With the Leafs only playing two games this week, I headed out to the Ricoh Coliseum and took in a Marlies game. I don’t know how consistently I’ll be going to the games and talking about the Marlies, but it worked out last night and I thought it was worthwhile. Plus, their obviously an important part of the entire organization and are always worth discussing.
If you live in Toronto, I highly recommend you go watch a Marlies game (or two, or three…). It’s a cozy rink that just feels like a hockey arena, whereas the ACC seems more of like a giant building where events happen. Beyond the Ricoh being a great place to take in a hockey game, the atmosphere is fun. There’s a lot of energetic fans, it’s surprisingly loud and everyone gets into the game.
I don’t want to spend too much time advertising the Marlies so I’ll simply say – it’s worth it. Should you go, you won’t be disappointed.
Anyways, here are some observation, thoughts and discussion points from the Marlies game that was (they lost 4-3 in overtime to Grand Rapids):
- I know I said I wouldn’t talk about Nazem Kadri anymore until he got called up, but that’s from a Leafs perspective, now I’m solely judging him for what he’s doing for the Marlies. Felt that was necessary to say.
Kadri was the best player on the ice Tuesday night and it wasn’t even close. He was dangerous almost every shift he took and potted two goals. One, a dangle with a neat inside-out move where he created space for himself to pick the high corner, and the other was the result of him driving the net hard. On the night he had six shots on net.
More than that, there was a shift where Jesse Blacker joined the rush and took a bit of a cheap shot below the goalline, and Kadri responded by running three different guys for the remainder of the shift. The final hit caused a scrum and he served a coincidental minor with another player once that cleared up. One thing you have to give Kadri, he plays with a mean streak. He looks to initiate contact and he takes it too. Nazem’s not the biggest guy, but he plays like one of them.
Sticking with Kadri, he still makes those one or two plays a game that just make you cringe. On any given shift he can be the most dangerous guy on the ice, for both teams. He’s always going to be a bit of a risky player, that’s just how he plays, but there has to be a little better give and take. For example, the Marlies had a 5 on 3 in the game and Kadri got the puck at the goal line on the right side of the post and skated it up the blue line and across the ice to the left point, eventually taking a shot that got blocked. The other four guys on his team literally just stood there the entire time because they didn’t know what was going on. Toronto didn’t score on that 5 on 3, and Eakins even took a timeout to set everything up before hand.
- The second best Marlie on the night was easily Greg Scott. He was all over the ice, driving the net hard, causing havoc, winning battles, and you noticed him all the time. This was a depleted Marlie roster missing Joe Colborne, Joey Crabb, Mike Zigomanis, Matt Lashoff (whose out for the year in case you were unaware), and Keith Aulie. Scott didn’t have a point on the night and he was actually -2, but he brought it all night. Scott also showed a nice burst of speed as he split the D on one shift which resulted in a breakaway, it was unfortunate that he didn’t bury it.
- Another great burst of speed was shown by Jerry D’Amigo towards the end of the game. Killing a penalty in the dying minutes of regulation he picked off a pass and took the puck down the ice. He looked to be cornered by Brendan Smith (whose going to be the next big star in Detroit) but he turned it up an extra gear and skated by him with ease as he took Smith to the outside and got a great shot on net. Other than that one play though, he was largely pedestrian most of the night.
Long term though, I still like D’Amigo. He’s an effortless skater, is aggressive causing turnovers, and he’s a big game player. He doesn’t have a high ceiling (the potential for him to put up big numbers simply isn’t there), but he does have game. D’Amigo’s the best penalty killer on the Marlies.
- Player I was most disappointed with? Darryl Boyce. I should preface this by saying this isn’t the first time I’ve seen the Marlies play this year, this is just the first time I got to see them live. AHL TV coverage is rather poor and in the rink I got a real opportunity to pay attention to Boyce, and it was just tough to watch. He threw one check all game, didn’t drive the net particularly well and he generally left a lot to be desired.
Boyce is at his best when his legs are pumping, he’s being aggressive and he’s getting his nose dirty (you can make your own nose joke here). It wasn’t there at all last night, and it’s rarely been there this season. The sad thing is, management has consistently shown they will reward players who play well in the AHL. Joey Crabb went down and absolutely dominated the AHL to start the year and he gets the call-up. Second that for Colborne. Meanwhile, Boyce has six points in 14 games. There’s no reason that should be happening, he’s a much better player than what he’s shown.
- You don’t notice Korbinian Holzer until you actually pay attention to him, but he’s becoming quite the player. He uses his reach beautifully and his positioning is really impressive. The Marlies had to kill a four on three to start over time and twice Grand Rapids tried to enter the zone on his side and both times he broke it up and shot it down. He almost single handily killed the 51 seconds or so of 4-on-3 time.
- Owuya’s numbers are nice and everyone seems to love his game, but I see a lot of things that need a ton of work. The good things about Owuya are that he competes extremely hard and his desire to succeed really rubs off on his play. For a goalie, that’s admirable. That said, on almost every goal against Grand Rapids he was caught far too deep in his net making shots look much better than they were. Tatar and Smith both took him high and he was in his crease on both shots. That can’t happen. On the overtime winner, he bobbled a Garnett Exelby slapshot (yes, that Exelby, he’s their captain by the way) leading to a big rebound that was slammed home.
The good news is that those aren’t exactly tough things to correct, they’re just going to need some time with him. Owuya has all the tools to be a good NHL goalie though.
- On every Marlies powerplay, their defensemen were playing their strong sides. So, left-D were on the left point and right-D on the right. They’d spend 20 seconds passing it back and forth realizing that neither had a shot because they were on the wrong side. Not sure why they were positioned like that, but it was ridiculous. Jesse Blacker in particular can really pack some punch behind his shot and he had only one shot on net on seven powerplays.
-Regarding Blacker on the whole, his talent is undeniable, that can’t be questioned. He’s just going to take some time to get there, but he’s a stud in the making. He was a little unsure of himself with the puck and made some pretty colossal blunders like fanning on a puck right through the middle of his zone on a penalty kill, but generally speaking you can see how his game will evolve. The Leafs will be patient with him – as they should – but the payoff is going to be big.
- Simon Gysbers wasn’t the most impressive though. His point totals are nice to look at, but I question if his game will ever be there for him to be an NHL defenseman in any capacity. He’s very lanky for a 6’5 guy and he isn’t particularly strong on the puck. Gysbers actually got toe-dragged on one play and he looked like a player who would get abused at the next level. In the AHL he’s fine, though.
- Underrated guy that I really like: Tyler Brenner. I’ve consistently been impressed by his play. The skating isn’t there right now (who knows if it ever will be) but he’s a heady player whose in the right position most of the time and he plays a simple game. Brenner’s your typical up-and-down-his-side winger. Nothing wrong with that, plus he looks to take the body.
- Really big fan of Marcel Mueller. Simply a big man whose tough to move in front of the net and to knock the puck off of. He also has a nice set of hands. Mueller is now competing on and off the puck – something he didn’t do last year – and his next step is to consistently starting driving the net with his frame. He was engaging Griffin players physically and mixing it up after the whistle all night.
- Will Acton, Keith’s son, actually impressed me last night. He’s a heady player who has some game. Acton was cutting in and out of lanes, setting up for one timers and although he didn’t get any points, he was creating. It did help that he got playing time with the better players since the Marlies were missing a bunch of regulars. He also got ran at as he crossed the oppositions blueline. Luckily he saw it and moved out of the way. Acton still took contact and went down, but it could have been worse. Kyle Neubar challenged the Griffin who took that run but the fight offer was turned down.
- The Marlies powerplay really suffers from a lack of big shot. Everything they do is cycled down low as they try to incorporate a lot of back door cuts and jam plays while crashing the net. Since his time coaching the Marlies, Eakins hasn’t been afforded anyone who can really launch bombs from the point and I’ve always wondered how different his powerplays would look if he had.
- On the penalty killing side, they are aggressive and form a great box. They also do this sort of “T” formation where the two defensemen are at the front of the net (like a box) and then there’s one forward in the slot, and there’s another forward above him. It wouldn’t work in the NHL because those guys move the puck around much better, but in the AHL they get by with. It’s not as if they hold that “T,” they sort of just lock into it for a second or two before moving back to a box, depending on what the opposition is doing. It’s interesting, that’s for sure.
Overall, the Marlies battled hard. It wasn’t their best game and you could tell that if they had Zigomanis and a guy like Crabb or Colborne in the lineup as well they would be a lot better, but they did their best with what they were given and that’s all you can ask for.
Not sure if this Marlies input is something everyone enjoys, but I thought it was worth a shot. Look forward to hearing feed back – positive, negative, whatever – and whether you think this is something worth doing on a bit more of a regular basis.