The Toronto Marlies came into this January 30 – February 1 stretch with a three-game road trip on tap in the southern states. The Marlies squared off with the Oklahoma City Barons (Edmonton), San Antonio Rampage (Florida), and the Texas Stars (Dallas).

This was a week to forget for the Marlies, who won one of three games and suffered a 6-0 blowout in one of the losses.

Game Summaries:

Marlies (3) vs Barons (5)
Marlies Goal Scorers: Abbott (2), Brennan
Marlies Assists: McKegg, McLeod, Carrick, Kozun (2), Abbott

The first period saw another slow start for the Marlies, something I brought up as an issue in the previous report. The Marlies committed some turnovers and iced the puck too many times, hemming them in for extended shifts. About half-way through the period, after several icing calls, the Marlies led a rush up ice. Greg McKegg took the puck around the net and tried to centre out front for Spencer Abbott. The Barons recovered, went on the counter-attack, and who else but former Marlie Captain Ryan Hamilton scored off a give-and-go to put OKC up 1-0. That would be the only goal of the first frame.

This second period was a fun one to watch, featuring two goals from both sides, some scrums, and a Sam Carrick scrap. Despite the good effort in the second period, the Marlies still would need more in the third, trailing 3-2 after 40.

The third period started with Steve Spott juggling his lines in an attempt to get things going. McKegg also did not return for the third period. Things started getting chippy near the mid-way point of the period, when the third line of Brad Ross – Kenny Ryan – Tyler Biggs dumped the puck and went in deep to retrieve it. Biggs was run from behind and crashed into the boards face first, staying down injured, while Ryan and Ross got involved in some scrums. After the madness subsided, the refs took a few minutes to sort the penalties out, with several penalties going both ways and the OKC player receiving a game misconduct.

The ensuing play started at 4 on 4, where Brandon Kozun made a beauty pass in the offensive zone from the opposite corner to an undetected T.J. Brennan, who crept in from the left-point. Brennan took a few strides in and sniped the tying goal. With eight minutes left in the third, Korbinian Holzer took a costly kneeing penalty. The Barons scored the game winner at the tail end of the powerplay. After a couple of failed clearing opportunities for the Marlies, the Barons buried a rebound off a point shot to make it 4-3. The Barons later added an empty-netter for a 5-3 OKC final.

Marlies (4)(OT) vs Rampage (3)
Marlies Goal Scorers: Kozun (2), Biggs, D’amigo
Marlies Assists: Abbott (2), Brennan (2), Kozun, Broll, Carrick, Yeo

It was “Pink In The Rink” night in San Antonio (pink ice is a first for me). Defenceman Dylan Yeo and goaltender Garret Sparks stepped into the line-up, and some line changes were necessitated by the McKegg call up.

A mistake by Yeo just over a minute into the game gave the Rampage a breakaway and a goal for an early 1-0 lead. Andrew MacWilliam dropped the mitts shortly after, standing up for Petter Granberg while trying to reverse the momentum. The Marlies soon had two separate man-advantage opportunities at 5 on 3 but failed to capitalize. At the tail end of the second 5 on 3, the Rampage iced the puck, at which point Sparks came out to play it and got burned. A bobbled play saw the puck get in behind him, where a Rampage player picked it up and deposited into the empty-net for a 2-0 shortie. Biggs dropped the gloves with less than a minute in the period and won a convincing decision in the bout. This was an action-packed first period.

The Marlies received their third 5 on 3 PP early in the second period and finally capitalized. Abbott and Brennan worked the puck up top before sending it down low to Kozun; Sam Carrick did his job in front of the net creating havoc, allowing Kozun the space to walk in and snipe his first as a Marlborough. Nice shot. The temperature of the game was a simmering boil for much of the night and it boiled over at the end of this period. Brad Staubitz was sent into the bench on a hit before Smithson obliterated someone from behind into the boards; all of this causing a huge scrum and earning Smithson a game misconduct. The period ended 2-1 for the Rampage.

In the third, the Marlboroughs lost an offensive zone faceoff after killing off a David Broll tripping penalty. The Rampage began an attack up ice, one that looked contained and nonthreatening before Brennan made the inexplicable decision to leave a Rampage player alone and open in front of the net. Predictably, the puck found the open player in-front, giving Sparks no chance and increasing the Rampage lead to 3-1.

The Marlies were looking to respond and shortly thereafter they did just that. Broll made a great toe drag between a defender’s legs behind the opposition goal before sending a perfect pass to Biggs in the high slot; Biggs rifled a hard shot into the net to make it 3-2. The comeback was on with 13 minutes to go.
It took until the one-minute mark, but the comeback was complete after Carrick entered the offensive zone on the wing and threw a shot on net; the puck bounced off the post right onto the stick of Jerry D’Amigo, who scored to tie it up at 3-3.

This game needed OT, where the Baby Buds earned a PP right off the hop. On the ensuing man advantage, a tic-tac-toe passing play by Brennan to Abbott to Kozun resulted in Kozun scoring into the yawning net and a Marlies overtime win.

Marlies (0) vs Stars (6)
Marlies Goal Scorers: N/A
Marlies Assists: N/A

Not too much to speak about in this game. The Stars scored one in the first, three in the second, and two in the third. The Marlies’ PK let in three goals on 11 chances, and the team was out shot by 30 (49-19). This was the third game in three nights on the road. It showed. The team was also missing McKegg and Josh Leivo; a couple of others were also reportedly suffering from the flu.


– Not a great week overall for the Toronto Marlies. I’ve spoken about the bad starts for a couple weeks in a row now. Against OKC and San Antonio, the Marlies were behind early and chased the game the whole time. While they came back in San Antonio, a positive considering the circumstances, constantly falling behind early is not a sustainable formula for accumulating wins. Up until recently, the Baby Buds were one of the best teams in the AHL when it came to starting strong. Hopefully they can turn it around quickly here and get back to previous successes. The main issues with regards to the slow starts have been penalty troubles and turnovers, both correctable bad habits. I’d be much more concerned if the team was coming out lacking in energy.

– Despite a bad set of games for the team, Brandon Kozun had a pretty good week individually with five points in three games, including his first goal and assist as a Marlie. Despite his small stature, he’s not hesitant at all to get physical. He’s fast, which helps him on the forecheck, and when he goes in he throws some pretty hard hits. He’s definitely well suited to be an F-1. He’s a strong distributor with good vision as well. He made a beautiful pass to Brennan on the 3-3 goal against OKC. In a 4-on-4 situation, he had all the OKC players watching him and spotted Brennan sneaking down from the point, sending him a cross-zone pass right on the tape. He scored his first goal as a Marlie against San Antonio on a snipe over the goalie’s glove hand on the PP. Speaking of which, almost all of his points have come on the PP up until this point. I want to see him generate some offense at evens, and I’d like to see him go to the net a little more often. All in all, though, this has been a good start to his tenure in Toronto.

– I’m going to get a comment on the Stars blowout out of the way. There were only four guys who weren’t minuses on the night: McLeod, Granberg, Carrick, and Kozun. The Marlies couldn’t blame Drew MacIntyre at all in this one. The team at least showed a bit of heart in this one by staying physical throughout the game. Ryan, Brennan, Ross and Devane all dropped the gloves and showed they cared. Jerry D’Amigo was probably Toronto’s best player in this game. He was still driving the net hard and going all out, even when the team was down 5-0 in the third period. It’s good to see that from a leader and vet on this team. This game needed to be flushed and forgotten.

– It was nice to see Tyler Biggs get back into the lineup during this set after coming off an injury. I listened to an interview recently where I heard Biggs compared to Jordan Nolan and Dwight King in Los Angeles. I thought that was a great comparison and find Biggs to be similar to both players. He’s one of those guys who can slot in all over the line-up, play centre or wing, and bring a north-south game. He’s good on the PK and forecheck. He showed off his hard shot when he scored from the high slot against San Antonio, and exhibited some pugilism when scoring a decisive win in a scrap in the same game. He’ll never be one to put up big numbers, but given a couple seasons to develop he should end up an effective NHLer who can be versatile and potentially successful in a couple of different roles.

– I really like the Stuart Percy – Petter Granberg pairing. They have good chemistry together, they’re both strong positionally, and they read off each other extremely well. They’re both smart players and the rest of their respective abilities seem to complement each other. Granberg is the more physical defenceman while Percy has more offence to his game. They’ve been the third pairing for the most part, but Steve Spott is starting to give them more minutes. Against the Rampage, they were the second-pairing defenders on the PK as opposed to Brennan and Kevin Marshall.

Stuart Percy, especially, makes smart plays defensively. He never panics when crowded. If he doesn’t have a direct outlet, he’ll simply make an area pass to a location where one of his teammates can retrieve the puck. In the OKC game, he displayed his poise when the boards were taken away as a passing option behind the net. He simply skated in front of his goalie into the crease, dangled an opposing forward, skated up until an outlet presented itself, and made the pass. You have ice in your veins when you can make plays in such dangerous areas and with such confidence.

TJ Brennan is just the opposite defensively. There are times where I just have no idea what he’s thinking. He seems to lack awareness. He didn’t cover anyone on the 2-0 OKC goal, floating into the high slot into a no-man’s-land situation. In the third period of the same game, he had another moment of skating around covering no one, leading to a great chance for the Barons. He had another one of these bone-headed plays in the San Antonio game on the Rampage’s third goal. The Rampage were attacking off the rush; the forward went wide on the wing, where Yeo had him contained and not in a position to do much. There was another forward coming down the middle of the zone directly in front of Brennan. If Brennan had continued skating backwards as he was doing it would have been a nothing play, but for some reason he decided to leave the middle lane to go to the corner and help Yeo, leaving his man open directly in front of Sparks. Needless to say, the puck got to the slot and a goal was scored with both Marlie defencemen covering the passer.

– And yet the guy still racks up the offense, stringing together three points in the three games. If he doesn’t improve on the defence he’s destined to be a PP specialist in the NHL at best.

– The first goal against OKC was a clean faceoff win that got sent back to the point for a goal. The Marlies are starting to get good at these set plays. They scored two goals last week in the same fashion, with clean faceoff wins going back for point-shot goals. McKegg and Carrick have been surprisingly good on the dot this season.

– Three more games, three more announcers surprised with Toronto’s physical play. You would think by now the word would have spread around the league. Andrew MacWilliam dropped the gloves again this week. It seems like he’s becoming more comfortable in that department. He threw a massive open-ice hit in the San Antonio game as well, sending his man airborne in the second period.

Dylan Yeo got into a game during this weekend, his first in a while. It wasn’t a good outing for him besides grabbing a second assist on one of the goals. On one play he had a puck chipped behind him when trying to hold the offensive blueline; the forward got a breakaway goal out of it under two minutes into the game. He took a few bad penalties, as well, and took a big hit behind the net once. He was probably feeling rusty; hopefully next time out he can bounce back.

I’m pretty confident in saying this is a playoff team despite a bad weekend. With that said, I’d make two changes to this team:

  1. For one, the fourth line is not good enough for a long playoff run. Jamie Devane is the only good piece on the line. Smithson is horrible and so is Staubitz. Smithson is just so lacking as a player outside of faceoffs. Maybe he will be pushed to the press box when everyone is healthy. With Staubitz, it’s an almost-guaranteed two bad penalties per game. He can’t be such a liability when he offers so little else. It would be nice to acquire an upgrade on him, as well. The fourth line played a lot this weekend, with it being a 3-in-3 on the road, which got me really thinking on this.
  2. The other change I’d make is to bring in one more solid stay-at-home defenceman. Kevin Marshall is just not cutting it. I’d be surprised if he’s back next season. He gets lost in coverage often for a defensive defenceman, and he doesn’t bring any offense to make up for it. His main asset is his toughness. In the playoffs I might be worried about him, and the Marlies could get exposed if there’s an injury to a defenceman or the Marlies lose some D to call ups. Maybe adding Matt Finn at the end of the season will be enough, but I’d like to see a minor-league deal to bring someone in at some point this season.

Toronto Marlies Scoring

T.J. Brennan48203151-57211016512.1
Spencer Abbott451238509106010211.8
Brandon Kozun
Greg McKegg38111930010506616.7
Josh Leivo34101323-210306615.2
Sam Carrick4461521118412956.3
Jerry D'Amigo3111617212115420.4
Carter Ashton (X)1410515614325518.2
Wade MacLeod315101521100915.5
David Broll443101305820535.7
Peter Holland
Trevor Smith (X)7481246302218.2
Korbinian Holzer474812-54720458.9
Stuart Percy4411112-12600541.9
Troy Bodie (X)17448-1920449.1
Brad Ross39527-125920608.3
Kory Nagy1616741000214.8
Tyler Biggs39516-528014810.4
Kenny Ryan25235-63800238.7
Kevin Marshall34145-34400342.9
Andrew MacWilliam38055-76500270
Petter Granberg472241620002010
Jerred Smithson27134-23100234.3
Jamie Devane33213-565001711.8
Mike Duco1012302300119.1
Dylan Yeo110222100090
Brad Staubitz36022-96700350
Christopher Gibson3178:03:00210051.68870.946
Drew MacIntyre362142:14:00211221892.499850.917
Garret Sparks11586:45:005500282.862740.907
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