Marlies dazzle in season opener victory over Utica

Photo Credit: Christian Bonin/

Many were questioning whether this year’s Toronto Marlies had the ability to control the flow of a game to the degree that they did in the season prior. After all, many of their core players have either graduated or moved on to different pastures, and there’s always a level of repeat-skepticism when a team is exceptional in a positive or negative way.

If tonight was any indication, though, there’s no reason to be concerned. While it was just Game 1 of 76, the blue and white looked just as, if not more dominant from a top-to-bottom scale as they ever had in a 5-2 victory over the Utica Comets.

Toronto benefitted immensely from a pair of minor penalties against Utica in the first period. Joseph Labate and John Negrin took separate infractions within a minute of each other just past the midway mark of the frame, giving the Marlies a 5-on-3 opportunity. Andrew Nielsen capitalized on it, pulling in a feed from Brendan Leipsic and ripping it past Richard Bachman for his first goal as a pro and the first tally for the team this season.

To make things better, Toronto still had 1:45 left on the back-end of Labate’s double minor. This time, Nikita Soshnikov took advantage, converting in close to double up on the same sequence. This left the Marlies with a 2-0 lead at the end of the period, and just as impressively, a 16-6 shot gap. It didn’t stop there, though; midway through the second period, Tobias Lindberg feasted on a Utica miscommunication by setting up Leipsic for a cross-crease one timer to make it 3-0, and within the next four minutes, Andreas Johnsson picked up not one, but two powerplay goals.

The momentum slowed down a little bit as Toronto began to ease up and Utica got a bit desperate. Curtis Valk broke up Garret Sparks’ shutout bid, scoring from close range with two minutes to go in the second period. Alex Grenier added another just past the opening minute of the third period, but that’s as close as the Comets would come to making this interesting. While Toronto was outshot 15-7 in the third period, Sparks stood tall and finished his night with 27 saves on 29 shots.

F1 Brendan Leipsic Byron Froese Tobias Lindberg
F2 Kerby Rychel Colin Smith Andreas Johnsson
F3 Nikita Soshnikov Frederk Gauthier Kasperi Kapanen
F4 Dmytro Tomashov Colin Greening Trevor Moore
D1 Andrew Campbell   Andrew Neilsen
D2 Justin Holl   Rinat Valiev
D3 Travis Dermott   Viktor Loov

Scratches: Rich Clune, Brooks Laich, Mason Marchment, Daniel Maggio, Kasimir Kaskisuo, Jeff Glass.

The obvious standout players tonight were Leipsic, who finished with a goal and three assists, and Johnsson, who had two tallies. But it was a big night for a few others as well. Travis Dermott appeared to pick up his first AHL point on the second Marlies goal, though a score change took it away from him. Even still, both the youngsters looked calm and composed. Kasperi Kapanen also had a multi-point night with two assists and four shots on goal, and a few others managed to get their fair share of pucks to the net.

The special teams were also key in this one; Toronto went 4 for 4 on the penalty kill and a very impressive 4 for 5 on the powerplay.

Sheldon Keefe noted after the game that there might be some lineup changes based on bumps and bruises, but outside of Antoine Bibeau stepping in between the pipes tomorrow evening, he doesn’t foresee a ton of change. The two sides will have their grudge match at 5:00 PM.