Toronto Marlies vs. Abbotsford Heat: Game 1

Toronto Marlies vs. Abbotsford Heat: Game 1

Photo: Rene Johnston/Toronto Star

For the first time in these playoffs, the Toronto Marlies lost a game.

Okay they’ve only played four, so it’s not a big deal. And if you asked the Marlies last night, they didn’t see it as too big of a deal either, yet.

The general sentiment echoed throughout those who spoke after the game (Eakins, Frattin, Gardiner, to name a few), was that yeah they lost, but that the chances were there for them to win the game and they really only made a few mistakes which unfortunately led to Abbotsford goals.

Jerry D’Amigo and Ryan Hamilton both missed tremendous scoring opportunities in the slot in the third period and the team in general was swarming inside the Heat’s zone for pretty well the entire third period. But Heat goalie Danny Taylor really played well and shut the door.

It’s one game and from the Marlies view, they outplayed them but just couldn’t bury. From the Heat’s view? They probably didn’t play their best but still found a way to win. We’ll see where this goes next.

So what were the mistakes?

On the first Heat goal, Jesse Blacker tried to skate the puck up ice, turned it over around his own blue line, Abbotsford went the other way and scored on a bit of a broken play after Jerry D’Amigo made a great diving back-check to stop the initial rush, but the rebound was still hit in.

I overheard Blacker after the game say that he was feeling rusty out there to start but felt fine as the game went on. That’s understandable since he missed weeks of hockey and then jumped right into the second round of the playoffs to play top four minutes. He got stronger each period, look for him to have a strong game on Thursday.

On the goal Joe Colborne was also caught in no-mans land on the other side of the net, too. I saw him after the game and he had a towel covering his hand up the entire time and didn’t interview. Obviously he’s still being affected from that sliced finger injury suffered against Rochester. Eakins didn’t use him to take face offs at all, either Frattin would line up to take them off the draw, or Colborne would outright not be on the ice at all and Zigomanis or Dupuis would just take it and then get off for Colborne when possible.

The second goal saw Holzer get beat below the goal line on a nifty move where Max Reinhart banked the puck off the net back to himself then put it to the point for a one-timer that found it’s way in the net.

Korbinian Holzer appeared overzealous during the game for the most part, which was strange coming from such a solid player. I counted four times where he went out of his way to deliver hits that put him out of position in comparison to where the puck was. Not something we usually see from him, and to his credit he did still deliver some physical checks and make a few strong defensive plays.

The one Marlies goal saw Joe Colborne break into the zone on his off wing, skate it down below the face off dot and then stop up to center the puck to a streaking Matt Frattin. He batted it out of the air and into the net which shouldn’t be too surprising to anyone because he consistently displayed strong hand-eye coordination all season with the Leafs. I can’t recall a time he attempted to bat the puck out of midair, and missed.

Here are the rest of the notes I took from the game:

– The lines stayed the same with Carter Ashton out. The only lineup change to start was Jesse Blacker going in for Stuart Percy and pairing up with Jake Gardiner.

– Many began talking up a future Percy-Gardiner pairing since they were playing together in round one, and I warned not to look too much into. Well, low and behold, they didn’t last playing together for more than three games.

– Can’t stress this enough, Eakins is coaching to win at this point, not to necessarily develop players. If he was coaching to merely develop players, the Marlies wouldn’t trot out their first power play unit with Zigomanis, Hamilton and Dupuis all on it. They’d play Colborne, Frattin and Blacker with Gardiner and Kadri instead. Thus, things like a Percy-Gardiner pairing, or a D’Amigo-Colborne-Frattin line aren’t playing together with a direct eye on being Leafs in the same units for the future, they are what Eakins thinks will give the team the best chance to win right now. Nothing more, nothing less. Could they become future lines on the Leafs? Absolutely. But that’s not the goal right now, and I think everyone needs to keep that in mind.

– The Heat’s leading scorer so far in the playoffs is Krys Kolanos with nine points in four games. The Marlies once again went power vs. power by matching up the Kadri unit directly against Kolanos’ line. Kolanos did pickup an assist and had a few shots on net, but he was generally speaking contained and not very dangerous.

– Eakins started Dupuis’ line with Gardiner and Blacker at the beginning of every period. They had a very good first shift of the game and in general the Marlies came out strong to start, but Abbotsford weathered the storm then managed to score in the second half of the period.

– One thing Abbotsford did do was consistently send forwards behind the Marlies defencemen while breaking out. They narrowly missed out on three breakaway on stretch passes from their own zone or blue line. The Marlies have a pretty solid defense, but passed Gardiner and Blacker, they lack mobility and guys who are fleet of foot. Holzer and Fraser are solid, but nobody is about to confuse them with figure skaters. You can triple and fourth that for Juraj Mikus and Simon Gysbers. All are solid players who each have size, but skating is just not their thing. We’ll see how the Marlies adjust to that.

– As mentioned, Colborne is definitely playing at far less than 100%, but one thing he consistently does no matter what, is create at least a few solid scoring opportunities for his line-mates. What he’s really good at is using his reach and puck handling abilities to pull the puck out and draw defenders to one area, then move it to another. When you’re 6’5 if you’re handling the puck to the side of your body rather than in front of your body that dramatically alters how you’re being defended because that reach is just so big. Colborne seems to understand those angles and use them to his advantage.

– He hasn’t scored since February 17th though, and it’s pretty clear as to why: he doesn’t look to shoot. I haven’t put my finger on it quite yet, but for some reason he’s become a strictly pass-only player. Perhaps it’s because he can’t shoot due to his hand, but even before that he was only looking to setup his wingers for scoring chances rather than calling his own shot. When Colborne first became a Marlie, and even at the beginning of this season, I thought he showed a series nose for the net at times and when he got in close, really looked to score himself. For one reason or another, that’s gone away now.

– Marcel Mueller had a perfect game to show why he has potential, but is so infuriating. Playing on a line with Dupuis and Deschamps, he hung around in the slot for the majority of the game and allowed for his two line-mates to dig for pucks and work the corners instead. At 6’4, he should be the one taking charge in those situations and dominating board play. He also had a chance to tie the game late off a rebound in front of the net, but passively skated for the puck with the defencemen near, rather than drive the net for it.

– The Marlies did shake up the lines a little bit down the stretch playing Kadri with Frattin and D’Amigo and moving Colborne to play with Zigomanis and Hamilton.

– Frattin also subbed in for Dupuis on the first power play unit in the third period. The power play lacks a trigger man and it suffers from that. Kadri and Gardiner worked it between themselves beautifully but couldn’t blast anything from the point home (both fired numerous shots). Frattin ripped one wide of the net in the second period, too.

– Give Abbotsford some credit, too. They got into shooting lanes very well and also blocked quite a few shots. That gave the Marlies fits. But it’s only one game so I don’t want to jump into anything yet. We’ll see how the Marlies adjust, because they were doing a fantastic job of setting up their power play and working it around, they just didn’t get any results to show for it.

– Another thing the Marlies didn’t adjust particularly well to? Abbotsford’s goalie Danny Taylor is fantastic at playing the puck. There were more than a few times where the Marlies tried wiring the puck around the boards on dump-ins and he came out and just stopped the puck and outlet-ted it to his teammates. Goalies that play the puck are dangerous that way and you do have to game plan for that. On one play he held for the puck for at least 15 seconds as the Marlies tried to block off all his passing lanes instead of attacking him. That will be another thing we’ll have to watch how they adjust to.

– The Marlies delivered some heavy hits this game. Mark Fraser started the third period with a bang running someone over, Kadri was throwing his weight around and was also hit quite a few times. In the first period he took a bit of a high hit and Jay Rosehill responded by almost running a Heat defender out of the building. Matt Frattin was going through people all game and with the game all but over with five seconds left he ran over Hugh Jessiman at center ice to send a message for game 2. The Heat were physical too, but the Marlies didn’t back down one bit and as the game went on they only got more and more physical.

– Players on with the goalie pulled: Hamilton, Dupuis, Zigomanis, Kadri, Frattin, Gardiner.

– By the way, Gardiner played the full two minutes of every power play.

– Weird thing that may only interest me: Kadri and Colborne took shots on the Heat’s net at the end of warm-ups once all the Abbotsford players left the ice. Neither scored. Dupuis was on the ice too but elected not to shoot.

– Second thing that may only interest me: Matt Lashoff is cleared to play. The reason he’s not in the lineup? He wasn’t on the clear-list at the deadline. Thus, the only way he could play for the Marlies this playoffs is if two defenders go down.

I said throughout the series against Rochester that I simply thought the Marlies were a better team and would win. Abbotsford isn’t so easy. The Marlies have more talent, but the Heat are much more savvy and led by veterans. The majority of their key players are older: Kolanos, Jessiman, Connelly, Walter, Byron and so on. They’ve also now won 11 straight. Toronto has the talent and depth to win this series, but they’re going to be tested to grind out low scoring games, score dirty goals, and play consistently physical while minimizing mistakes if they’re going to win this series. They’re also going to have to figure out how to beat Danny Taylor. He was fantastic last night.

It’s a fun test for these kids and it will be interesting to see who steps up and makes a difference.

———–

Tyler Biggs leaving Miami? Bob McKenzie reported he was hearing that, so that’s about as legitimate a hockey source as there is at the moment. I’ll make this simple, here’s the breakdown of what each league means for Tyler:

OHL: He’s already stronger than most players in the OHL – his rights are owned by Oshawa – so he’ll be able to create himself space easily and work on his offensive game after scoring nine goals and 17 points in 37 games with Miami. He’ll also fight quite a bit in the OHL because he’s a big guy whose going to be throwing his weight around, plus he’s known as a fighter so he will be challenged frequently. He would be playing top minutes with plenty of scoring opportunities in the O.

NCAA: Continue working up the latter from a 3rd/2nd liner to a consistent scorer. In college you’re playing against 21, 22, 23 year old players who are for more physically mature than the 16, 17, 18 year old’s you play in the OHL. So he’d have the opportunity to continue learning how to use his body and be a power forward against guys who can actually contain him.

AHL: I think it’s a long-shot he plays in the AHL because the Marlies are already deep and well they may graduate some players to the Leafs, guys like McKegg and Ross are incoming, among others, and they will be a very hard team for him to make because I simply don’t think he’s ready yet. In the AHL he’d be playing against men, but considering he didn’t light up college in his one year there, I’m not sure where the benefit is of playing him in the AHL right now unless management thinks Biggs will strictly be a grinder. If that’s the case, then yeah, he could probably play in the AHL. He’s certainly physically mature enough to.

NHL: If he makes the Leafs that would be surprising. Biggs brings the size and physicality that they so desperately need, but unless they think he can learn on the fly, they’d really be hindering his offensive development because he really wouldn’t be growing that part of his game playing 10-13 minutes in the bottom six.

When it comes to Biggs, he’s probably deserving of his own blog completely, but basically: he’s physically ready to compete in the NHL, I mean he’s 6’2 and weighs over 200 pounds, so he’d be fine. He was a consistent penalty killer on Miami all year and has a solid defensive game for his age and where he is developmentally. What does need a lot of work is his offensive game. Personally, I would have rather seen him continue to grow his game against physically strong college players, but I see the benefits of him being able to do things at physical will in the OHL, too and attempting to light the league on fire. I’m sure more details will emerge over time and when they do I will fully explore this topic. Just wanted to provide some instant food for thought.