The Marlies came into the past weekend facing a back to back set against the St. John’s Ice Caps on the road. Since our last Marlies report (Dec. 7), the Marlies have won seven of 11 games, including the AHL Outdoor Classic and a previous home win against the Ice Caps (3-2W) on December 15. The Marlies came into the weekend looking to take as many points as possible; this was the beginning of a 7-game road trip, and in a tough North Division starting a long road trip with some points in the bank is crucial for morale.
A Friday night 3-2 win saw fifty minutes of domination by the Marlies, and ten minutes of scramble play, but all in all it was a solid and convincing Toronto win. Marlie goals were scored by Yeo, Holland, and Carrick.
The Ice Caps did their best to bounce back in the second game on Saturday while the Marlies looked to continue their winning ways. The Marlies put forth a good effort to come back in this game and take it to a shootout, where they fell short in a 5-4 defeat. Nonetheless, three out of four points on a road-trip half-way across Canada can certainly be framed as a success. McLeod, Holland (2) and Brennan scored for the Baby Buds in the shootout loss.
- The Marlies started both games very quickly, scoring in the first game in under two minutes and 30 seconds into the second game. It’s nice to see this team is ready to play right off the hop.
- The Marlies were strong on face-offs all weekend. In the first game, a won face-off back to Granberg led to the 1st goal being tipped in by Yeo infront of the net.
- The Baby Buds were relentless in the first game. Before the game was five minutes old, Holland had popped in another goal on the PP and Staubitz had pummelled his opponent in a scrap.
- Kenny Ryan is a nice developing story for the Marlies. He missed all of training camp and a large chunk of the first half of the season due to multiple injuries requiring a couple surgeries. Ryan was a big part of the team last season, and since returning he’s fit right back into the team.
- Ryan plays a very energetic and physical game for such a small guy. He can skate well, play multiple forward positions, and does a great job on the PK.
- With D’Amigo up with the Leafs, Ryan has taken a prominent role on the PK and in the bottom 6. A potential future NHL bottom 6 player, it’s hard not to root for Ryan after the adversity he’s faced.
- Holland looks like he’s following Ashton’s lead: No crying about being sent down, just hard work. The talented centre made a significant impact and brought some much-needed skill to the Marlies line-up. He was all over the ice in both games, and scored three goals over the two games.
- Holland had a few partners, but mainly played with Abbott and McLeod. Holland and Abbott developed instant chemistry and found each other for a series of grade A scoring chances. It seems like Abbott develops chemistry with every player he plays with.
- I’m not a huge fan of Abbott as an NHL prospect because of his size and skating, but his skill is undeniable. He had a couple assists over the weekend, nearly scored on a breakaway, scored in the shootout on a beautiful move, set up his mates for great scoring chances, and commanded the puck on the half-wall on the PP.
- In the 2nd period of the first game, the Marlies were up 2-0 and shut the game down. A 1-2-2 fore-check from the redline stifled anything the Ice Caps were trying to generate. The Marlies feasted on turnovers and counter attacked on the rush. When they broke out of their own zone, they always dumped the puck in, hemming the Ice-caps in for extended periods of time. That’s how to protect and grow a lead. The Marlies appear very confident in their ability to defend a lead.
- With one minute left in the 2nd period, Carrick won a face-off in the offensive zone, the puck went into the corner, Granberg pinched to keep the play alive, and Leivo covered for him at the point. The puck came back to Leivo, who sent a wrist shot at the net for Carrick to tip it in front for a 3-0 lead. Responsible, simple hockey led to a big goal here. It was nice to see young players executing these basic detail parts of the game with success.
- Both games were very physical, and at the end of the second game a big scrum ensued. MacWilliam dropped the gloves with O’Neil and it seems like MacWilliam has improved massively in that department. MacWilliam plays with an edge, and with that style fights are inevitable. At the beginning of the season he struggled and got overwhelmed a few times. You could tell he had limited fighting experience coming from the college ranks. He won this fight decisively. If he can continue to improve his fighting skills and bring his consistent, physical, stay-at-home style he should be in line for a call-up soon. MacWilliam also had a massive open-ice hit in the second game.
- The Marlies have not lost in regulation when leading after two periods this season, something that didn’t change last weekend. The Ice Caps scored two goals in the 3rd to make it a little exciting/nerve wracking, but the Marlies held on to win the first game 3-2.
- The second game started off with one of the most entertaining 1st periods I’ve seen. The Marlies scored 30 seconds in followed by four fights. Broll and Crescenzi both won their bouts. The scrap total was six before the end of the game. The 1st period ended with the Ice-Caps up 2-1 after the Marlies allowed a pair of PK goals.
- The 2nd period was much tamer, with an Ice Caps goal and a Brennan fight the only action of note. The period ended 3-1.
- The Marlies started the 3rd period with energy and cycling, which generated a PP. Abbott sent the puck from the half-wall down to Leivo in front of net, and Leivo pulled off a JVR-esque cross-crease pass to Holland for an empty-net tap in. That goal made it 3-2 with 16 minutes to go.
- Another failed PK ended in an Ice Caps goal, making it 4-2. The Marlies special teams weren’t up to par in this game.
- Brennan tried to correct that with a lethal shot on the next PP to bring the game to 4-3. Holland would later score on the rush to tie it up at 4-4. After overtime solved nothing, the Marlies fell in the shootout but mustered a good effort to come back.
- One disappointment this season has been the play of Brad Ross. Despite a couple big hits in the second game, he was mostly invisible. 4G, 1A in 28 GP after a good rookie season leaves much to be desired from the sophomore.
- Another guy I can’t say a lot of complimentary things about is Jerred Smithson. He’s great on face-offs, but he often gets lost in d-zone coverage. In the first game he was out of position on a PK which left an Ice Caps player open for a one-timer goal. He needs to be better for a vet and leader on the team.
- What more can I say about Drew McIntyre? He’s been a rock since he’s arrived in Toronto. He’s started 27 of 35 games this season. He doesn’t always face a lot of shots, as the Marlies are a solid defensive team, but when called upon he typically makes the big save. In the first game he made a huge save on a Cormier breakaway to keep the Marlies ahead. In the second game, he had some rebound problems but settled in and did his part so the Marlies could earn a point.
- Somewhat of a pleasant surprise, Sam Carrick has been great at both ends of the rink with 14 points in 33 games and a +11. Always solid on face-offs and in the d-zone, his confidence on offence continues to grow since being placed in the top six a few weeks ago. He’s patient with the puck, waiting for plays to develop and often making the right decision. He shoots often, and drives the net hard. Carrick also flashes some good hands, undressing a defender with a toe-drag in game 2.
- In the last Marlies Report I commented on how I’d like to see how Granberg does without JML as his partner. Safe to say he’s been progressing steadily. Granberg continues to be physical, use his sold first pass and solid positioning, and he’s getting really good at knowing when to pinch down the wall in the o-zone. He’s adapting well to the NA ice surface.
- The Marlies play as the Leafs should. They don’t give up a lot of chances, fore-check very well, play a physical game, grind teams down, and score goals in dirty areas. Reminds me of the St. Louis Blues of the AHL.
- This is partly due to personnel differences. Up-front, the Marlies have lots of size, with many power-forwards, grinders, and two-way players. Their back end is also big and physical.
- Another part is coaching. Spott deserves some credit here. No one cheats for offence, and the wingers don’t collapse or panic like the Leafs. This Marlie team traps effectively when protecting a lead.
- Bonus Point: I don’t necessarily believe the Leafs want to get rid of Kadri and Gardiner, despite incessant trade rumours. Personally I’d keep both players, but it’s possible that management thinks Holland and Brennan make Kadri and Gardiner expendable. Holland had a great weekend, and it’s evident he can create offence. Brennan continues to shred the AHL (15G 18A for 33P in 35GP to lead all AHL D-men in scoring, eighth overall in scoring in the AHL). Brennan has an amazing shot, he can skate well, he’s a great PP QB, battles and competes hard, and has high hockey IQ. He’s not the greatest in own zone, but has been steadily improving in that area this season. Both Holland and Brennan are above the AHL and should be in the NHL. This is just a theory, and it will be something to monitor as the season enters the second half.