Games six through ten on the Marlies homestand were a great success. The Marlies won four of five games and ended the 10-game home-stand at 7-3-0. You have to like that effort in the stretch-run portion of the season as this team gets ready for playoff action. The Marlies played the San Antonio Rampage (Florida), Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton), Binghamton Senators (Ottawa), Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal), and the Lake Erie Monsters (Colorado).
Marlies (2) vs Rampage (1)
Marlies Goal Scorers: Biggs, D’amigo
Marlies Assists: Duco, Smithson, Abbott, Holzer
No Broll or Carrick in this one as both players remain injured.
The Marlies got on the scoreboard 10 seconds into the first period with a greasy goal from Tyler Biggs. Scoring on a jam-play is exactly what you want to see from this player. The Marlies would add the eventual GWG several minutes later off of the stick of the blazing-hot Jerry D’amigo. Abbott recovered the puck after a lost defensive zone face-off, D’Amigo flew the zone, and Abbott alley-ooped a beautiful area pass which Jerry skated into, recovered, and sniped top-corner, before getting murdered into the end boards. The Marlies took a 2-0 lead into the intermission.
The Marlies were active in the second period, using their cycle game to generate several powerplays. The best chance of the period came for D’amigo with 2:30 left to go in the frame, when he received a beauty dish from a streaking McKegg on the wing. Toronto generated several chances in the second, but it ended as a scoreless period.
After killing off a penalty to start the third, the Marlboroughs got back on the attack. Toronto came out with a lot of jump and purpose, highlighted by a Biggs breakaway, which unfortunately he couldn’t convert. Nevertheless, the Marlies kept the cycle going and did a great job of limiting shots and chances against. San Antonio finally marked a tally with less than five minutes go in the third after failing to score on several powerplay chances. A great chance to score for Abbott at one end of the rink would quickly go the other way as the Rampage went on the counter-attack. A drop pass at the Marlies defensive blueline gave Butler enough space and time to get a good shot off and beat MacIntyre cleanly. However, that would be the only goal the Rampage would score as the Marlies did a good job of shutting the game down in the final minutes and taking this 2-1 Final.
Marlies (4) vs Barons (1)
Marlies Goal Scorers: McKegg (2), Devane, Kozun
Marlies Assists: Percy (2), Ryan (3), Marshall, Brennan, Holzer
Garret Sparks was in the net for this one. It was also Holland’s first game back down in the AHL. Broll and Carrick were out injured.
Toronto came out at a high pace to start this game. Although the period would ultimately go scoreless, the Marlies were buzzing all period. I counted eight grade “A” chances for the Marlies in the frame including a shot off the post for Leivo. Sparks made some nice saves, and looked confident stopping a breakaway by coming out of his net.
A couple minutes into the second period, OKC got on a 5 on 3 kill for a minute and a half. The Marlies did a great job on the kill until a lucky bounce off of Holzer with six seconds left on the 5 on 3 led to a goal; it was unfortunate because Holzer did a great job on the kill. Nearing the mid-point of the period the Marlies finally got rewarded for their attack on a pretty play between Percy and McKegg. The Marlies kept riding the wave as they would score again shortly. A Marshall pinch in the offensive zone kept the puck alive, Marshall passed to Ryan behind the net; Ryan worked the puck out from behind the net, spotted Devane streaking down the slot, and set up his slapper goal. It was a 2-1 lead for the Marlies as they took control of this game.
After killing off a Kozun hooking penalty, the Marlies were awarded a powerplay of their own, and a couple seconds after the PP was done the Marlies put up another tally. Ryan received a breakout pass at centre ice and attacked the offensive blue-line with speed. Ryan fell after crossing the line, but managed to drop the puck back to McKegg who took the puck wide around an OKC defender and ripped a shot bar-down to put the Marlies up 3-1. The Marlies generated a late powerplay and scored a fourth goal for good measure. Holzer, high at the point, dished to Brennan near the right half-boards and Brennan blasted his shot. Kozun got a tip on it and directed it into the back of net. A clean 4-1 win for Toronto.
Marlies (4) vs Senators (2)
Marlies Goal Scorers: Ryan, D’amigo, Duco, Leivo
Marlies Assists: MacIntyre, D’Amigo, Brennan, Abbott (2), Holland, Holzer
This match pitted the number one Goals-For team against the number one Goals-Against team. Broll and Carrick were injured while Ross was healthy scratch.
It was a pretty tame first period until the dying seconds of the frame, when Ryan scored a shorthanded goal set up by D’Amigo with only 16 seconds left in the frame. D’Amigo continued his hot play and gave the Marlies the 1-0 first intermission lead.
The Marlies started the second period on a PP after a late scrum at the end of the first, and they capitalized quickly. After some failed zone entries, Brennan re-grouped in the neutral zone and dished to Abbott at the offensive blue-line; Abbott found a streaking D’Amigo. D’Amigo put a wicked shot off the post and in to put the Marlies up 2-0. Binghamton responded quickly, converting a Marlies turnover in the defensive zone and getting on the board at 2-1. Near the mid-point of the period, the Marlies regained their two-goal lead when Holland and Duco cashed in on a 2-on-1 rush chance. The fourth goal of the period brought the Senators back to a one-goal deficit before Mark Stone evened the score on a 5 on 3 PP. After all that action, the Marlies ended up in the same position going to the second intermission as the first, with a one-goal lead, this time at 3-2.
Toronto put forth a good effort in the third to hold on for the win. They generated some PPs, put in some cycle work, and finished the game off on an empty-net goal from Leivo. This one was never really in jeopardy as the Marlies demonstrated that defense beats offense by taking this 4-2 final.
Marlies (2) vs Bulldogs (5)
Marlies Goal Scorers: Percy, D’amigo
Marlies Assists: Granberg (2), Smithson, Percy
This was game 9 of 10 on the homestand and the second-last game of the season against Hamilton. Carrick was back from injury and Ashton entered the line-up as he had been sent down while Holland was back with the Leafs. MacIntyre started in net. Biggs, Ross, Mcleod, and Yeo were out of the line-up while Broll remained injured.
The Marlies came out uncharacteristically in this game, trying to be a little too cute. It bit them in the rear end as Hamilton scored after completing a nice passing play near the 13-minute mark. The Marlies responded with 2:30 left in the period from a well-placed Percy blast from the point. It was a 1-1 tie after the first period.
Carrick didn’t come out for the second period; he re-aggravated his injury in the middle of the first. Hamilton scored near the 13-minute mark again. The Marlies got into some awkward defensive coverage during a Hamilton cycle, and a point shot got deflected into the net for a 2-1 lead in the Bulldogs favour.
Toronto got on the power-play shortly after, but couldn’t generate much. After the power-play, Hamilton scored another one to go up 3-1. Staubitz got caught puck-watching in the defensive zone, and didn’t swivel his head to notice a Hamilton player coming into the slot; the puck got centred to said player and he made no mistake.
With about 6:30 left in the frame, the Marlies put a dent into the Hamilton lead. Kenny Ryan won a faceoff to Kozun, Kozun took a hit to make a pass to Percy, Percy went D to D to Granberg, and Granberg ripped one on net for D’Amigo to tip in. This was a nice goal with all five players on the ice getting a touch. There were plenty of goals in this period as Hamilton would add one more with two seconds left in the period to go up 4-2. Some hard work by Hamilton, a lucky bounce, and a misread by D’Amigo allowed a Hamilton player to score in the high slot.
Before the end of the 2nd period, there was a whole series of fights and scrums, which led to Smithson and Staubitz being sent off. With Carrick injured as well, the Marlies came into the 3rd with only 9 forwards. That’s not exactly a recipe to mount a comeback. Five minutes into the period, Hamilton would put the last nail in the coffin by scoring on a 2 on 1 rush to go up 5-2. That was all she wrote in this one. The late goal in the second period and going 0/5 on the powerplay were the culprits in this loss.
Marlies (5) vs Monsters (2)
Marlies Goal Scorers: Ashton (3), Brennan, Kozun
Marlies Assists: Holzer, Abbott (2), Percy, McKegg (2), D’amigo, Brennan
It was Canadian Armed Forces Night at the Ricoh. Ashton was back in the line-up again. Biggs and Leivo were both playing centre in this one. Ross got his chance to return to the lineup. Carrick and Broll were out injured.
The Biggs line got things started on the first shift with a good forecheck that indirectly set up a goal. The Monsters dumped the puck in to change before the Marlies top-line came out and put one on the board. Holzer broke the puck out with one pass to the offensive blue-line to Abbott; Abbott walked in and dished a pass to a streaking Ashton, who walked in and sniped one. 1-0 for Toronto early in this one. The Baby Buds took some penalties in the period but really controlled the play at 5 on 5.
The team got right back to work in the second period and put up another goal near the 10-minute mark. It was a great cycle shift that started with chances on net for McKegg. After a McKegg shot, the puck rebounded behind the net, where Ashton threw a big hit to keep the play alive. Percy pinched down the wall to retrieve the puck as McKegg went to the point to cover for him. Percy passed back to McKegg, while Ashton parked himself in front of the net. McKegg let off the point shot, and Ashton tipped it in for his second goal of the game.
The Monsters scored one shortly after. After a Toronto icing, the Monsters won the ensuing faceoff and put one behind MacIntyre from a deflected point shot. That brought the score to 2-1 Toronto. The Marlies got back on the attack, but the penalties against really started to stack up. In the dying moments of a Toronto penalty kill, Lake Erie would finally capitalize on the Marlies’ undisciplined play. Some nice passing on the rush penetrated the Marlie defense and the Monsters tied the game at 2-2.
After the first TV timeout in the 3rd, Ashton completed the natural hat-trick. McKegg won the offensive zone faceoff before Abbott picked up the puck, weaved from the dot into the slot, and put a shot off the post. Ashton was there to bury the rebound. The second line got in the action right after. After winning a defensive zone faceoff, Kozun worked the puck up ice and dumped it in for Leivo. Leivo retrieved the puck and worked the puck together with Kozun. Leivo did a nice spin move off the boards with the puck and put a shot on net. The Monsters couldn’t clear the rebound, so D’Amigo recovered it and passed back to Brennan, who ripped his patented shot with Leivo screening in front. It was 4-2 Marlies and there was about 12 minutes left in the game after the two goals. The Marlies worked those remaining minutes to perfection. They worked the dump and chase game effectively and the win was never in question. Toronto dominated this one at even strength and Kozun added an empty-netter to seal the deal.
- I really like that this team has an identity. They know what they are, they play their style, and they have the pieces that fit their style. It’s an important component because it gives a team a template of how to win games and what it needs to do to be successful. Every player seems to know what’s expected of them, in tat regard you have to give a lot of credit to Steve Spott. This team dumps the puck religiously.
- Greg McKegg, Josh Leivo and Brad Ross are all starting to get some more PK minutes. It’s great for their development. These guys all have their roles at 5 on 5, but you really add to your value to the line-up when you can kill penalties as well. It will be nice if a couple of these players give Randy some more options some day soon.
- Jerry D’Amigo’s speed is ridiculous. When he turns on the jets, there’s not many in the league who can keep up with him.
- I’ve talked about it before briefly, but it deserves another mention: Korbinian Holzer has developed a nice wrister from the point. He gets it off quickly, it’s strong, and he gets it through. He’ll never be confused for an offensive d-man, but he’s rounding out his game a little and quietly put 4 points over these 5 games.
- Holzer is also so mean in the AHL. He doesn’t take nonsense from anyone, he yaps a lot, and he does a great job of clearing the crease. He has confidence in his physicality at the AHL level and I rarely see anyone even try to challenge him. When previously up with the Leafs, he was placed in a difficult role playing with Phaneuf, but I think now he would be a fit for a bottom-pairing guy. He’s the Marlies no.1 defenceman without question, he’s a RD, his contract is cheap, so if there are any injuries to the Leafs back-end he should be the first in line for a call-up. The Leafs haven’t had any of their defencemen go down to a real injury yet.
- Several weeks ago, I touched on the TJ Brennan–Kevin Marshall pairing and their awful defensive-zone play; well, recently they have turned that around to the benefit of the team. They seem to have settled down, and they’re making much better decisions and reads. They have a rhythm as a pairing now and seem to have developed some chemistry.
- TJ Brennan is the other guy who should be in the conversation for a call-up if there’s an injury on the back-end. His defensive game has improved recently and he’s obviously a huge threat offensively. If the Leafs need a shut-down guy it should be Holzer, if they need an offensive guy it should be Brennan.
- Speaking of the back end, I was surprised the Marlies didn’t pick up a defenceman at the trade deadline. The back end has been a strong point of the club all season, but there’s only one extra d-man on the roster in Yeo and one in the ECHL in Yuen. The Leafs and Marlies bluelines have both been healthy all season, but that could change, of course. Finn and Robertson could potentially join the Marlies near the end of the season, but you never know how they will fit and there’s no guarantee they even join the club this season. It would have been nice to add one guy at the deadline for a late pick. Up front, the team has plenty of depth.
- Garret Sparks got into a game against OKC and picked up the win. He looked pretty confident. He wasn’t scared to come out and play the puck, he made crucial saves, and he looked comfortable overall. Sometimes he moves a little too much in his crease, but he’s a young guy and that’ll be something that will improve with time. I like his upside.
- I enjoyed seeing Jamie Devane grab a goal in the OKC game. The big man leads the team in fights, but he’s got a decent number of goals as a 4th line player. 3G 1A in 40GP, a 6G pace over a full-season isn’t bad at all for an enforcer. He made some nice defensive plays over the course of the 5 games, so you can trust him on the ice. He’s good on the forecheck as well. He’s got a shot at being a 4th line enforcer in the NHL who can play the game. He’s still got a couple seasons of being waiver exempt, so there’s still development ahead for him. The one thing I’d like to see form him is some PK time. He’s got reach with his size, and he’s a decent skater for his size, so that would add a valuable component to his game if it can be developed.
- Kenny Ryan had a solid set of games here. He put up a three-assist game after sitting a few out and added a goal during this stretch. I wouldn’t expect him to continue that kind of pace all season, but he can chip in here and there. Ryan’s game kind of reminds me of Vlad Sobotka. Grinding smaller forward who can skate, with some bite in his game.
- One thing that’s great about the forwards on this team is that a lot of them are versatile. Ryan, Josh Leivo and Tyler Biggs can all play centre and wing, and Leivo especially can play all three forward positions quite well.
- Tyler Biggs gets a lot of flak from the fans, but I feel it’s a little undeserved. It seems a lot of people are upset that he’s not a scorer, but those were unrealistic expectations from the start. He’s going to be a very-good bottom six player who will be able to move up in the line-up when injuries occur. He’s got 6 goals from the 4th line, which is a respectable number. As mentioned earlier, he also plays centre effectively. During the first three games of this set, he got moved up to the third line “shut-down line” with Duco and Smithson. They started every game and almost every period and did a great job in their role. You can start to appreciate his game once you realize he’s not a top-6 player. If he manages to develop a scoring game it’ll just be a bonus.
- Stuart Percy is starting to generate more offense as the season goes on. He put 1G and 4A in this stretch here. Spott gave him a couple opportunities on the first powerplay unit. The one assist on McKegg’s goal in the OKC game was especially pretty.
- There’s an edge in Brandon Kozun’s game you have to like. He’s not the typical small player. He’s got skill and speed, but he’s not afraid to go to the hard areas of the ice. He’ll throw a hit, and he’ll take a hit to make a play.
- Opposing teams are starting to scout the Marlies. They’ve been trying to take away Brennan’s shot on the PP and they’ve been hitting Abbott every chance they get. Somehow these guys are still managing to generate offense. They deserve some credit.
- The Armed Forces jersey looked great. The Marlies do a great job of honouring our heroes every season.
- It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t mention Carter Ashton. His hat-trick was a demonstration of his power-forward game. One snipe goal and two dirty goals. Ashton and D’amigo both deserve to be in the show. They’re dominant offensively at the AHL level.
- Steve Spott has deployed two forwards and one defenceman on 5 on 3 penalty kills all season, with the one defenceman usually being Holzer and Granberg. Holzer is an obvious choice, but it shows the coach’s trust in Granberg defensively to put the rookie out there in those situations. Another little observation I picked up on with Granberg recently is that he’s starting to learn gap control. With the proper gap he defends the rush well, and uses a hit or his stick to stop the attack.
- I didn’t really want to talk about Holland as he belongs in the NHL and I don’t expect to see him coming back. He was buzzing in both games he played in and picked up an apple.
- Greg McKegg seems to be a polarizing player as well. A lot of people seem to think he doesn’t have a shot at being an NHL player. He’s one of those guys you have to watch close to see what he truly has to offer. He’s good defensively, he’s good on draws, and he’s a cycle player offensively but he can also score off the rush. Maybe it’s because he’s not flashy, but I don’t get the doubters there, he’s got a complete game.
- The team has been playing great all season so most of my notes are mostly positive, but Brad Ross continues to struggle. He just can’t find a place in the line-up consistently, and he doesn’t make an impact. I think come play-off time I’d put him in the press box (note: He’s since been sent to the ECHL).
- On a last note, the PP has been struggling the last couple of weeks. Personally, I’d put Abbott and Brennan back together for the first unit, as they’ve been split up a bit recently. Teams have been keying in on Brennan on the PP trying to take his shot away. The way to overcome that is to add more threats to the unit. If they over-play Brennan, someone else will have time and space. Abbott is a guy who can capitalize on that extra time and space.
- Hopefully Sam Carrick comes back soon. He’s a key guy on this team, so I just hope he’s ready come playoff time.