It’s been a long and tumultuous season for the Marlies. The team sunk to the bottom of the division in the fall. Six different goalies spent time playing for the team. There were serious injuries to many players. Assistant Coach Gord Dineen was fired mid-season, and not replaced. Many players were traded, called up to the Leafs, sent down to the Solar Bears, and then recalled.
It was not at all the ideal situation for a team to gel, yet they did, finishing the regular season within a point of the top of the AHL North Division. They were, in fact, at the top, until a series of games on the final day of the season knocked them down to second.
Tonight, their post-season begins. The Marlies Calder Cup Playoffs first round series is against the Albany Devils. The first game is tonight in Albany. Here’s the full schedule.
Marlies First Round
|Thu, April 20||Toronto Marlies at Albany Devils||7:00 PM|
|Sat, April 22||Toronto Marlies at Albany Devils||5:00 PM|
|Wed, April 26||Albany Devils at Toronto Marlies||7:00 PM|
|Fri, April 28||Albany Devils at Toronto Marlies||7:00 PM|
|Sat, April 29||Albany Devils at Toronto Marlies||7:00 PM|
As you can see, the Marlies first home game will not be until Wednesday the 26th. That could in theory be an elimination for either team as the first round in the AHL is a best of five series, not best of seven. Don’t forget that you can get a discount on Marlies playoff tickets with our special offer code.
Last season, the Marlies encountered the Albany Devils in the second round of the playoffs, and barely made it through, winning the seventh game on a goal by Rich Clune with only two and a half minutes left.
Clune is still with the team, but much of the rest of the Marlies roster has since turned over. Top scorer Mark Arcobello left to play in the Swiss League. Graduated to the Maple Leafs are William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Connor Brown, Kasperi Kapanen, Nikita Soshnikov, and Josh Leivo. Kapanen and Soshnikov could return if the Leafs are eliminated.
Both teams have also swapped some players. Viktor Loov was traded for Sergey Kalinin on February 18. Loov has been injured but is reported near ready to return, and may play in this series. Kalinin was with the big club and has not actually played with the Albany Devils.
Kalinin was in the news today, with his KHL rights traded for cash. The Marlies commented that “Kalinin is playing for the Marlies, and is focused on the series ahead.”
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond is now with the Marlies after a circuitous route from the Devils via Tampa, but it is unclear if he will actually play in this series. One ex-Devil who will play is Mike Sislo. The winger had 8 goals and 8 assists in his 18 games with the Marlies. Sislo played with the Devils last season, but then signed with the Avalanche and was assigned to the San Antonio Rampage. He was later traded to Toronto for Colin Smith.
Numerous other players are also gone after that game. The only stable position is goaltending. Antoine Bibeau won that game, with Garret Sparks backing him up. Based on comments by Sheldon Keefe, it sounds like Sparks will be his number one for this series.
No 1A-1B this post-season for Marlies. Keefe says Sparks has earned the net to start the playoffs. Marlies play Albany Thursday— Kyle Cicerella (@KyleTheReporter) April 18, 2017
On the other hand, the Devils have turned over their goaltenders. Likely in net for the playoffs is the infamous MacKenzie Blackwood, or Ken Appleby, a 22 year-old undrafted goalie from the Oshawa Generals.
The Marlies record against the Devils this season is 3 wins and 5 losses. Antoine Bibeau was in net for six of those games, Sparks for one (a win), and Jhonas Enroth for one ( a loss).
The games have tended to be very physical, with both teams taking an absurd amount of penalties. I know there are generally higher PIM in the AHL, but both teams seem too quick to lose their tempers and take dumb penalties against each other. In the eight games this season, they averaged a combined total of 40.75 PIM per game! That’s 10 penalties each. Taking out four misconducts (and leaving in two for the second fight in a game) still brings the average down to only 35.75, which is really high.
Clearly there’s some bad blood between these teams. Cooler heads need to prevail for the Marlies to avoid picking up penalties at the worst possible time. The October 29 game sticks out to me. Rinat Valiev took an extra penalty for a second fight in the game, putting the Marlies on a PK with the game tied, and 11 minutes left in the third. The Devils scored and won on the ensuing power play.
Keefe himself has talked about how penalties are a problem, though the issue appears to have subsided somewhat toward the close of the season. I would note Valiev in particular, after returning from injury, seems to have matured, and learned on occasion it’s better for the team that he skate away rather than engage. That’s a big plus for him; what some hockey people might call ‘character.’ I’ll remember that when I submit my rankings in our Top 25 under 25 Maple Leafs players and prospects this summer.