Coming into his second season as a pro hockey player, Toronto Marlies defenceman Jake Gardiner has been working on taking more shots on goal.
That work seems to be paying off.
Gardiner and Ryan Hamilton each scored twice as the Toronto Marlies defeated the Lake Erie Monsters 5-4 on Sunday for their third straight win in the American Hockey League.
Gardiner now has seven goals in 21 games to lead all Marlies blue-liners.
Nazem Kadri scored Toronto’s (12-8-1) second goal of the night and his third in two games while Mark Owuya made 25 saves.
“It’s nice to get some free ice and hopefully make some things happen,” said Gardiner. “Throughout the year I’ve been trying to get more shots and obviously produce more goals and it’s been going in for me so I’m pretty fortunate.
David van der Gulik, Andrew Agozzino, Bill Thomas, and Mike Connolly scored for Lake Erie (11-9-2), while Calvin Pickard made 23 saves.
The win moved the Marlies ahead of the Monsters and into second place in the AHL Western Conference’s North Division.
Toronto opened the scoring on the power play at 7:43 of the first, as Gardiner crept in from the blue-line and banged home Spencer Abbott’s pass from close range.
“When they see the opportunity we want them to go and obviously Jake has that green light to go,” said Toronto head coach Dallas Eakins. “We know that if something bad does happen he’s got the wheels to come back.”
After Kadri re-directed a Simon Gysbers shot to give Toronto a two-goal lead at 18:25 of the first, van der Gulik got one back for the Monsters with just seconds remaining as he scored on a short-handed breakaway to make it a one-goal game heading into the second.
Gardiner got his second of the night at 3:10 of the second on a good solo effort. He carried the puck up the right side before cutting in on goal and scoring from in tight on Pickard.
It was a situation where the Monsters gave him some space to exploit and Gardiner made them pay.
“It’s nice when the other team gives you ice. I’m not sure what they were doing on one of those. I got pretty lucky there,” he said with a laugh.
Agozzino reduced the deficit to one less than three minutes later before Hamilton scored twice in a two-minute span to give Toronto a three goal lead at 8:35.
Thomas gave the Monsters some life at 13:58 when he camped to Owuya’s right and scored from the bad angle after getting the puck from Mike Sgarbossa.
Connolly scored at 18:16 of the third to get the Monsters to within one when he knocked in Agozzino’s pass from behind the goal. Lake Erie pulled their goalie in pursuit of the equalizer but Toronto held on the rest of the way.
Notes: After three games in as many days, Toronto is off until Saturday when they host the Rochester Americans. ... Sunday was their second of eight home games in December. ... Announced attendance on Sunday was 4,305. Coming into the game, Toronto had averaged 6,469 fans.