The Toronto Marlies kicked off their defense of the Calder Cup on the road, as they opened the season against the Utica Comets in New York. It was a slow start to the game for the Marlies, who looked overwhelmed by Utica’s passion early on, but as the two teams got settled into the contest, the young Marlies started to shine all throughout the next two periods and eventually came out with a 7-3 victory.
Trevor Moore led the way with two goals, while Pierre Engvall, Carl Grundstrom, and newcomer Jordan Subban gave fans reason to be excited with dazzling displays of talent, including goals from each. Similar to his team, 19-year-old Timothy Liljegren had a slow start to this game, but quickly found his legs and showed off what he can do with the puck. Oh, and he scored, too. There were a lot of goals in this game, so let’s get right into the recap.
Carl Grundstrom - Chris Mueller - Sam Gagner
Dmytro Timashov - Adam Cracknell - Trevor Moore
Pierre Engvall - Josh Jooris - Jeremy Bracco
Emerson Clark - Colin Greening - Griffen Molino
Calle Rosen - Timothy Liljegren
Andreas Borgman - Vincent LoVerde
Andrew Nielsen - Jordan Subban
Kasimir Kaskisuo starts in net for the Marlies tonight. He spent all of last year on loan to the Chicago Wolves in order to get him some playing time. He comes into Toronto as the starter. It looks like Laurence Gilman and the Marlies intend to have him play the majority of the games, but we will see what happens with the Leafs, whose needs are the priority. In the meantime, old friend Jeff Glass backs him up. He signed an AHL contract only a few days ago.
Similar to the Maple Leafs from a few days ago, the Marlies’ start was also...sub-optimal. With Timashov in the box for slashing, the Marlies penalty kill — the best penalty kill in the AHL last year — looked shaky, and gave up the inevitable opening goal of the game as Reid Boucher picked up a loose puck following a scramble in the slot and put the puck into the wide open net.
One of the Marlies who has jumped out in the early going has been Subban. I actually had to look up his number because I could’ve sworn he was a forward with the number of chances he was able to create in the offensive zone slot. He’s made a few mistakes in his own zone, but Nielsen has been there to cover when needed so far. I’m personally skeptical about his partner being Nielsen, but so far, he’s shown that he can use his long reach and size effectively without getting carried away. That’s all I ask, Andrew! That’s all I ask.
Jordan Subban is going to take like 400 shots this year pic.twitter.com/Tqtjfhy62Y— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) October 5, 2018
Liljegren has had some trouble with his start-stop movements, I’ve found, but when he gets going, he can really fly. In the play below, he was nearly able to get through all four Utica Comets penalty killers for a chance. He lost the puck initially, but regained it and helped set up Gagner for the Marlies’ biggest chance of the period with 0.6 seconds left.
Nice to see Liljegren gaining the zone by himself on the PP. He rarely did this last year. Led to a scoring chance pic.twitter.com/kH6jsB9rSH— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) October 5, 2018
This team has depth all across its top-nine, and as well on defense, but the one thing the Marlies lack right now is a star that can push them over the edge into being what they were last year. This roster has a lot of the same pieces, but for the most part, it’s a different team and the goal should be different as well; development. There are 12 players under the age of 24 on this roster, and seven of them have no more than one year of experience in the AHL.
But getting back to this game, the Marlies didn’t look great. They were out-shot 15-9 in the period, took two penalties while drawing only one, and trail 1-0 after 20 minutes. However, there was hope heading into the second as the Marlies started to pick up the play, especially on the power play at the end of the period.
Subban scores! The youngest brother of the Subban clan has been given first-unit power play time by the Marlies coaching staff and he made them look good on this play. Standing at the top of the point, right in the middle of the ice, Engvall set up Subban for a monster blast that went straight though the crowd in front of the net and beat Richard Bachman in the Utica net. Shades of brother PK, I must say.
Subban was once again in the middle of the action, as he picked up a lost puck from Rosen, who was trying to dump the puck in so his pairing could change for Subban’s. The minute defenseman stepped up and grabbed the puck, before spinning and sending a streaking Engvall into the offensive zone out of nowhere. Pierre stepped right in with speed, and sniped top corner on Bachman, giving the Marlies their first lead of the season.
Engvall has all the tools to be a great utility player with upside in the NHL. All he really needs is some service time. He’s going to get that in spades with the Marlies, and hopefully in the process, he can be one of the leaders on the ice offensively.
It looked like a nothing play, but when Liljegren left the blueline and started skating toward the corner, no one expected his shot from a terrible angle to make its way through Bachman and into the net. Nevertheless, it did, and the Marlies extended their lead. Rosen picked up his second assist of the game, and Mueller got his first.
Fans wanted to see more from Moore in the AHL following a great second half with the Marlies. In this game, he delivered with a breakaway goal during some 4-on-4 action. Similar to Kasperi Kapanen, when Moore is given some more space to work with and skate, he can do a lot with it. A key part of this goal that I didn’t initially pick up is that Borgman’s zone denial was the exact reason why Moore was able to grab the puck and rush the other way. Consistency in this area will definitely help Borgman move up Toronto’s depth chart.
During a battle in the corner, Borgman was able to get away with the puck, but as he began to rush the puck up ice, he got the puck stolen from him and Zach MacEwen capitalizes on the loose puck. Borgman has been okay in this game, he’s done well in the offensive zone when it comes to moving the puck, and his physical play in his own zone has been good, but that giveaway isn’t nice.
The Marlies looked a lot better in the second period of this game, out-shooting the Comets an outstanding 19-13 in the frame, evening out the total shots on goal for the game at 28 apiece. They also scored four goals to the Comets’ one, which also doesn’t hurt. The young players have done most of the heavy lifting; Engvall looked like the most dangerous player on the ice, and Liljegren looked a lot more confident — and as a result, more dynamic — as the game progressed.
We don’t know much about this new goaltender with a funny name from the NCAA of all places, but Kaskisuo has stepped into Garret Sparks’ shoes with ease and has stopped some, frankly embarrassing, chances for his team, keeping the momentum going the other direction.
Early in the second, Olli Juolevi was able to pick off a terribly optimistic stretch pass from Rosen to Moore, feed Ashton Sautner, who gave it to last year’s leading scorer Boucher for his second goal of the game. Poor pass selection from Rosen, who would’ve been better to throw the puck in the air so Moore could skate onto it, rather than try and navigate a pass through too many bodies facing the Marlies net. He may have has two assists in this game, but on the whole, Rosen didn’t look great in his own zone. It looks like he’s still finding his rhythm from last year.
I hate to harp on Subban so much because I know he has a long way to go and a lot of things to learn, but his raw abilities are just so great and his play in this game was really uplifting. For example, he and Nielsen got caught flat-footed as the forwards turned the puck over in the neutral zone. Subban was able to catch up to a Utica forward from a standstill, and poke the puck away just in the nick of time. It immediately reminded me of something I saw only a few days ago.
Grundstrom has a stealthily wicked wrist shot from the wing, and he used it to great effect for this goal. He picked up a loose puck in the offensive zone, and in one motion, cocked up and fired a laser past Bachman and into the top corner of the net. Grundstrom is another player, like Engvall, who has so many raw and special tools that only need time to marinate in the AHL before it’s ready for the NHL. I think Grundstrom has a higher ceiling than Engvall simply because he’s younger, but both should be very valuable for the soon-to-be cap-strapped Leafs.
Grundstrom also unleashed this wicked wrist shot earlier in the frame pic.twitter.com/gB9mDjeEYv— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) October 6, 2018
With Grundstrom in the box for interference, and the puck calmly sliding towards Bachman behind the net, Cracknell —who wears #15 and looks awfully like Matt Martin — came bursting in and was able to steal the puck. From the corner, he fed Moore for his second goal of the game. Nice brace, and as always, offense on he PK is really really fun.
With Grundstrom still in the box, Greening and Jooris were able to get away essentially unobstructed. Greening selflessly gave Jooris the puck for his first goal for the Marlies on a now-empty net.
And there you have it, the Marlies win. This team has a really good mix of veterans playing support roles that allow the young players on the team to shine. Just look at the boxscore and you’ll see what I mean. Three members of the over-30 squad (Cracknell, Mueller, and Greening) combined for four assists, while six of the seven goals (and all of the ones on a goalie) were scored by players who are 23-years-old and under (Moore, Liljegren, Subban, Grundstrom, and Engvall).
This team doesn’t have any surefire stars — although maybe we’ll see one or two rise above the rest in due time — but they do have lots of both youthful and experienced players that should be able to win by committee.
How’s the hype on Jordan Subban?
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The hype ain’t real