Bibeau, Soshnikov impress in Marlies shootout win


After a few weeks of disappearance, Kasperi Kapanen is back in blue and white. The Finnish teenager made his way to Helsinki to play in the World Juniors a few weeks ago and stayed back a few days later than expected to take advantage of his deity-like status in his native land. But the fun and games are now over, and it’s time for him to, well, play games and do fun things.

With that said, he was far from the star player in tonight’s 3-2 result against the Utica Comets. Few of the skaters had nights to phone home about, really; Antoine Bibeau kept the Marlies in this one as long as they needed him to before the game was won in a shootout.

The Marlies were unable to take advantage of a very early powerplay, but got themselves on the scoreboard first. Nikita Soshnikov scored an absolute beauty, batting a puck out of mid-air, dangling around a Utica defender, and absolutely ripping a spring-loaded snapshot past Richard Bachman to open the scoring.

All was not totally right in the world; the Comets were outshooting the Toronto throughout the period, but it appeared that the team would get out of the period unscathed. That was until TJ Brennan was sent off for a hook, putting Utica on a powerplay, which culminated in a Jon Landry point shot to tie the game with seventeen seconds remaining in the period.

Toronto regained their lead midway through the second, which thanks to three Utica penalties in its first half, was probably their best stretch of the night. With just a second to go before 4-on-4 turned into a Marlies powerplay, Brendan Leipsic set up Ryan Rupert for his fifth goal of the season.

The Marlies didn’t convert on the powerplay they almost lost. In fact, they didn’t score at all for the rest of regulation. The Comets poured it on in the third period, taking sixteen of the period’s nineteen shots. Bibeau managed to shoo most of those pucks away, but with seven minutes to go, Hunter Shinkaruk picked up his second assist of the evening by feeding Darren Archibald.

The game eventually went to overtime, a stretch of five minutes Toronto mostly spent in their own zone. They did manage to force the shootout, though, and in everybody’s skills competition, BIbeau stopped all three of the home team’s shooters while Soshnikov delivered an encore.

While many will fawn over the delightfully pretty goals that Soshnikov scored tonight, Bibeau was undoubtedly the reason the Marlies won this game. It was a nearly polar opposite situation to what happened with the Leafs tonight; Utica outshot them 37-22, including a 20-5 gap in the final 25 minutes, but Bibeau was there for them.

It’s worth having a bit of sympathy for how Bibeau’s year has gone so far. Expected by many to fiercely compete for the starting job, Bibeau followed up a slightly above average October with a horrific November; one that allowed Garret Sparks a second chance at the starting job that turned into a string of dominance and an NHL call up with games played. Bibeau has been up, but only to collect his paycheque and count faceoffs. Some might say that the early-season yo-yo threw off any chance he had at gaining rhythm, and the early season numbers agree with that.

With that said, he’s been stellar for the past month. Since December 12th, he’s put up a 6-1-0 record with a 0.927 save percentage. Game by game, Bibeau is clawing himself back out of the hole he originally dug at the bottom of the AHL’s save percentage chart. While some may have a preference between Bibeau and Sparks (much like the heated Reimer and Bernier debates up top), the best case scenario for the success of the organization is that everybody pans out. Winning arguments is fun, but not as fun as winning trophies is.

The Marlies are still locked out of Ricoh Coliseum for a little while longer (unless they want to skate on a giant fake lake). In the meantime, they’ve got an eastbound flight with their name on it; their next game is against St. John’s at 6 PM on Saturday night.