Panik the hero against former team in Marlies OT victory

Photo Credit: Mike Ivall / @M_IvallOJHLI

Many of the best players live for games where they can stick it to those who doubted them in the past. In Richard Panik’s case, beating the Syracuse Crunch doesn’t really do that; scoring in the AHL isn’t really a “told you so” to an organization who lost you because they wanted you to play at this level. Even still, sniping home a game winner in the situation is probably still a little satisfying, and that’s what Panik did tonight. 

There’s an argument to be made that Panik shouldn’t be in the AHL to begin with. The 24-year-old was a decent possession player with the Leafs last year and picked up 11 goals over 76 games with the big club. His contract is cap friendly. For him, it’s a numbers game that’s forced him into the position he’s in; there’s just too many players signed to find room for him.

But since coming down, he’s made the most of it. He started off his year with seven assists in his first seven games; four those coming in the same outing on October 30th. He brought balance and structure to the team’s offensive schemes as players got adjusted to each other. Despite this being his first AHL stint in two years, he took it with class and professionalism. For that, and his obvious playmaking abilities, he found himself on the top line with Josh Leivo and William Nylander. The trio clicked, and until Nylander left for Helsinki, they stayed together.

For most of this game, he stayed away from the scoreboard. Through regulation, he had his typical single shot on goal; he’s only been without one in five games this year, but he didn’t contribute to any of the direct action. 

Zach Hyman was the story of the game for a bit, his eagerness to get the puck resulted in an accidental injury to a Syracuse player, and four minutes into the first, it also resulted in the gam’es opening goal, which he slid five-hole past Kristers Gudlevskis. This was met with retaliation from Adam Erne before the end of the period.

Toronto controlled the second, taking nine shots on goal while preventing the Crunch from getting close to Antoine Bibeau. Before Syracuse could get their first shot in over twenty minutes, the Marlies ended up on the board once again; this time, Nikita Soshnikov finished off a strong cycle by setting up TJ Brennan for a howitzer from the point just a minute into the third period. The Crunch kept pressing, especially in the back half of the period, and it eventually resulted in Matt Taormina tying the game up.

But then overtime came along, and that’s where Panik played the hero. After Antoine Bibeau warded away a flurry of opportunities, TJ Brennan sent the puck up to Josh Leivo, setting up an odd-man rush. Leivo came down the left wing with patience, looked over to Panik, and teed him up for a rocket that beat Gudlevskis to win the game.

With the goal, Panik moves up to 25 points in 33 games, good for fifth on the team in scoring and a tie for 25th in the league in points. As well, the Marlies move to a record of 27-7-2-0 on the year, and a win percentage of 0.778. They have four games in hand on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, but even if they were to win all four of those, the Marlies would still be ahead.

Toronto’s next game is on Friday night against Manitoba. It’s the first game of a five-game road trip, which is a necessity due to the Toronto Boat Show turning Ricoh Coliseum into a giant (unfrozen) lake for the next couple of weeks. Their next home game is on January 20th.