The Toronto Marlies welcome one of the hottest teams in the American League to Ricoh Coliseum this weekend for a back-to-back set (Saturday, 4 p.m. EST & Sunday, 4 p.m. EST).
The two teams will face off for the first time since February 25, 2015, when the Marlies ran out victors by a 4-1 scoreline. In fact, it’s not been much of the rivalry between the teams in recent history, with Toronto winning seven of the last eight encounters.
Times have changed, however, for the Checkers, who currently sit atop the Atlantic Division and have proven themselves an offensive juggernaut in the early going.
In five games, Charlotte has posted a 4-1-0 record (identical to Toronto) solely powered by their ability to find the net with regularity — they’ve scored 21 goals, 15 of which have come at even strength.
Charlotte was in action just across the border in Rochester on Friday night. Down 2-0 through 20 minutes, Charlotte responded by striking four times in the middle frame (all at 5v5) and added a fifth without reply in the third period to seal the victory.
Players to Watch & Keys to Success
– Centreman Lucas Wallmark has recorded a point in every game this year, beginning with three assists on opening night. His nine points (2-7-9) is good for fourth-best in the AHL.
– Rookie Warren Foegele leads the Checkers with five goals.
– Veteran forward Andrew Miller, formerly a part of the Edmonton organization, is enjoying his second season in Charlotte with six points (1-5-6) to start 2017-18.
– The Carolina organization has an interesting prospect in Valentin Zykov, who has four points (3-1-4) to start the year. The 22-year-old Russian forward acquired via trade from the Los Angeles Kings after playing just 43 games for the Ontario Reign. With 34 points in 43 AHL appearances last season (16-18-34), he also scored in his NHL debut before getting injured in his next game.
– On the blue line, the experienced Trevor Carrick and Philip Samuelsson are relied on by the Checkers, while prospect Roland McKeon (also acquired from the Kings) is on the fringe of making the NHL, having been one of the last cuts at camp.
– Although Charlotte has been scoring for fun, they have also allowed an average of three goals per game and the Checkers goaltending tandem has struggled. In his sophomore professional season, Alex Nedeljkovic has won all three starts but has a save percentage hovering below .900. Jeremy Smith is 1-1-1 with a GAA just above the .900 mark, and the more experienced goaltender is likely to take the start on Saturday.
– Charlotte is no stranger to giving up goals. There should be plenty of chances for the Marlies at the other end of the ice. The Marlies have yet to play a complete 60 minutes and have often been their worst enemies by over-complicating things inside the defensive zone. A stronger effort there against a potent Charlotte team, limiting the work asked of Calvin Pickard and Garret Sparks, will set the stage for the Marlies to tip the scales at the other end.
– Toronto has a full roster to select from with no real injury concerns. In net, Pickard and Sparks will share duties, with Kasimir Kaskisuo reassigned to Orlando Solar Bears.