A pivotal match against the Montreal Canadien’s AHL affiliate, The Hamilton Bull-Dogs, awaited the Marlies at the Ricoh on Saturday, as these divisional foes met up for their 5th of 12 regular season contests. Along with being the Battle of Ontario in the AHL, this game was important for the Marlies as these teams are divisional rivals in a tightly-grouped North Division, with the 4th place Bulldogs only 2 points behind the 1st place Marlies. The Marlies came into the game with the Western Conference’s highest home ice winning percentage, with 8 wins in 10 home-games (.800%). The Marlies have been playing at the top of their game recently, winning 6 of their last 8 games and, despite having one of the youngest squads in the AHL, have managed to stay atop of the North Division. With the Ricoh being a tough building to play in for road teams, recent hot play for a rested Marlies team, and a tired Bulldogs team, the Marlies came into this game hoping to take full advantage and to create some separation in the standings.
Line-up at puck-drop:
McLeod – Carrick – Abbott
Broll – Nagy – Bodie
Ross – Smithson – Biggs
Devane – Crescenzi – Staubitz
Percy – Holzer
Brennan – Marshall
MacWilliam – Granberg
- D’Amigo and John-Michael Liles have all been called up to the NHL
- Leivo was either scratched or is nursing an injury.
- McKegg is a notable player not in the line-up due to injury.
The game started uneventfully until a Fournier vs Staubitz scrap 5 mins in. Staubitz won the fight with some huge right-handed bombs. Soon after, McLeod gets a great chance on the rush from a slick pass from Abbott but couldn’t convert. Close to 9 minutes in Biggs throws a massive hit on Nattinen, then pummels Zurewinski in a scrap, who tries to come in and stand-up for his teammate. Nattinen immediately heads for the dressing room and the game heads to 4 on 4 play. Later in the period, Marshall takes a high-sticking penalty trying to back-check on a play. On the Hamilton PP, a quick pass cross crease and a lucky bounce leads to the puck finding its way behind MacIntyre. The Hamilton Bulldogs go up 1-0. The Marlies try to bounce back with some good shifts hemming the Bulldogs in their own zone and creating turn-overs. A chippy first period ends with the Marlies down by 1 against the Bulldogs. Shots 9-8 for the Bulldogs after 1.
Great chance early for the Marlies as Brennan joins the rush. Just shortly after Granberg loses the puck in his own zone, it goes behind the net, MacWilliam can’t get a stick on it, Smithson over commits to the corner, and Hamilton captain St. Pierre is left open in the slot to bang in his 2nd of the game. 2-0 Bulldogs two minutes into the 2nd period. The Nagy line responds with some zone time after the goal, and is the only line with any consistent attack for the Marlies. The 4th line comes out with a cycle and generates a holding call against Hamilton. The Marlies head to the PP, but can’t generate anything. The Bulldogs started to take the game over as the period continued on. Bad-turn overs and d-zone coverage plagued the Marlies as they got hemmed in their own zone. After killing off a Carrick high-sticking penalty, the Marlies received a 4-minute PP on a slashing call with 4:01 left in the 2nd period, a huge chance for the Marlies to get back into the game. The 1st PP unit doesn’t create much, but the 2nd unit does. Ross passes down low to Holzer, who rips a shot from almost the goal-line that’s deflected off a Bulldog to get the Marlies on the board, and the teddy bears to flood the ice (teddybear toss game). 2-1 Bulldogs with the Marlies still on the PP. After the ice is cleared, the Marlies can’t capitalize on the remainder of the PP and go to the dressing room down 2-1. There was much less hitting this period. The shots were 19-15 for the Bulldogs after two periods. Despite scoring a late period PP goal, the period was characterized by off-sides, sloppy play, and limited chances for the Marlies.
Hamilton’s Dietz takes a quick slashing call and the Marlies head to their 4th PP. The PP doesn’t lead to goal and has trouble breaking out and setting-up all game. The Bulldogs continue to do a good job of stifling the Marlies. MacIntyre flashes the leather on a great glove-save 6 minutes into the 3rd to keep the Marlies in it. Spott starts juggling his lines looking for a spark. Smithson and McLeod started seeing their ice-time dip. With about 9 minutes left, Smithson takes a tripping penalty sending the Marlies to the PK. Nagy gets a good chance short-handed, and the Marlies kill the penalty. With about 4 minutes left in the game, the Marlies start to push hard for an equalizer with Holzer buzzing all over the offensive zone. Holzer comes down from the blue-line, takes a shot on goal, skates around the net, ends up in the slot and takes an elbow to the face, bringing the Marlies to their fifth PP. The Marlies again can’t create much on the PP. The Marlies pull their goalie, but ultimately can’t tie up the game and fall to the bulldogs 2-1 final.
- Broll was the best forward, in my opinion. Hustled hard all game long, picked-off some pucks in the neutral zone, drove the net with speed, and got some shots off. He has played with increased confidence over the last few weeks with increased playing time, PP time, and scoring his 1st goal.
- I wanted to see how Granberg would do without Liles as his partner. He was still pretty solid, despite losing the puck on a play that lead to a goal. His play will be a focus as he plays with less experienced guys for the time being.
- Smithson is not looking great back with the Marlies. Left the slot wide-open on 2-0 goal, several off-sides, several turn-overs in the d-zone, and a bad penalty in the 3rd period, which lead to his minutes dropping as the game went on.
- Kevin Marshall got back into the line-up and got paired up with Brennan.
- That pairing struggled all night even though they didn’t lead to a goal. Brennan was especially bad on this night with several turn-overs in the d-zone, bobbled passes, and just generally looking uncomfortable during the game. He’s starting to cool down a little after starting his season blazing-hot.
- With some shuffles on the back-end, Percy got moved up to play with Holzer and that pairing was the best all game. Both guys played in all situations and seem to mesh together well. Holzer has been the best d-man for me over the last couples weeks.
- Holzer has developed a little offense in his game, being more aggressive in the offensive zone with pinching, a quick wrister that I haven’t seen from him until this season, and some increased PP time.
- He was lucky on his PP goal, but when you send the puck on net good things happen. To go along with the offence, he’s back to his mean game in the defensive end and has been effective all season long. He should be the next d-man on the call-up list, IMO.
- The PP really had trouble Saturday night despite going 1/5. Couldn’t break out cleanly, didn’t get to set-up, poor decisions, and bad passing.
- Carrick and Abbott have been hot as 2/3 of the Marlies top-line over recent weeks, but were shut-down tonight and couldn’t generate anything all game. Look for these guys to bounce-back next weekend.
- MacIntyre was again solid on Saturday, and couldn’t really be blamed on either goal against.
- Nothing really glaring on the night, just a game where the Marlies didn’t put forth a great effort, which prevented them for generating enough offence to win the game.
- With a team lacking in many skill players, the Marlies will need good special teams, solid defensive play, and a work-man like effort most nights to win games.
The Marlies now sit 12-9-1, second in the North Division and two points behind last Saturday’s (and this Friday’s) opponent, the Hamilton Bulldogs. The Bulldogs have three games in hand, however. The Marlies’ next game is this Friday in Hamilton before returning home to host St. John’s on Sunday.