Hey! My name is Jeff, and I'm going to be contributing a weekly post on the progress of the Toronto Marlies, the Leafs' American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate. If you aren't familiar with me, you can usually find me on Twitter, The Leafs Nation, or The Faceoff Circle.
Just a few months ago, the suggestion that the Toronto Marlies could make another Calder Cup Playoff appearance would make anyone consider you somewhat insane. The team was near the bottom of the standings, with little depth up front and no offensive contributions from the backend whatsoever. However, the wave of future-looking moves that the Leafs made in the winter also doubled as a cupboard restock for their minor league roster, causing a surge up the AHL standings. Last week, Toronto had an opportunity to actually cross over the line, but couldn't pull it off.
Toronto vs. Lehigh Valley (Wednesday)
Toronto took an early lead courtesy off an unassisted goal by pleasant surprise Byron Froese, but Nick Cousins of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms scored twice before the first period closed. Matt Frattin tied the game up late in the second, but that's the closest the Marlies got to victory. A penalty shot for Cousins turned out to be the dagger, giving him the Hat Trick and the Phantoms their final goal in an eventual 4-3 final.
"We didn’t come to the table as engaged as we should have been." said Gord Dineen after the game, as he held his team accountable for their performance. "It’s not a divisional team or a conference team, but sometimes you have to find emotion in different ways. We didn’t bring the proper mindset into the game, and it cost us."
Toronto @ Adirondack (Saturday)
William Nylander carried the momentum of a last second goal from Wednesday into this game against the Flames, finding the back of the net twice for his fifth and sixth goals of the season. However, the Marlies essentially lost this game before it really started, giving up three goals in the opening eight minutes.
"We didn’t recover from it." said Dineen of the poor start. "You spot a team four goals in the first period, its inexplicable the way they came out. We were like deers in headlights."
You can't say they didn't give the effort needed to come back from the poor start though. Despite being down 4-1 after 20 minutes, the game ended with a respectable looking 5-4 final, thanks to Nylander's pair and supplementary goals from Josh Leivo and Ryan Rupert. Toronto managed to outshoot Adirondack 20-7 in the third period.
Toronto @ Hamilton (Sunday)
Wrapping up the weekend, the Marlies headed to the Bell Centre for a rare game in an NHL building, taking on the Hamilton Bulldogs, affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens. Despite being outshot 29-18 over the course of the game, the Marlies managed to pick up two points thanks to Ryan Rupert's late first period goal. The real star of the game, however, was Christopher Gibson, who posted the shutout.
"It’s huge when you see your goaltender stop a good shot," Rupert said of his teammate. "But when you see him battle out there, sprawling, and not giving up on the play, that’s the biggest inspiration he brings to the team. It makes us work that much harder."
Sam Carrick added an empty netter in the final minute of play. Troy Bodie was sent off late in the second period for a controversial elbow.
Player of the Week
This one was a hard one to pick, but given all the expectations set on him after crossing the pond, I have to give this one to William Nylander. His five-game point streak was snapped against the Bulldogs, but that didn't take away from the three goals and one assist he had on Wednesday and Saturday. His seven total shots also tied him for a team high.
It's nice to see the teenager get some success under him; he's played good hockey and shown flashes of brilliance, and is finally getting rewarded for it. He's now up to 16 points in 22 games, a very respectable average for someone his age that joined his team mid year.
Who's Hot, Who's Not?
Christopher Gibson is hot. The young Finn started two of the three games, and came in for Antoine Bibeau just ten minutes into Saturday's. While he only won one of the three games, his 81 saves on 87 shots over 168 minutes gave him a 0.931 save percentage on the week.
Connor Brown is hot, but what else is new? Brown is the first rookie in Marlies history to pick up 50 points, which leads the team and puts him second among all rookie AHLers. This week, he had assists in all three games.
Troy Bodie is not. He didn't pick up a point in any of his three appearances, only took two shots, and was thrown out on Sunday for a dangerous elbow on Morgan Ellis.
Colton Orr is not. He's only played thirteen games this year, two of which came this week, and still doesn't have a point.
Reggie Traccitto is neither, but worth mentioning anyway. He played his first two professional games this weekend, and despite playing on the point, took seven shots. Unfortunately, none of those efforts converted into goals.
The Marlies play two games before next Monday, and they're hours apart from each other. Thankfully, they're both at home, so there's no travel to worry about. On Friday night (7PM), they'll be taking on the Lake Erie Monsters (affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche), followed by a game against the Rochester Americans on Saturday afternoon (3PM).
Saturday's game will be available locally on Rogers TV. Friday's is not televised, but if you're in town, it might be worth dropping by Ricoh Coliseum; its Star Wars Night (which I assume is a Comic Con cross-promo) and beers are $5.