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Marlies come home triumphant from their most gruelling road trip of the season

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They should be welcomed as heroes.

Christian Bonin - TSGPhoto.com

Wednesday vs the Penguins

The Marlies hit their low point on Wednesday, November 8 against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Garret Sparks stopped 38 of 41 shots and lost the game. Nikita Soshnikov and Dmytro Timashov scored the only two goals in the 4-2 loss where the Marlies managed only 24 shots on goal.

Maple Leafs Hotstove has a recap, and the opening tells the tale:

Toronto began the game with a good deal of promise, carrying on the form that had characterized the road trip by dominating the Penguins for the opening nine minutes. Perhaps it was the grind of the long road trip coming home to roost, but the Marlies hit a wall halfway through the first and never recovered.

The last two games of this trip were Friday and Saturday in Binghamton against the Devils. The Devils are an old nemesis of the Marlies, with a lot of tough playoff games in the past, but they are a team in transition, just like their parent club.

Friday vs the Devils

On Friday, Sparks got the start again, and Kasperi Kapanen wasn’t quite ready to join the roster after being sent down from the Leafs, so the lineup looked like this:

Both Timothy Liljegren and Rinat Valiev have some minor injuries, but the depth on the blueline means the team can cope with that loss fairly easily.

Interestingly, this game carried on right where the last one left off, with a sub-par performance from everyone in front of Sparks. The shots were 34-21 for the Devils, but the Marlies won it 4-1. Sometimes that’s how it goes, but the majority of the credit does go to Sparks.

The goals came from Soshnikov, Kerby Rychel and Martin Marincin with two. You may have seen this one, but watch it again:

The philosophical Sheldon Keefe from the bad game against the Penguins was gone. He was not making excuses for anyone for this performance.

When it was over, Sparks had a Save Percentage of .944 and is tops in the AHL. He’s also eleventh right now in Shots Against for goalies who have played at least 240 minutes. Six of the goalies ahead of him have played more games, so the award for best results in tough conditions surely goes to Sparks.

Saturday vs the Devils

Saturday was another game against the Devils, and the last game before the Marlies could go home. Kapanen joined up, and Calvin Pickard got the start:

The Devils opened the scoring with one goal in the first, but the Marlies had remembered how to play. They put up three even periods of 12-14 shots on goal, and they just kept shutting down the offence of the Devils.

Finally in the third period, the goals came in a flood. Andreas Johnsson, Ben Smith (two goals) and Kapanen scored four times in less than ten minutes to take the game 4-1.

The trend is continuing, as you can hear above as Todd Crocker jokes with Ben Smith about his goal duel with Johnsson. Those two are leading the team in scoring, and the fourth line is the engine of the team some nights. Smith is eighth in the AHL in points and fifth in goals (only three players have more).

Soshnikov has moved into second place on the team, and as you can hear from Smith, or see below in the highlights, he moved into Jeremy Bracco’s spot on that line partway through the game, and that’s when they started to really play well.

Coming Home

The Marlies come home having won five of six games on this trip. They are first in the North division with a points percentage of .733, and that is third in the league behind the Tucson Roadrunners (who have Dylan Strome) and those pesky WBS Penguins, the only team to beat them.

They might have gotten a little loose and tired at the end of the trip, but that is an outstanding performance from a team that struggled last year in the early going to ever get a win.

Smith, Soshnikov, Johnsson, Timashov and Marchment are the forwards driving the team. Marincin leads all defenders in goals and points.

This coming weekend the Marlies are at home for two games against the Syracuse Crunch, the last place team in their division. We’ll have coverage of those games for you from Hardev and Jonathan, so look for those recaps next weekend.