The 2017-18 Toronto Marlies campaign was a smashing success on all fronts.
A) They were the best AHL team through the regular season and won a franchise-first Calder Cup Championship.
B) They graduated seven players to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Frankly, if the bulk of championship winning roster had started the season back with the Marlies, the organization isn’t doing its job correctly.
With that in mind, we should not have been surprised by the Marlies early struggles knowing they had a roster that was deprived of those who moved on to the NHL and is comprised of new players finding their fit.
Following a 7-3 win in Utica to kick off the 2018-19 campaign, the Marlies struggled through four straight defeats, allowing 24 goals in the process.
Undoubtedly, the departure of both Garret Sparks and Calvin Pickard left a huge hole in the goaltending department, but little blame could be placed at the feet of Kasimir Kaskisuo, who is, unfortunately, going to miss an extended amount of time due to an injury sustained while making a highlight reel save against Utica.
It’s been in the defensive department where Toronto has lacked cohesiveness.
The losses of Travis Dermott, Martin Marincin and Justin Holl — arguably the three best Marlie defensemen last season — were always going to leave a massive void on the blue line. Timothy Liljegren hasn’t excelled as of yet as he adjusts to a top pairing role, Jordan Subban was an adventure through the opening handful of games, and head coach Sheldon Keefe has not been shy in shaking up the pairings; 10 defensemen haven gotten in at least a game (including the now-departed Kyle Cumiskey and Ryan Sproul).
A shootout loss in Rochester broke the run of regulation losses, but it was a point gained thanks to a late comeback keyed by Sam Gagner’s tying goal with 11 seconds remaining and it came despite another inept defensive display.
Sheldon Keefe was not impressed with the Marlies schedule to begin the season; three games in four days — two of which involved travel — left little to no time for practice, leading to a disjointed start for his team.
Keefe’s point about the havoc the scheduled wreaked on the team’s start has been borne out in recent games, as practice has indeed made perfect. They’ve conceded just four combined goals in a run of three successive victories, putting the Marlies back at .500 with a 4-4-1 record heading into a five-game road trip with the Royal Winter Fair coming to town.
As is often the case in the early throes of a new season, special teams have been a mixed bag. The penalty kill gave up six goals in the opening four games but has tightened up and allowed just a single goal since (1/14). The power play has gone somewhat in the opposite direction with an overall 17.9% strike rate after nine opportunities went begging over the past two games.
– With Kasimir Kaskisuo out indefinitely, the Marlies‘ current goaltending duo is the unlikely pair of Jeff Glass (signed to AHL contract) and Eamon McAdam. Since his call-up, the Marlies have been reluctant to give McAdam any playing time in the AHL. The number one spot has fallen into the lap of the veteran netminder in Glass, who has improved with the extra workload following a problematic start.
Glass’ numbers aren’t pretty right now – a .895 save percentage and a 2.91 goals against average — but the recent improvement in the team’s performances and structure defensively has helped the 32-year-old rebound with a combined .941 SV% over the past three games.
– It’s an important second season for Timothy Liljegren with his promotion to the top pairing (alongside Calle Rosen) along with assignments on both sides of special teams. His performances have been underwhelming to date and some own-zone turnovers have directly led to goals against. Along with initial struggles on the PK, these are likely just teething issues in his new role to begin the season and I expect Liljegren to elevate his game as the season progresses. Liljegren has three points to his name through nine games.
– Calle Rosen has been one of the brighter spots on the blue line as you might expect at least at this point in his career. His offensive production could be called surprising, but we know he owns the skill set to put up numbers at the AHL level. Tied for second in team scoring with eight points, seven of those have been accrued at even strength (1 goal, 6 assists), which is tied for team lead with Sam Gagner and Trevor Moore. The defenseman’s seven assists lead all Marlies skaters.
– Jordan Subban has come very much as advertised. Exciting offensively and equipped with a booming shot, he’s prone at any moment to make a poor decision defensively. Encouragingly, he’s looked better during the Marlies recent wins, attempting percentage plays on breakouts rather than the hail mary passes that were a trademark in the first week or so of the year. Known for his exploits on the power play, Subban scored Toronto’s first goal of the season on the man advantage, but that remains his only point on special teams. The 23-year-old has recorded five even strength assists (2 primary, 3 secondary) to give him six points in nine games.
– Rasmus Sandin made his AHL debut last Friday and promptly scored in what was the first North American pro appearance by Toronto’s first-round pick in 2018. Playing alongside a steady veteran in Vincent LoVerde, you’d never know it was his first AHL game with the poise he showed in his decision making with the puck.
– Ryan Sproul has been released from his PTO, while Kyle Cumiskey has signed with Newfoundland Growlers.
– The Toronto Marlies have been prolific offensively, averaging 3.88 goals per game, and it’s been driven by the performances Sam Gagner and Trevor Moore in particular.
– Despite the circumstances of his surprise demotion by Vancouver, Gagner has shown he’s worthy of a place back in the NHL with some dominant displays while mostly playing on the right wing. Pointless in the last three games — in two of those games, he was paired alongside Dmytro Timashov and Adam Cracknell — Gagner’s eight points have been recorded mostly on a line with Carl Grundstrom and Chris Mueller.
– Moore has started where he left off last playoff, leading the Marlies in goals (six) and points (10, nine primary). He’s achieved those numbers without the benefit of steady chemistry on a set line so far, and he hasn’t seen much ice time alongside Gagner or Mueller at even strength. Mason Marchment and Josh Jooris have been his recent linemates, but it’s not much of a stretch to think Adam Brooks will jump onto that line once healthy as that trio enjoyed a lot of success last year.
– Mason Marchment was injured in the summer and made his return in the Marlies’ sixth game of the season in Rochester. An adjustment period was expected, having not played any competitive hockey since June, but the left-winger has barely missed a beat. A lone goal and assist through four games has hardly done his performances justice.
– Carl Grundstrom is off to a promising start offensively after such a nondescript training camp with the Leafs. His performances in the AHL this season are yet to match those during the Calder Cup campaign, and yet he’s tied for second in team scoring with eight points in seven games. Half of those have been registered on the power play (also tied for the team lead), where he’s proven an effective net-front presence.
– Pierre Engvall got off to a strong start to the season before missing time due to an illness. The Swedish winger is averaging almost four shots per game and has three goals in seven outings despite not yet finding his stride on the power play the same way he did late in the 2017-18 regular season.
– He missed two games due to an undisclosed injury, but Chris Mueller continues to produce at the AHL level with eight points (3-5-8) in seven games. Toronto’s most reliable and consistent center this season, Sheldon Keefe continues to turn to the veteran forward in important situations, while fellow vets Adam Cracknell and Josh Jooris are still looking to find another level to their respective games.
Toronto Marlies Player Stats: October 30
|D||Sproul, Ryan (X)||1||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||5||1.00|
|RW||Piccinich, J.J. (X)||6||0||1||1||0||0||0||0||4||0.17|
|D||Cumiskey, Kyle (X)||1||0||0||0||-1||0||0||0||0|