Welcome to the only hockey team in Toronto worth watching. The Marlies had three games in this set against the Rochester Americans (Buffalo), Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal) and Lake Erie Monsters (Colorado). The Marlies took care of business and won all 3 games for a nice cool 6 points.
Marlies (2) vs Americans (1) (OT)
Marlies Goal Scorers: Abbott (2)
Marlies Assists: Holzer, Smith, Brennan, Percy
The first meeting between the Amerks and Marlies since December 18, Christopher Gibson was in net again while Sam Carrick and Wade McLeod returned to the lineup.
This first period was played at a furious pace all the way through, and it almost felt like an October NHL game. The Marlies got on the board less than a minute into this game scoring a goal off the rush. Holzer took a whack at a rebound that Gibson couldn’t hold before Smith chipped it along into the neutral zone, where Abbott scooped it up and went in on a 3 on 2 rush. Abbott did a masterful job of looking at his teammates feigning pass and at the last second deciding to shoot top-shelf short-side for the goal. It was the same goal that was shown by Don Cherry on Coach’s Corner recently. Not much cycling here off the hop, but lots of back-and forth-attack. In one of these sequences, the Marlies turned it over and both d-men got caught up ice, Carrick made a great play to come back, lay out and stop a 2 on 1 play, but took a penalty in the process. A good penalty to take, but unfortunately, the Amerks tallied a goal on the ensuing power-play. Zigomanis kept a puck in at the blue-line and passed to Ristolainen, who blasted it into the back of the net. Marlie players were a little late coming from one side of the ice to the other, which gave Ristolainen a nice shooting lane. There were about 13 minutes left in the period after that goal. Both teams got a couple more chances on the PP but couldn’t convert and the period ended tied at 1-1. 11-10 were the shots for the Marlies after the first period.
The pace died down in the 2nd period, but it worked to the Marlies advantage. Although the period would ultimately finish scoreless, Toronto outshot Rochester 14-6 in this period and really wore the Amerks down. The Marlies got their chip and chase game going in this period, and spent the majority of the frame in the Rochester zone, cycling, generating PPs and getting great chances to score. There were two high quality chances in this period for the Marlies. The first was a shot labelled for the top-shelf off of the stick of D’Amigo that was completely robbed by the Rochester netminder; the 2nd was a shot off the cross-bar from Kozun, who got a nice set-up from Broll on the rush.
Toronto started off the 3rd period by getting into some penalty trouble, going to their 6th and 7th penalty kills of the night. Gibson really kept the team in it on the 7th kill, where the Amerks put some pressure on and Gibson came up with some massive saves. The Amerks kept attacking for the first half of the third and the Marlies did a solid job of weathering the storm. The Marlies mounted their own attack in the latter half of the frame. Toronto got on the fore-check and went to work, the highlight of this being McKegg robbed right on the doorstep. With around two minutes left in the period, the Marlies got their 4th PP of the game but couldn’t score. This game went to OT.
The Baby Buds kept the attack going in OT cycling the puck on the Amerks and keeping them hemmed in their own zone. The diligent cycle work paid off with about 2:30 left in OT as the Marlies were awarded a powerplay. McKegg rang one off the post early but it was near the end of the PP when the Marlies finally capitalized and put this game away. Percy skated through the neutral zone and gained the offensive line, then dropped the puck back to Abbott. Abbott made a cross-zone pass to Brennan, who took a shot but had it bounce off an Amerks player’s shin-pad. A lucky break for Toronto as the puck landed right on Abbott’s stick, and the goalie had already went down reacting to the initial shot. Abbott doesn’t miss in these situations and sure enough he deposited the puck into the top half of the net for the OT winner. 2-1 final and a big win for the Marlies in what was a thoroughly entertaining game.
Marlies (4) vs Bulldogs (1)
Marlies Goal Scorers: McKegg (2), Carrick, D’Amigo
Marlies Assists: Abbott (2), Leivo (2), Devane, Smithson (2)
Entering the last game against Hamilton this season, the Bulldogs had won 6 of 11 meetings while the Marlies had a chance to even the season series. Christopher Gibson was in net again.
Toronto came out with a couple chances early in this one, but a weak penalty call put them on their heels. Fortunately, the Marlies killed it off and got back on the attack. The team strung together some good forechecking shifts until a soft play by Abbott in the defensive zone gave the Bulldogs an opening to score. Abbott recovered a puck in the defensive zone, had time and was fading backwards into the zone, but decided to chip the puck off the wall to try and get it out instead of looking for a teammate. The chip was weak, and the Bulldogs intercepted it and scored. Better make sure you’re hard on the play if you’re going to make those kinds of bank plays in your own end. 1-0 Bulldogs.
Luckily, Spencer Abbott soon after redeemed himself. The Marlies got a power-play chance after a post-whistle scrum in the offensive zone and cashed in. Abbott worked his usual half-wall spot, found Leivo down low, where Leivo pulled off the spin move but actually made it into a pass instead of the shot this time around. It worked perfectly, as McKegg received the pass and had an empty net to shoot at. The goal tied the game at 1-1 headed into the first intermission.
There were no goals in the second period in what was an evenly matched frame. Not much action or chances to speak of, but both teams played well and took turns on the attack. The Marlies got on their chip and chase game for the first 10 minutes, trying to wear the Bulldogs down, and Hamilton returned in kind with their forecheck and cycle game for the latter 10 minutes. I’d give the Marlies a slight edge in the period, though, as they did a very good job of containing the cycle. They were out-possessed for that stretch in the last 10 minutes, but they worked hard and kept everything to the outside. That would set up an entertaining third period with this game still tied at 1-1.
Toronto came out ready in the 3rd and made Hamilton pay five minutes in. The Marlies gained the offensive zone and set up a possession. Holzer made a pass down low to Smithson, Smithson chipped it further along to Devane behind the net, and Devane showed some vision, fading backwards to find Carrick in a soft spot in the slot. Carrick made no mistake and one-timed the puck into the back of the net to give the Marlies their first lead of the game at 2-1. That goal went straight to the Marlies legs and they took over from there. The team scored another goal just about five minutes later. It started with the forecheck, of course, as the Marlies top-line dumped it in and engaged in some board battles. McKegg would eventually win possession and find Abbott high in the offensive zone. Abbott put a slapper on net, the goalie let out a big rebound, and Toronto crashed the net. Leivo scooped the first rebound and let off a spin-shot, before McKegg picked up the second rebound and scored five-hole. D’Amigo added an empty-netter, no surprise there, and the Marlies won the game 4-1 to even up the season series with the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Marlies (4) vs Monsters (3) (SO)
Marlies Goal Scorers: Smith, Leivo, Holzer
Marlies Assists: Brennan, Abbott (2), MacWilliam, Ryan, D’Amigo
It was a physical affair in the last meeting of this budding rivalry with Lake Erie. These two teams played each other the weekend prior two times and totalled 360+ PIMS in those games. This was the eighth and final game of the season between these two teams. Garret Sparks got the start in net.
The first period of this game was surprisingly tame in both physical and scoring terms. The pace was high as both teams had their skating legs going and the teams’ respective defensive games were on point. The shots were 9-8 for the Monsters after the first period, but most of the shots for both teams were of the perimeter variety and quality chances were at a minimum. With the way the last couple games against the Monsters went, I was expecting a much more physical game to start, but only David Broll dropped the mitts in the latter half of the period. It was a good scrap, though, with both combatants throwing bombs. A scoreless first period without a single minor penalty, the refs were letting them play.
After a scoreless first, these two teams combined for four goals in the second. The Monsters got on the scoresheet first by capitalizing on a bad play by Sparks. Sparks came out of his net to play a dump in, but bobbled the puck behind the net and was slow getting back in his crease. The Monsters took what was given and put one behind Sparks; 1-0 for Lake Erie fewer than two minutes into the period.
The Marlies took a penalty after the goal, but it seemed to wake them up, as they got on the attack after killing off the penalty. They got back to the forecheck and strung together some scoring chances. The hard work would pay off shortly after as the cycle generated a PP for Toronto and the Marlies converted. Leivo recovered a rebound in the corner and regrouped back to Brennan; Brennan went to Abbott at the half-wall and he did a good job of exploiting the killers. The nearest Pker was cheating over to take Brennan’s shot away, so Abbott passed through the seam to Smith in front of him in the high slot and Smith sniped it home with about half the period to go.
The Marlies kept pressing and scored another goal five minutes later. Kenny Ryan got on the fore-check and retrieved a Andrew MacWilliam dump in. He took a quick look over his shoulder, saw Leivo, and fed him a nice little dish that Leivo one-timed into the net with McLaren providing a screen, making it 2-1 Marlies.
Percy took a tripping penalty on the next shift and the Monsters tied it up right after the kill. Some nice cycle work by Lake Erie got the Toronto scrambling a little, and the scramble caused Toronto to puck watch. The Monster player by the half-wall had everyone’s attention as another Monster snuck down from the point on the back-door and went undetected by every Marlie on the ice. He caught the pass and made no mistake. The Marlies got caught on a simple mental mistake with players forgetting to swivel their heads in a mini-panic on that play. That goal came with under two minutes in the period and sent the Baby Buds to the dressing room tied at 2-2.
About five minutes into the 3rd, after a Marlie powerplay and some chances to score, the Monsters scored one to go up 3-2. The Marlies were in fine defensive position for this goal; the Monster player just beat Sparks clean. Toronto then got into some penalty trouble with a few players going to the box, with Spott himself getting called for yapping at the refs. The killers did a good job of killing a few off before Toronto got a powerplay chance of their own. The Marlies didn’t score on the man advantage, but they wouldn’t be deterred as they kept pressing the attack. It finally paid off after the team recovered a rebound from a Smith rush opportunity. D’Amigo and Abbott put forth some solid effort behind the net keeping the cycle alive before Abbott found Holzer at point, who walked the line and put a snap shot on net with traffic in front. That Holzer goal was huge and brought the Marlies back to 3-3 with two minutes remaining in the game.
It was a lackluster OT with only a few shots and not a single dangerous scoring chance. Both teams played well defensively so this game required a deciding skills comp. In the shootout, the Baby Buds got goals from Smith and D’Amigo and Sparks stopped all four shooters he faced to preserve a 4-3 shootout win.
– It seems like Spencer Abbott knows his own scouting report and used that to his advantage in the Rochester game. Everyone knows he’s a passer, and that’s what we expect him to do on an odd man rush, but he decided to fool everyone. He looked at his teammates all the way down, feigning pass, and at last second turned and snapped it short-side top corner. Smart player.
– David Broll has been increasing the frequency of his fights recently. In the beginning of the season, he was dropping them here and there but recently it seems like he’s scrapping every game. Perhaps the big man is starting to get comfortable and familiar with the AHL and it’s giving him the confidence to go out there and rustle some feathers. I can bet his reputation is starting to grow as well; in this last stretch, the worst I’ve seen him fare was a even/tie bout. He’s got a lot of pop and he’s winning most of his scraps.
– Nice play by Broll to set-up Kozun off the rush, late in the 2nd period of the Rochester game.
– Christopher Gibson made some huge saves in the first half of the first period in the Rochester game. One thing I have noticed about Gibson is he’s vulnerable to giving up dangerous rebounds when the shots are in his pads. I’d like to see him get better at directing those into the corner or out of play. He does have a good glove hand, though, and doesn’t give up too many rebounds when the shots are high.
– I enjoyed watching Garret Sparks and Gibson over this stretch. With MacIntyre up with the big club, both goalies got to show case their stuff and they did an awesome job while going 3 for 3. Most likely, it’s going to be those two guys platooning next year and at this point I feel confident they will do well.
– Josh Leivo tried the JVR spin move on the power-play in the Rochester game again; he’s got it mastered now. He’s also made a little adjustment to it by using it for a quick cross-crease pass that set up a McKegg goal. It’s the JvR/Leivo spin-move by now.
– Leivo’s forecheck and cycle work is impressive for a rookie. He’s got the size to hit and recover the puck, and he’s shifty and agile once he has it. He’s a tough a player to take it away from.
– Sam Carrick looked good in his come back and that bodes well for the Marlies down the stretch. He’s a leader on this team, and his grit, determination, tenacity and work ethic will be so valuable come play-off time.
– It’s a real basic element of board battles, but Andrew MacWilliam is effective at sticking his leg between an opposing player’s legs and pinning them against the boards to stop the progress of a cycle. It’s just fundamentals, but good players always build up from the fundamentals.
– MacWilliam also shows good acumen at reading and anticipating. A lot of times he’ll see a play develop, and he’s quick enough to get a stick in and break it up. He’s more than just a rough and tumble defenceman. He’s a character player, too, and one of those players on the PK that actually commits to getting into shooting lanes. Some players just want to look like they are trying but are always off to the side a little hoping they don’t get hit.
– I keep talking about the forecheck and cycle of the Marlies, but for a reason – it’s that good. It’s such a contrast from the Leafs‘ game. The Marlies hem teams in for long periods of time and wear them down. Opponents can’t change, they spend all their energy defending, and punt it into the neutral zone when they finally get it back. The Marlies just dump it right back in, which is so difficult to defend.
– Another team point that’s worth noting: You can always hear the Marlies on both the bench and the ice yelling, more so than usual. It’s minuscule, but I think it helps the team. Communication is key to making the game easier, and this team is on the same page. It shows that Spott and the coaching staff have these players buying in.
– The Marlies d-zone coverage is really solid. A great example came in the second half of the first period in the Bulldogs game, when the Marlies got stuck in their own zone. They did a great job of keeping everything to the outside with lots of hard work, starts and stops and trading off without mistakes, with every player protecting their zone of the ice.
– I love how the Marlies respond more times than not after a bad situation. Be it a goal, a penalty kill, whatever. The next shift they usually come back with a forecheck and have a possession shift to try to regain momentum and stop the opposing team from taking over. It shows mental toughness.
– It’s a subtle thing, but Petter Granberg is starting to direct players on the ice when the situation requires. It shows his confidence is growing in North America and with his teammates as well.
– One thing that I like really like about the North-South game over the East-West game: On break outs, you take the potential mistake out of your hands place it into the other team’s hands. With the North-South game, you won’t have nearly as many turnovers in the defensive and especially the neutral zone. You simply get on the forecheck and either recover the puck or try to force the other team into making a mistake. You can hang yourself playing East-West.
– I like Brandon Kozun more and more. He’s obviously nowhere near as skilled, but his speed and forecheck remind me a bit of Parise. He’s got good take-away skills, and brings some grit. I’m not really sure where he’s going to fit in the organization, but there’s a lot to like about this guy, even when he’s as small as he is.
– You have to love that pass Jamie Devane made on the Carrick goal in the Hamilton game. As I’ve said, he’s shown he’s got some offensive upside, and he shows a little vision on this one.
– I like Devane’s foot-work in his skating. He’s got quick feet that are evident when he’s doing backwards cross-overs opening himself up on the wing to receive a pass on the break out. When he receives the pass, he’s got a smooth pivot before continuing on. Most players his size are clumsy and slow at those type of things.
– I like that Gregg McKegg took a run at a Monster player in the second period when he ran Kozun from behind. It was a good penalty to take to make sure liberties aren’t being taken on his teammates.
– Korbinian Holzer does a good job of defending forwards who try to beat him wide on the rush. He pivots smoothly and times it well, and uses his size and strength to lean on the forward and rub him out into the boards. He’s also using his body well. He can hold the puck, take a hit and roll off of it, maintain possession, and make a play.
– Trevor Smith showed off his shot on that one-timer goal on the PP. It’s good to see the captain back on this squad and contributing.
– Onwards to playoffs.