Josh Leivo scored the eventual game-winning goal in the second and the Toronto Marlies held on to secure a 5-3 win over the visiting Manitoba Moose in the season opener for both teams at Ricoh Coliseum Friday night.
A strong middle frame was the difference in a game where the home team had a balanced attack with goals coming from five different players.
Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe wasn’t impressed with the entire effort from his team, but thought they did a good job taking the play to Manitoba overall.
“In the second for sure, in the first we had a few issues,” said the bench boss. “I liked our second period best.
“Definitely the beginning segment, or the middle segment. We hit four posts within a few minutes of each other, so that was a good chunk of the game for us, but we had some breakdowns, turnovers, stuff like that.
“Overall, first game, we’re happy with it, but we can be a lot better.”
One of the contributors on offence was new team captain Andrew Campbell.
The Caledonia, Ont., native put the Marlies up 3-1 at 11:07 of the action packed second period with a goal that almost held up as the deciding marker.
“Yeah it was (nice), said Campbell. “I’m not known for my goal scoring, so to be able to get one the first game and get myself off to a good start felt good.”
More important than his individual stat line, the six-foot-four defenceman was glad the team started the year on a positive note.
“It’s nice to get the first win in the first game,” said Campbell. “We were really good in spurts and there were spurts that we were turning the puck over and not doing what we were hoping to do, but overall it is two points.”
There were moments when frustration was building between the teams including a fight just 5:39 into the game and some hard hitting throughout the contest.
Tempers flared at the final buzzer as well and could set the stage for a physical affair Saturday when the Marlies and Moose play the second of the back-to-back set.
“It’s almost like a mini playoff series,” said Campbell. “You get familiar with the guys on the other side and what happens tonight carries over until tomorrow and you kind of get those battles going tonight and numbers and names are taken, so it will be an exciting game tomorrow.”
Antoine Bibeau started in goal for the Marlies, who will likely go with fellow netminder Garret Sparks in Saturday’s game.
Bibeau allowed three goals on 24 shots, picking up his first win.
William Nylander, Byron Froese, and Sam Carrick also lit the lamp for the Marlies while Richard Panik had two assists.
Manitoba goalie Connor Hellebuyck stopped 29 of 33 shots and was pulled with 2:45 left in the game for an extra attacker.
Toronto opened the scoring 13:40 into the game on a power-play goal. With traffic in front of the Moose net, Nylander put the puck towards the cage and it found its way past Hellebuyck.
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) October 9, 2015
Manitoba tied the game when Brenden Kichton roofed a shot over Marlies goaltender Bibeau.
Toronto reclaimed the lead 1:20 into the second frame with a goal from Byron Froese. A rebound bounced up and hung around the front of the net and Froese managed to get a stick on it and get it behind Hellebuyck to make it 2-1.
The Marlies dominated play in the second, hitting the post three times before the period was eight minutes old.
Campbell extended Toronto’s lead at 11:07, however, Manitoba made it 3-2 just 15 seconds later with a goal from Jay Harrison.
Leivo scored with 1:07 remaining in the second to send his team to the dressing room with a 4-2 lead. Matt Frattin and Stuart Percy picked up the assists.
The game tightened up in the final period with Toronto seemingly content to play more defensively and maintain its two-goal lead.
Manitoba did make it close late in the game. With just 1:50 remaining and the goalie pulled for an extra attacker, the Moose scored to make it 4-3, but Carrick scored into the empty net with 32 seconds left on the clock to put it out of reach.