Last week, your Toronto Marlies had two games on the schedule against the Utica Comets (Vancouver) and Texas Stars (Dallas). A disappointing last-minute loss to the Comets and a bounce-back win against the Stars brings the Marlies record to 29-17-2-2 for 62 points. The Marlies remain in first in the North Division and third in the Western Conference. Toronto has a three-point lead and one game in hand on Rochester, the only real threat to take the North Division away from them. Toronto also continues to gain ground on second-placed Grand Rapids; the Marlies are three points back with two games in hand. These two games were games four and five of a 10-game homestand.
Marlies (1) vs Comets (2)
Marlies Goal Scorers: Kozun
Marlies Assists: Abbott, Brennan
Spencer Abbott returned after missing 1 game to injury, while Sam Carrick was scratched again.
The first period saw Marlies squander a 5-on-3 powerplay of some length before the Comets scored on their own PP with less than two minutes left in the period. A lucky-bounce goal for the Comets saw them head to the first intermission up 1-0.
The second period featured another 5-on-3 PP without a goal, but the Marlies converted on the 5 on 4. Some passing between AHL All-Stars Abbott and Brennan led to Kozun getting a tip-in goal in front of the net. Toronto ended the second frame tied at 1-1.
Unfortunately that was the only goal the Marlies scored, and in a surprising turn of events the Comets scored with about 40 seconds left in the game when all signs were pointing to OT. Sometimes these things just happen over the course of a season, and it was probably karma after the team went 1/9 on the PP, including two separate 5 on 3s.
Marlies (4) vs Stars (1)
Marlies Goal Scorers: Leivo (2), D’amigo (2)
Marlies Assists: Abbott(2), McKegg(2), Percy, Kozun, Biggs
This was the Family Day game at the ACC and a re-match game against Texas, who blew Toronto out 6-0 back on February 1st in Texas. Josh Leivo played in the 2C role in this game and the notable scratches were Kenny Ryan, David Broll and Carrick.
The game started slow-paced, with lots of neutral-zone play and board-work, until a couple good chances for both teams in the latter half of the period. The Marlies held a 11-6 shot advantage in a scoreless first period.
This game wouldn’t see its first goal until about 16 minutes into the second period. A prolonged cycle in the Marlies zone, some fatigue and a chip pass led to a goal from Canadian World Junior Brett Ritchie, who ended the second period at 1-0.
Toronto finally turned it on in the latter portion of the third period. With about 12:40 left in the game, Leivo pulled off a JVR-move on the PP in front of the net and scored to tie the game at 1-1. Shortly after, Brennan saved a goal by seeping a puck right off the goal line just before it crossed over. Toronto rolled that momentum into another goal three shifts later, when Abbott sent D’Amigo on a partial breakaway and he scored a 5-hole goal to put the Marlies up 2-1. With 1:50 left in the period, Texas pulled their goalie. Brandon Kozun fought off a check and chipped the puck to Leivo in the neutral zone for Leivo’s second of the game into the empty net. The Stars tried pulling their goalie again, but empty-net specialist Jerry D’Amigo put them out of their misery for his second of the game. A 4-1 win for the Baby Buds.
- Steve Spott has talked recently about line-up changes and it seems like he’s giving some other players chances to play in different spots. Broll and Carrick have been the main scratches recently, but other players scratched have been McLeod, Ryan, Biggs and Devane. The ones benefitting from these line-up decisions have been Ross, Duco, Nagy, Leivo, and Yeo. My take on it is that the guys who have been scratched aren’t playing bad at all; it’s more of a chance to see what other players can do. There’s only 26 games left in the season, and it’s a pretty safe bet the Marlies will be a playoff team. In the AHL, it’s foolish to expect a regular line-up, with injuries, call-ups, trades and inconsistent performances; as an AHL team gets close to playoff time, and losing players becomes more likely, it’s a good time to see what you have in terms of depth. Can you win games with Ross in your top six, can Duco and Nagy be successful in their roles, how does Leivo look at centre; these are all questions that are getting answered right now. I’m sure we’ll see more shuffling as the season continues.
In saying all this, I think I have an idea of what I’d like the roster to look like once it is playoff time and it’s time to ice your best roster:
D’Amigo – McKegg – Abbott
Broll – Carrick – Leivo
Ross – Ryan – Kozun
Devane – Biggs – McLeod
The defense will be how it always is with Yeo as the seventh man, unless there is a trade in the works.
- Drew MacIntyre had some weird bounces go against him in the first game against Utica but he was amazing in the second game against Texas. In that second game he stopped 30 of 31 and made some very crucial saves. In the third period, immediately before the first goal by Leivo, MacIntyre made a spectacular breakaway save when Abbott lost the puck at the offensive-zone blueline. Big Mac made several breakaway saves during the weekend, and I think he’s really cementing himself as one of the best goalies in the AHL. If the Leafs do end up moving James Reimer at some point, MacIntyre should get a shot as an NHL backup.
- I don’t expect Josh Leivo and Brandon Kozun to play a lot of games together, but they had some nice chemistry going. They’re both smart offensive players, and they worked the give-and-go well together.
- Two sides of the coin: The Marlies did a great job in the Comets game using their speed and moving their feet to generate so many PPs. Yet, they only went 1 for 9 on the PP and didn’t score on either of the two 5 on 3s.
- It was nice to see Leivo score in the Texas game on the PP in light of that previous game. He pulled off the JVR spin move in-front of the net, and it seems like a lot players in the organization are starting to incorporate that into their arsenal.
- No matter who was on the line over the weekend, the fourth line played really well. They weren’t liabilities; they created energy, hit, forechecked, and cycled well. It seemed like every time they got on the ice they made something happen. Hopefully this continues. Before this stretch, the fourth line’s play has been up and down, and Spott does play his fourth line a fair amount.
- I like Kory Nagy as 4C rather than Smithson. He’s much better defensively, he’s gritty, and he’s fast. Whoever finds these depth guys every year for the Marlies really deserves some credit; it seems like every year they find different players for different roles from obscure places in hockey and they typically get the job done.
- One thing that shouldn’t go unnoticed is that the Marlies have only had their captain for seven games this season. When we look at their position in the standings, it’s an impressive reflection on the young players on this team. The vets in the group are doing their part, including Holzer, MacWilliam, Abbott, and Brennan, but some of the youngers guys are emerging as leaders on this team in McKegg, Carrick and D’Amigo. I’m not sure how many teams can go 43 games without their Captain and have this much success.
- I enjoyed seeing Tyler Biggs out there in the dying parts of the game against Texas protecting the lead. He made a nice chip pass off the boards to D’Amigo on the last goal of the game. Young players need some experience in these kind of situations so they can grow and learn how to handle the pressure. It’ll serve them well when they are in the NHL in the same situations. Great for development.
- The empty-net specialist strikes again: Jerry D’Amigo continues to make his bid to get back into the show. His breakaway goal was pretty and he’s really flying right now. It’s only a matter of time before he’s back in the NHL.
- Character is so important for teams and individual players. When you’re tired is when you have to really work hard. You’re already behind, so you have to pay the price to catch up, and it takes a strong mind to up your work rate when you’re exhausted. Texas’ only goal happened when the Marlies were hemmed in for 20-25 seconds of cycle time, and the wingers were too tired to move their feet and get into position to give Percy an outlet. Those kinds of situations are when a team needs that mental toughness. If the wingers made it out, Percy wouldn’t have turned the puck over.
- Petter Granberg showed he’s human for once, on that same goal, after the turnover. He was guilty of puck-watching and didn’t swivel his head around to notice Ritchie sneak behind him until it was too late.
- Andrew MacWilliam had three big hits in the Stars game. I talk about it every week because he does it every week… he doesn’t seem to take any games off. He’s such an explosive hitter, who looks like a football player some times. He can do it in all kinds of ways, too: open ice, along the boards, and even the odd hip check at his own blueline.
- Next up for the Marlies: a 3 p.m. game against San Antonio this afternoon (Saturday) and a 4 p.m. game tomorrow (Sunday) against OKC. The Marlies won 4-3 against San Antonio back on January 31st and beat them 5-4 on February 5th. They lost 5-3 to OKC back on January 30th.