Last week featured a pair of memorable comebacks wins by the Toronto Marlies over some of the toughest opposition in the AHL.
Saturday’s victory was the 40th of the season for the Marlies, taking their points total to 84 (40-9-4-0). It’s the fifth straight season that the Marlies have attained 40 wins, accomplished with four different head coaches.
The magic number for Toronto to make the playoffs is now just 18 points and there’s still 23 games left in the regular season.
– Attained in one of the latest trades, the Marlies will be glad to have some more help at centre in the form of Colin Smith. With no Arcobello, Leivo or Leipsic available, Smith is currently third on the Marlies in scoring with 34 points for San Antonio Rampage this season.
In his third season of professional hockey, Smith has already posted a career high in goals and points despite being held off the scoresheet in his last eight games. Breaking down his production, Smith has scored 23 (10-9-4) of his points at even strength, ten on the power play and one goal shorthanded.
With 28 of his overall points total either goals or primary assists, he’s no mug at the AHL level and should be able to help the Marlies out.
He’s a smaller guy, offensively gifted, and not lacking in foot speed. I would not be surprised to see him slot in next to Connor Brown, with Brett Findlay moving to left wing in the absence of Brendan Leipsic.
– It was yet another week of change for Sheldon Keefe to deal with. Viktor Loov is up with the Leafs as are Brendan Leipsic and Stuart Percy. Justin Johnson and Scott Harrington were both confirmed as out for the rest of the season.
– Rylan Schwartz was released from his second PTO and the Marlies would have to sign him to an AHL contract in order for him to play for them again.
– Defenceman James Martin was reassigned to Orlando but is now back with the Marlies after the call up of Stuart Percy.
– Sam Carrick made his return from an ankle injury on Saturday. Was his first game since January 8 and strengthens the centre position for Toronto.
– With the trade deadline less than a week away, Toronto have signed John Kurtz to a PTO. The expectation is that he‘s a warm body to be used if necessary. More known for his physicality than putting points on the board, Kurtz has played for Syracuse, Norfolk and Utica (this season) in the AHL.
– Tobias Lindberg made his home debut and recorded an assist in each game over the weekend. He flourished alongside Soshnikov and Gauthier in what could be a line we see a lot more of moving forward.
– Both goaltenders were excellent in one outing apiece. Garret Sparks rightly took the plaudits with a 37-save performance against Portland with his team under the cosh for long stretches. Antoine Bibeau should not be forgotten as he kept the Marlies in the game during a second period of woe against WBS Pens and then kept them off the board during a crucial penalty kill when the game was level at 2-2.
– Zach Hyman registered three primary assists Friday night as he continues to go from strength to strength. Still on a line with Kasperi Kapanen and William Nylander and thriving, he has 31 points in 51 games.
– A goal and an assist for Brett Findlay extends his point streak to four games.
– Rinat Valiev flies under the radar offensively as he receives little to no powerplay time and his partner Andrew Campbell has taken the plaudits with his surprising goal-scoring exploits. He’s notched three assists in four games and is now one point shy of 20 for the season.
Toronto Marlies 4 vs. WBS Penguins 2
Beginning a six-game home stand, Toronto welcomed second-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to Ricoh Coliseum on Friday evening.
Young goaltender Matt Murray is probably the best prospect between the pipes in the AHL right now and he went about proving it in the first period. He turned aside 19 shots from Toronto in the opening 20 minutes as both teams relied on excellent goaltending to keep the game scoreless.
Antoine Bibeau was the first to blink in that regard as the visitors tallied twice in the first two minutes of the middle frame, once on the powerplay. It was thanks to Bibeau, however, that the Marlies didn’t fall further behind. Toronto never really got their wheels under them during the second period and required a big effort in the final 20 minutes.
The comeback began just 34 seconds into the third with T.J Brennan scoring for the 20th time this season. Toronto’s powerplay finally clicked and Connor Brown’s goal at the midway point tied the game. At even strength, the Marlies looked the likelier winner, and sure enough William Nylander put the Marlies up 3-2 with seven minutes to play.
Brett Findlay’s fourth of the season made it four unanswered for the Marlies, sealing a remarkable third period comeback victory.
Toronto Marlies 3 vs. Portland Pirates 1
In the first meeting between the Pirates and Marlies since Toronto’s inaugural season, Portland began on top despite having to travel the previous evening. Toronto were out-shot 2:1 in the opening period and Garret Sparks had to be on his game to deny all 14 attempts.
Portland deservedly took the lead 85 seconds into the middle frame with a long-range effort that weaved its way through traffic in front of Sparks. The Marlies gradually clawed their way back into the game and began to play somewhere near their expected standard.
With a little under five minutes to play in the second period, Tobias Lindberg created a turnover through a hit and made a terrific pass later on the same play to set up Frederik Gauthier. Toronto struck again less than 120 seconds later through Brendan Leipsic and carried a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes.
The next goal was always going to be crucial. After Cononr Brown made the brave play in taking a huge hit to make a pass to Findlay, the latter made a lovely pass, taking two Portland players out of the play and sending Leipsic away alone on net. The left winger showed some nifty stickwork before releasing a wonderful backhand finish to take a 3-1 lead that stood up through to the final buzzer.
Highlights of the Week
Wednesday, February 24 — Binghamton at Toronto, 11:00 a.m. EST
Friday, February 26 — Hershey at Toronto, 7:00 p.m. EST
Saturday, Feb 27 — Rochester at Toronto, 3:00 p.m. EST