Marlies Notebook – October 22



It was met with a lot of skepticism when the St. John’s Maple Leafs were relocated to Toronto in 2005.  Seven years later, the move just continues to look better and better.

The Leafs‘ AHL affiliate had excellent attendance numbers and were highly popular in St. John’s during their time there. The move was a result of the Leafs’ desire to reduce travel costs and fill the Ricoh. While the attendance was terrible for the Marlies‘ first few years of existence – including a low point when barely 2800 people showed up for their first ever home playoff game in 2006 – the team is finally establishing a presence in the city. As the lockout drags on, many Toronto hockey fans are now turning their attention to the Marlies and even taking in a game or two if possible.

What really makes the Marlies’ presence in Toronto nice, though, is the fact that you’re in the same city as the parent club if you’re a player on the team.

Imagine playing in Hamilton and having to pack up to go to Montreal, only to then get sent back to Hamilton a day later?

Then there’s the fact that the Marlies are basically run like an NHL team. They use the same facilities as the Leafs, and get access to the same specialty coaches as the big club does. The Marlies coach gets to be around management routinely and sit in on draft meetings, trade deadline day, and so on. Do you think the Leafs would have retained Eakins if he the Marlies were located in St. John’s still? There’s at least an argument to be made that it would have been significantly harder to do so. On top of that, if you’re a minor league player or college free agent deciding where to sign, what’s more appealing than living in the same city as the parent club?

We’re obviously going to have to talk about the Marlies this year unless these negotiations swing around (as we should either way), and while there are many things to appreciate about them, we shouldn’t lose sight of how helpful they are to the Leafs simply by being located in the same city as them.

And really, that’s what farm teams are all about: Helping the big club.

Here are some notes from a 1-1-1 weekend:

– On Friday Eakins attempted to play Kadri at right wing with Colborne and Komarov, but the trio didn’t really generate much. What was really concerning though is that Kadri couldn’t break out of his zone while being on his off-wing. Eventually he got moved to play left wing with McKegg and Scott, and he looked much better and more comfortable after that. Many continually suggest Kadri could play either wing, but his breakout struggles suggest otherwise. While he might be a little more dangerous in the offensive zone coming down on the right side, it won’t matter if he can’t break out properly. There’s also been suggestions of him  getting some chances at center, but it hasn’t happened yet. He’s exclusively a left-winger at this point. That’s not a bad thing by any means; I just wanted to point out what he is.

– While on the subject of Kadri, I wanted to say something that just doesn’t get said nearly enough: he’s dangerous almost every time he touches the puck. Kadri deserves credit for some aspects of his game that he doesn’t receive nearly as much as he should, as he is routinely creating, drawing penalties, and putting pucks on net.

– Kadri had a 2 on 1 against Hamilton Saturday and feathered a soft pass intended for Zigomanis that got broken up easily. Later that game he had another 2 on 1 and riffled one through to Greg Scott, who missed a glorious opportunity to score. Goal or not, it was nice to see Kadri learn from that and make the necessary adjustment.

– Again on Kadri, he may have found a nice running mate in Greg McKegg for the foreseeable future. It bodes well for McKegg that he’s seeing significant time not only at center but with arguably the team’s most electric winger. On Friday he made a nifty move to slip past a hip-check in Hamilton and center a puck in front, on Saturday he scored, and all weekend he saw consistent power play time. What’s been most impressive about Greg so far, though, is his puck pursuit and ability to win battles in the corners. That was not always his strong suit in the OHL, so it’s great to see him taking pride there and doing the dirty work. Kadri and McKegg have combined to cycle the puck very well. When Grand Rapids scored to tie the game, they were the line that went out next and put in a good shift in the offensive zone and got some momentum back. On an organization that’s really weak down the middle, you have to be excited at how fast McKegg is working his way up the ladder.

– Here is one difference between the AHL and the NHL. On Friday, a forward took Gysbers wide on the rush so Gysbers stuck with him as he went around the net. There’s nothing wrong with that. What there is something wrong with, though, is Blacker coming off his man in order to challenge the forward as he came around the net, putting both of the team’s defencemen from that shift on one forward. It didn’t ultimately result in anything negative, but in the NHL if you come off your man in that type of situation you will be scooping a puck out of your net. That’s the kind of thing Mike Komisarek does now – or the last few years – to get in trouble.

– Many blamed Hamilton’s first goal on Friday on Jesse Blacker, but it wasn’t his fault. He missed a puck. That’s a a little mistake that is bound to happen every now and again out bad luck. Now, Gysbers getting beat one-on-one off the rush before Blacker missed that puck is the real problem with that goal. Remember, this is the AHL, so guys are going to make mistakes and the hockey will get sloppy at times. You can live with a mistake like a guy missing a puck, what you don’t like to see is a guy getting cleanly beat.

– Jake Gardiner has 21 shots in 5 games so far. Last year he had 79 total shots with the Leafs in 25 games. If there’s one real benefit for Gardiner in this lockout it’s that he’s using his shot more and beginning to learn how to get it through. Last year he had the Kaberle-syndrome at times and over passed. Some of you may remember last year when Wilson and co. harped on him to shoot. Now, he finally is. I for one won’t soon forget this goal; when he gets a hold of one, he can really shoot the puck.

– Komarov’s confidence is starting grow. On Saturday he hammered a player toward the end of the Hamilton game, sparking a sort of line brawl. He got a penalty on the play, but I thought he made shoulder to shoulder contact (that said, it was probably boarding). He also hit the post that game. In Hamilton on Friday he made a beautiful curl and pass to Colborne that gave him a mini breakaway which Colborne couldn’t convert. If you watch Komarov off the rush, he really loves to skate in the zone, curl back and survey the ice for his best outlet pass. In the NHL that will be more effective since the game is more organized and it will be easier to know where everyone is. At times in the AHL he has curled back and had nowhere to pass. Maybe the most impressive part of his game, to me, is his back-checking. He understands how to get back, find his man, and stick with him. There was one play in particular where he harassed a guy all the way through the neutral zone, but when the blue line was crossed he released from that player and found an uncovered man to stick with. It sounds basic, but most guys will just stay with the puck carrier and cause confusion. See Colby Armstrong last year as an example.

– Jerry D’Amigo did not play Saturday or Sunday due to injury. Last week against Erie, you may remember, he got absolutely steamrolled in the first period in the offensive zone when he wasn’t expecting it. He got up slowly, went to the bench, but did finish the game. He also, of course, played Friday. I wonder if that hit left some marks though because he looked shaken up afterwards.

– It’s really fun watching D’Amigo and Greg Scott kill penalties together. They are at the point where they don’t just want to kill the penalty, but score shorthanded, too.

– Gardiner and Kostka on the penalty kill have not been great together. One example was Sunday on Grand Rapid’s first goal. Kostka blocked a shot, resulting in the puck bouncing to the point. Inexplicably, he skated up to the blue line, and all the defenceman had to do was pass it down low,  leaving Gardiner all alone to deal with three forwards,. Gardiner skated over to the corner to defend the forward, who simply slid it through Jake’s legs to a man in front who buried with ease. Last year the Marlies had the best penalty kill in the league and Blacker was a regular on it, so I’m not sure why Kostka and Gardiner are getting priority over him. Maybe we’ll see it pay off… the season is five games old after all.

– Further, on the penalty kill: It’s interesting to see the Marlies use two forwards and one defenceman when killing 5 on 3s. It’s something they are doing consistently now and I wonder if that means Carlyle will try it in the NHL, too. Tortorella’s Rangers ran it with success in the playoffs. Two forwards challenging point shooters and one defenceman clearing the front of the net might be the new way to try to kill 5 on 3’s.

– More on the penalty kill: Ashton is getting regular time on the unit and being used as a grinder. That’s what he is going to need to do if he’s ever going to make it in the NHL.  He’s off to a rough start this season, already finding himself on the fourth line after starting the year on the top line with Kadri and Aucoin. Again, it’s early, but he needs to show something soon.

– Holzer had trouble with Nyquist and Tatar all night. On one play, Nyquist could have had an early candidate for goal of the year as he split Holzer and Fraser but then lost the handle. Expectations on Holzer need to be tempered and kept in check. He crushed Daryl Boyce on Friday, and that sort of stuff should be expected to continue even in the NHL, but he does have trouble with high talent forwards. He’s a decent player, but overall he’s hopefully a solid third pairing defender.

– On the Leafs side of things, it really shows how weak the right side of their defense is. Currently after Phaneuf they have Komisarek, then Holzer, then Kostka. Even if Franson eventually signs, that side is a huge area of concern.

– When it comes to the defense, Mark Fraser deserves huge kudos. Against Hamilton Saturday, the players were being chirpy with Holzer – especially after Holzer was mouthy on Friday – and he hammered a guy in a fight,  settling things down for a while. Sunday, Kadri got kneed and Fraser didn’t hesitate to go in there and defend him. Yes, it was a 3-3 game with less than five minutes remaining, but it was game five of the season and teams have to know they can’t take liberties with Kadri. If there’s something to say about Fraser it’s this: he’s a heck of a teammate and the kind of guy you root for. That said, not sure the Leafs could have both he and Holzer up together. Neither are exactly fleet of foot.

– On a side note, it’s a good thing Kadri plays on the edge, mixes it up and defends himself, but nothing would be worse than him getting into a fight and breaking his hand or something. Hopefully the tough guys continue to protect him because opponents are taking liberties with Kadri so far this year.

– It’s nice that Kenny Ryan got a few goals and some confidence, but in the grand scheme of things his role is that of a sparkplug. He’s a little energizer bunny out there and the kind of guy who can play only eight minutes but is effective in doing so. We’ll see how he continues to play moving forward though as he wouldn’t be the first ever flash in the pan.

– This weekend was Jussi Rynnas in a nut shell. He looked lights out one night, and sloppy the next. He’s always shown flashes of his talent in individual games, but what he really needs to show is that he can string together good games consecutively and consistently. While none of the goals Sunday were really his fault, he was fighting the puck quite a bit and didn’t appear confident in the net at all.

– Ryan Hamilton came out like a gangbuster in game one of the season, and it kind of reminded me of Joey Crabb at the beginning of last year – Crabb had 15 points in nine AHL games before getting called up to the NHL for good last season. Since then though, Hamilton’s really cooled off. Crabb dominated for a month like that before getting called up, which really goes to show you how much a player of that age range needs to dominate to get a call-up to the NHL. Often fans see guys like Hamilton or Crabb – or Zigomanis – and wonder why they aren’t in the NHL. But the reality is that pretty well every NHL team would rather call up a kid with potential over an older guy who doesn’t offer much of a ceiling to his game.

– Nobody talked about it during the broadcast, but how about Colborne’s screen of the goalie on this goal? You can see he’s slowly starting to turn it on now as the season gets going, and he’s really beginning to move the puck. On Komarov’s first goal of his AHL career, he made a really nice play to kick the puck from his skate to his stick in stride, and then riffled a great pass cross-ice. Frattin is due back soon and I’m hoping we get to see the two united again on a line. I really believe Colborne plays his best hockey when he has a trigger man to work with as his mind just naturally looks for players to pass to and set up for goals.

The Marlies don’t play at home now until November 17th. To make matters worse, they only play once this week. Salt, meet wound.