a trip. Ramo got him again on the penalty shot. He was very on his game after making some big saves during the mostly five-on-five balance of the period.
In the last minute of play, Kapanen was hit from behind in a corner scrum, and left for the locker room. That, plus the resulting melee gave the Marlies a powerplay to start the third period.
Shots on goal were 27-25 Utica thanks to all their powerplay time, and the score was 2-2.
Ramo, after he let in the bit of a stinker, was a key part of the penalty kill success which got the Marlies out of the period.
Rinat Valiev, who has struggled this season, but he was shooting the puck well and playing well in his own zone. He should be head and shoulders above the rest of the defence, and he hasn’t been, but he was good in this game.
As the third period began, Kapanen was back in the lineup but Leipsic and Milan Michalek weren’t.
Very early in the period, Johnsson took a weird interference penalty where he simply looked guilty of indecisiveness and a Comet ran into him.
Once that penalty was killed, both teams played track meet hockey with rush chances, but no cycles. It was a fast pace that the Marlies couldn’t hope to keep up with only 10 forwards.
It was Timashov and Lindberg who rediscovered the cycle and had some chances. The Marlies tide seemed to be turning as the track meet kept ending up in front of Demko most of the time, but Greening took a roughing penalty and that was the end of that.
Kapanen was hit from behind again while behind the net on the penalty kill, and it was four-on-four again. Kapanen stayed in the game.
The Marlies were trying to force the offensive chances, but Ramo kept them in it when their bad passes and rushed plays broke down and gave Utica the opportunity to come back the other way.
The teams were trading odd-mad rushes until on a routine play, Jordan Subban took a shot that dribbled in the five-hole. Ramo did not look good on that one.
With just five minutes to play, the Marlies tried to pour on the pressure, but even with the net empty, they came up short.
Final shots on goal were 36-34 for the Comet, while the game and the win went to Thatcher Demko, who held up under a lot of pressure better than Ramo could in his first game in many months.
Andrew Nielsen, but not in a good way. He made multiple blueline mistakes and failed to keep the puck in during the final six-on-five. He has a long way to go before he is really worthy of the icetime he’s getting now.
Kerby Rychel, who was in his element in a rough and tough game and is looking more and more like a quality player if he’s used in the right way. He finished the night with six shots on goal and one assist.
This is the AHL. This is what it is for: trying out an NHL goalie, training up rookie defenders and surviving the relics of the old days that think boarding is legitimate game tactic, all while losing games that maybe you should have won.
The Marlies move on to Providence to face a much better team than the Comets on Friday, and then they go out to Hartford on Saturday. We can likely expect to see Ramo again in one of those games.