TORONTO – After a lengthy road trip, the Toronto Marlies are happy to be home.
James Reimer made 28 saves and Nazem Kadri picked up three assists Saturday as the Marlies beat the Peoria Rivermen 4-0 in American Hockey League action.
Christian Hanson, Mike Zigomanis, Jerry D’Amigo and Marcus Mueller scored the goals for the Marlies, playing their first game at home after a 21-day, nine-game road trip. Matt Lashoff added a pair of assists.
Jake Allen made 22 saves in goal for Peoria.
Toronto is now 8-8-2 at Ricoh Coliseum, where the team will play 23 of its final 35 games. Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins knows his club will have to improve its home record to be successful.
“That’s exactly the message we sent before the game,” Eakins said. “This rink has to be a hard place to play. We started off the season here a little soft and that’s affected our home record. We’ve got to make some hay here at home.
“We’ve got a ton of home games coming up. It’s nice to get these (road games) out of the way, but this is where you win and lose playoff series.”
The Marlies came out strong in their first home game of 2011, something Eakins wanted out of his players after the lengthy trip.
“Most teams that are on road trips come back and have a bit of a hangover before the next game,” Eakins said. “We really challenged our guys and we came out with the aggressive side of our forecheck and established it. That’s what really got us going.”
The Marlies (21-18-7) opened the scoring at 2:43 of the first period. Kadri drove to the net and Hanson followed up on the rebound, backhanding the puck over Allen.
Toronto made it 2-0 on the power play at 8:22 when Zigomanis one-timed a cross-ice feed from Kadri past Allen. Zigomanis now has points in five of his last six games (three goals, four assists).
D’Amigo made it 3-0 late in the second period, taking a pass from Brayden Irwin and snapping a shot past Allen.
The period also featured a wild tilt between Toronto’s Keith Aulie and Peoria’s Stefan Della Rovere, who were teammates on Canada’s 2009 world junior hockey championship team. The Marlies defenceman dropped the gloves after Della Rovere flattened Mueller and delivered a one-sided beating to his former teammate.
“He crushed one of our guys, and our guys in here got to know that there are guys who are going to stick up for them,” Aulie said. “We went in there and did what we had to do. We can have fun and talk about it after the game.
“I could tell he didn’t want to go, but at the same time he knows it comes with the territory when he smokes someone like that.”
Mueller made it 4-0 midway through the third period. Kadri slipped past two Peoria defenders and snapped a shot on Allen, who left a big rebound for Mueller to put into the open net.
“If those guys weren’t there to put the puck in the net, I’d have zero assists tonight,” Kadri said. “Hats off to them for going to the net and picking up all that loose change.”
Reimer was solid in his fourth straight start, but credited his teammates for getting him the shutout.
“The guys played great and the D-men were phenomenal,” he said. “I didn’t face too many chances tonight.”
The Marlies host the Houston Aeros on Sunday and Eakins expects being back home will help his players in the second half of the season.
“It feels way better to be back in our own rink, our own dressing room, our own beds, eating our own food,” Eakins said. “There’s nothing like home.”
Notes: Mueller was back with the Marlies after a three-game stint with the Maple Leafs. … Wrestling legend Bret (The Hitman) Hart dropped the puck for the ceremonial faceoff. … Announced attendance was 5,834.