One of major weaknesses for the Toronto Marlies last season turned into one of their strengths as they opened a new American Hockey League season.
Toronto scored three power-play goals, two from captain Ryan Hamilton, in a 3-1 win over the Rochester Americans on Saturday evening.
Last season, the Marlies were ranked near the bottom of the AHL on power play. But with additions of newcomers Keith Aucoin and Mike Kostka, as well as Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner, Toronto went 3-for-8 with the man advantage.
“The power play was one thing we really needed to work on from last year and we did a pretty good job,” Hamilton said. “We have so many guys who can play the power play now. I thought we kept it simple for the most part, got pucks to the net, and when we do that we’re going to have success.”
Jake Gardiner scored the other goal and added an assist for Toronto, and Ben Scrivens stopped 19 shots in net for the win.
Mike Kostka had a pair of assists on the power play in his Marlies debut after signing as a free agent in the summer from the Calder Cup-champion Norfolk Admirals.
“(Hamilton) and (Carter Ashton) they’re in front and they’re big, strong guys, and then Aucoin and (Nazem) Kadri on the half-walls, with Gardiner up top — all really good players,” Kostka said. “Everyone’s just working to share the puck and we were doing a really good job of that.”
The win came in front of a sellout crowd of 7,921 at Ricoh Coliseum, the first sellout for a home opener since the Marlies’ first game in Toronto in 2005-06.
“In terms of a season opener, it was a full rink, a nationally televised game, so there was a definite buzz going around the rink and we could feel it in the room,” Scrivens said. “You got to try to temper the nerves a bit and not try to do too much out there ... For our first game of the season, there’s definitely a lot of positives we can build off of.”
Marcus Foligno replied for Rochester while David Leggio made 33 saves in defeat.
All four goals came on the power play.
The Marlies got off to a quick start, scoring a pair of power-play goals in the first period and outshooting the Americans 15-6.
Toronto (1-0-0) opened the scoring just over five minutes into the game with Rochester’s Nick Tarnasky off for holding. Mike Kostka passed to Kadri who skated through the neutral zone and dropped the puck at the offensive blue-line to Gardiner, who wristed a shot past Leggio’s glove hand.
“I got the puck from Kostka in the middle, I skated up and I saw Jake coming in my rear view,” Kadri said. “I figured I’d back the defenceman off and give him a little drop-pass, and I actually opened up to get it back. But I’m happy he shot, because he does have to shoot more because he has a good shot.”
The Marlies thought they’d made it 2-0 a few minutes later during a scramble around the Americans’ goal, but after a video review the officials deemed the puck never crossed the goal-line.
Toronto did get that second goal a minute later when Hamilton finished off a tick-tack-toe passing play with Joe Colborne and Mike Zigomanis.
Hamilton was the Marlies’ leading goal-scorer last season with 25 and Zigomanis led the team in scoring with 61 points.
Rochester (1-1-0) controlled the play in the second period, but got only one goal to show for it.
The Americans got on the board on the power play at 5:59 with a perfectly executed three-way passing play of their own. Cody Hodgson took a pass from T.J. Brennan and then dished to Foligno, whose wrist shot from the slot beat Scrivens on his glove side.
Marlies coach Dallas Eakins wasn’t happy with how his team responded in the second period.
“I tried to reason with them and be more encouraging during the period, but what snapped them out of it is that I yelled at them,” Eakins said. “A lot of guys on the bench were saying, ‘They’re coming harder, they’re coming harder.’ Well, no they’re not. They weren’t skating harder, they were coming at the same speed.
“We thought it was going to be an easy period. We stopped skating and tried to get cute. It was almost like a summer pond hockey game.”
The Marlies had another goal waved off just over six minutes into the third period, but seconds later Hamilton got his second of the game on the power play. Mike Kostka blocked a Rochester clearing attempt, then passed to the side of the goal to Hamilton, who spun around in front of the net and tucked the puck past Leggio.
Notes: Toronto next plays Sunday when it hosts division rivals Lake Erie Monsters. ... The AHL introduced video review for the 2012-13 season. ... The Marlies have had the AHL’s best penalty kill each of the past two seasons. ... All 10 regular season games between Toronto and Rochester in the 2011-12 season were decided by one goal.