This past week, the Toronto Marlies were looking at games three and four of their current seven-game road trip after garnering three out of four points the previous weekend in St. John’s. The Marlies played the Iowa Wild (Minnesota) on Wednesday and the Chicago Wolves (St. Louis) on Friday. Toronto won both games in OT and came out with all four points, continuing their road success.
The Marlies are now 22-11-2-2, leading the North Division by six points over Hamilton with two games in hand. They sit third in the Western Conference, seven back of second-place Texas but with four games in hand on the Stars.
Marlies (4) vs Wild (3)
Marlies Goal Scorers: Brennan, Abbott (2), Leivo
Marlies Assists: Brennan (3), Holzer, McKegg, Percy, Abbott, Leivo
Despite being fourth best in the AHL at scoring the first goal of the game, the Marlies started game 1 slowly. Four minutes into the first period, the Wild picked up a Marlies d-zone turn-over and sniped it home, making it 1-0 Wild.
Another late period rush against the Marlies, with Kevin Marshall getting caught behind the play, led to another Wild goal as the Marlies ended the first period down 2-0.
Early in the second period on a Marlies PP, great puck movement led to an Abbott goal, putting the Marlies back in this game. After killing off two 5 on 3s, the Marlies ended the period at 2-1.
About half-way through the third period, the Marlies went to the PP. A hard Brennan shot from the point sent a rebound right onto Abbott’s stick and he deposited the puck into the empty 4×6. The second Abbott goal, and second PP goal of the game, tied the game up at twos with eight minutes to go.
Shortly after the tying tally, some bad defensive zone coverage and a goal-mouth scramble allowed the Wild to regain the lead.
In what became a PP rout for the Marlies, Leivo picked up a Brennan pass in the high slot, walked in and ripped home another PP goal to tie the game again at 3-3. That’s how regulation would end.
In OT, a prolonged offensive zone cycle and some nifty passing found Brennan alone in the high-slot, and he walked in and released a cannon of a shot to secure the win for the Baby Buds.
Marlies (3) vs Wolves (2)
Marlies Goal Scorers: Abbott, Broll, Carrick
Marlies Assists: Brennan, Holzer, McKegg, Percy, Carrick, D’amigo
Game 2 against Chicago saw Garrett Sparks step into the net for a rare appearance, but a nice touch by Spott allowed Sparks to start in his hometown.
A busy first period featured some huge hits, a waived off goal and some penalties, but no goals until the final 18 seconds. At the tail-end of a Marlies PP, D’Amigo dished to a streaking Carrick on the right-wing before Broll exploded past two Chicago players into the slot and re-directed a Carrick pass into the net. The Marlies went to the dressing room after the first period up 1-0.
About half-way through the second period, after several unsuccessful Marlie PPs, the Marlies converted on the man-advantage. Almost identical to a PP goal in game 1, Toronto made a tic-tac-toe play through a seam and Abbott scored another PP goal. 2-0 Buds.
During more special teams play, after a failed dive on the penalty-kill by Marshall in trying to stop the centering pass, an open Chicago player in-front of the net banged it in to get Chicago back in the game. The second period would end 2-1.
Four minutes into the third period came more PK trouble for the Marlies. Chicago worked the puck to the point, fired it on net and it deflected in to tie the game at 2s. The Marlies would reverse their PK troubles later in the period by killing off a 5 on 3 penalty to survive and entered OT tied at 2-2.
In OT, Brennan took a boneheaded boarding call to put the Marlies down a man on a 4 on 3. A minute into the PK, the Wolves took a tripping call to turn it into a 3 on 3. Brennan jumped out the box to give the Marlies a brief PP, where the Marlies took advantage. Carrick and McKegg worked the puck down-low behind the net; McKegg made a few cut-backs while Carrick went to the slot. McKegg then found Carrick with a beauty pass to end the game. Marlies win 3-2.
- Brennan is such a polarizing d-man. His offensive ability is undeniable. Both his slapper and wrister are extremely dangerous, and he’s got great offensive instincts. 16G, 22A and 38 Points in 37 GP speaks to that fact. Those assets make him downright dominant on the PP, but he needs a lot of work at 5 on 5 in his own zone. He’s been paired with Marshall a lot recently at evens and they’ve been dreadful. Over the two games this week, they were on the ice together for several goals against and several grade “A” chances against. They have both been plagued by bad turnovers, a proneness to getting lost in coverage, a tendency to take bad penalties, a failure to keep their heads on a swivel and a propensity to over-commit, exhibiting some bad positioning overall. The good news for Brennan is that these things can be improved through video work and coaching. He also isn’t shy to compete in the d-zone, where he’s not scared of confrontation. If he can just iron out the d-zone play he’s guaranteed a full-time NHL gig. Still just 24 years of age.
- Crescenzi doesn’t get mentioned often but he deserves more recognition. He’ll never be one to put up a lot of points but he plays his role as a checking centre effectively. He can skate well for such a big man, and his hits are nasty. He threw three massive hits over the two games, put in some key face-off work on the PK, and is the key forward on the 2nd PK unit. He blocks shots, forechecks, and does everything one would expect of a defensive centre. Somewhere down the line he could be a bigger, more physical version of McClement.
- Abbott has become the Phil Kessel of the Marlies PP. He stands in the same spot on the left half-wall, and he comes into the slot and rips off the wrister the same way. He scored a couple goals in that spot over the week. He was the set-up man to start the season, but now it looks like he’s confident in his shot and is letting it go. That can only mean good things as it makes him a dual-threat, and he’s now up to nine goals on the season.
- Speaking of skilled players, it was nice to see McKegg get back in the line-up. He made a beautiful one-touch pass to set up one of those Abbott PP goals, and put in some great work in OT in game 2 to set up the winner. He’s the Marlies number one centre and makes the team that much better.
- Leivo was somewhat quiet but still put up two points in game 1. He’s a game-breaker offensively, and he just needs one chance to make his presence felt. He didn’t do too much during the game, but on the PP he show-cased his shot and ripped home a beauty in the high-slot. He’s got an NHL-calibre shot and release.
- Sparks wasn’t tested a lot in Chicago, but when the Marlies needed a big save he was there to make it. It was especially impressive since he was must have been rusty having seen limited action this season. I can imagine it was nice for him to get the W in his hometown in front of family and friends.
- Percy is taking advantage of increased PP time since the trade of John-Michael Liles. I noticed him make the same seam pass on a PP as McKegg made to Abbott. He always brings his patented smart, simple defensive game and now the offence is starting to come, with 11A in 33 GP.
- The Marlies PP is blazing hot right now. Over the two games they scored six PP goals, and the PP moved from 10th in the league to 7th. Both special teams are now in the top 10.
- This coming week will be hectic for the Marlies: Five games in seven days, with the first three of the week wrapping up the seven-game road trip. The Marlies play in Rockford this afternoon at 2 p.m. EST.