Road trips are supposed to be difficult things. You're away from your natural environment. The opposing team can feed off of their own crowds. You spend so, so much time travelling. You never like to lose games, but these are the ones where you have an excuse after the final buzzer.
No excuses for the Toronto Marlies this week. They let pucks fly, beat their opposing goalies a whopping 17 times, and received fantastic support in between the pipes en route to a 3-0-0 week.
Toronto @ Hartford (Wednesday, 5-0 Win)
Toronto got a solid head start in this game thanks to a goal from Mark Arcobello in the front half of the first period, but for a while, this was a very boring matchup. The two teams fell into a stalemate controlled by Garret Sparks and Magnus Hellberg, but eventually, the Marlies found their sticks.
Kasperi Kapanen and Ryan Rupert combined for a pair of goals in the span of just 25 seconds, and a few minutes later, Nikita Sohsnikov burst through to score his fourth of the year. Richard Panik added further insurance with three minutes to go, which ultimately left the young children in Hartford confused as they headed out of the arena and back to school.
Toronto @ Utica (Friday, 5-4 Shootout Win)
This was a game with plenty of back and forths, particularly in the opening minutes of the first period. Wacey Hamilton, Casey Bailey, and Brendan Gaunce all scored within a span of less than two and a half minutes, leaving fans of both teams on their toes.
The Marlies took advantage of Jacob Markstrom's first game back from a hamstring injury, an appearance only in existence as a result of a conditioning stint. Most shots focused on his five hole and his struggles to get down to the butterfly, as Kasperi Kapanen and TJ Brennan proved with tying and go-ahead goals in the late first and early second period.
Utica responded with a pair of goals early in the third period to regain their lead, but before one could panic, William Nylander picked up his sixth goal off the season to equalize. This sent the game to an action-packed 3-on-3 overtime, where the two teams each took six shots on goal, which were all stopped by Markstrom and Marlies goalie Garret Sparks. Sparks continued that into the shootout, while Markstrom gave up a pair of five hole goals from Mark Arcobello and William Nylander to point the game in Toronto's favour.
Toronto @ Binghamton (Saturday, 6-1 Win)
Toronto's last stop in Binghamton led to their only significant loss of the season, fueled by odd man rushes and breakaways. While they allowed 35 shots to hit the net, a lot fewer of them were high danger, which made the night easier for Garret Sparks. Binghamton's Matt O'Connor, on the other hand? His night was rough, as the Marlies feasted on their opponents.
From William Nylander's wrist shot that looked like Alex Semin in his 40 goal phase, to Richard Panik's casual skate in and snipe, to Zach Hyman's slot shuffle, to TJ Brennan's pair of point shots, the Marlies' skill and versatility were just too much to handle for the Ottawa affiliate. This game made the Marlies the first team to hit the 50 goal mark in the AHL this year; the next closest team is now six goals behind them.
Fancy Stats To Date
The Marlies remain a top ten possession team in the league, according to CHL Stats. They estimate the team at a 52.3% Fenwick close through thirteen games, mostly thanks to their 31.8 shots per game. Defensively, they've been good, if unspectacular at 29 shots allowed per game, but have been backed up by a very strong 0.923 save percentage from Garret Sparks and Antoine Bibeau. Toronto's PDO is up to a scary 1042; even if they're a naturally talented team, that should probably dip at some point.
Player of the Week
If the AHL says that Garret Sparks was the best player in the league this week, I guess it's impossible to pick anybody other than him as my choice? With that said, even with six Marlies players producing at a point-per-game pace this week, it's hard to argue against him. 96 saves on 101 shots against gives him a superhuman 0.950 save percentage, including a shutout, a perfect shootout, and a massive rebound against a team that burned him in the past.
Who's Hot, Who's Not?
TJ Brennan is hot. The offensive defenceman picked up another three goals and two assists over three games this weekend, putting him near the top of the league's scoring race, much like he was in 2013/14. The scary thing? He has support to push him up further this time around.
Josh Leivo is still hot. His stick dried up (not that he tried to use it much, with four shots in three games), but he had an assist in all three games.
Richard Panik is still hot. Conversely, Panik is finally starting to put the puck in the net, scoring in two of three games and adding an assist. His eleven shots were tied for the most on the team.
Mark Arcobello is hot. Where was this guy on the Leafs? Oh, playing defensive minutes. Anyway, he's picked up points in every game he's played so far, including another four in three games this week. He's the other player with eleven shots.
William Nylander is doing William Nylander things still. What more can you say about him? Two goals, three assists, and eight shots on goal over three games this week. He's tied for third in AHL scoring, and has two games in hand on the guys ahead of him, who aren't ahead by much.
Casey Bailey is Hot. After a slow start, Bailey is beginning to find his touch, with a goal and assist in two games.
Matt Frattin is Not. Somebody had to be cold, right? Frattin is the only forward on the team to not pick up a point this week, despite taking seven shots on goal.
The Marlies have a pair of games this weekend, as the club flies to scenic Newfoundland to take on the IceCaps. No more fake rivalries this year; the IceCaps have evolved from "the team that the league is trying to force the former city narrative to", "Hamilton Bulldogs in the Maritimes". It's great; there's actually a reason for the players to dislike each other. Both games are at 6:00 Toronto time.