In the weekend before the players got their holiday break, the Toronto Marlies spent a weekend in Montreal. Laval, specifically. In the two back-to-back games, the Marlies went 1-1-0, which isn’t too bad for a teaming missing their four best defensemen playing their second and third games in four nights. The Marlies lost the first game 2-1 in regulation, but came back and won the second 2-0.
Looking at the weekend as a whole, Vincent LoVerde was my first star for the Marlies by a mile.
From Wednesday night onwards, he was given the big responsibility of leading a chock-a-block Marlies defense into playing some very impressive hockey. He easily played over 40 minutes on Wednesday due to the Calle Rosen and Andreas Borgman injuries (updates below), then played well over 20 minutes in each game of the back-to-back vs. Laval. Throughout all three games, the 29-year-old veteran played heavy penalty kill minutes, as well as became the top pivot on the power play.
A few injury updates for the #Marlies from team PR in Laval:— Hailey Salvian (@hailey_salvian) December 22, 2018
-Liljegren is week-to-week with a high ankle sprain
-Borgman suffered a concussion on Wednesday against the Devils
-Rosen is listed with a neck issue, also from Wednesday pic.twitter.com/y4iqYZagk5
Over the three games, LoVerde scored a goal, got an assist, had six shots, and was a plus-3 with no penalties taken. The amount of work and leading both on and off the ice he did over these four short days, was really impressive to me.
Usually, players like LoVerde are an afterthought on a farm team, mostly because they aren’t a sexy prospect or a flashy point-producer, but LoVerde deserves a lot of credit for the success of the Marlies.
He’s been the on-ice teacher/babysitter for Calle Rosen, Timothy Liljegren, and Rasmus Sandin both last year and this season, giving them the ability to do what makes them special while he protects them from behind. He’s really good in his own zone at both coordinating all his players from in front of the net, as well as doing everything it takes to get his team the puck. And he’s been the spokesperson for the team every night, win or loss, which is something that is really easy to avoid.
The Marlies currently do not have a captain, and I don’t have a vote in that process, but if I did, Vincent LoVerde would get it.
The skaters remained the same across both games. The top-4 on defense were by-far the best defensemen the Marlies had available, so swapping any of them out would’ve severly hurt the team, and the bottom two defensemen in Stefan Leblanc and Jordan Subban were plenty rested. As for the forwards, they all seemed fine to play both games and were plenty energetic for both.
Dmytro Timashov - Chris Mueller - Jeremy Bracco
Carl Grundstrom - Josh Jooris - Sam Gagner
Mason Marchment - Adam Brooks - Trevor Moore
Pierre Engvall - Colin Greening - Michael Carcone
Frank Corrado - Vincent LoVerde
Sam Jardine - Steve Oleksy
Stefan Leblanc - Jordan Subban
Eamon McAdam - Started Game 1
Kasimir Kaskisuo - Started Game 2
The Marlies lost the first game on Friday night 2-1 in frustrating fashion. Both the fans and players were frustrated at the Rocket — who make the 2000 New Jersey Devils look like Team North America (who remain forever in our hearts) — in their ability to slow the game so much. The Marlies were also frustrated at the officials because of a few questionable calls throughout the game, and for appearing to be more interested in finishing the game as quickly as possible rather than letting two teams compete for a win at the end. More on that later.
The first period had no goals, but there were a few interesting moments. Gagner and Subban mixed up their signals at the offensive blueline, causing a breakaway the other way. Newcomer Stefan Leblanc did a great job racing back and distrupting the Laval forward on the breakaway, but it was the Marlies’ starter who made the clutch stop.
McAdam parried away a total of four big chances from the Rocket throughout the first period, keeping his somewhat overwhelmed team in the game. The Rocket led in shots 7-4 after 20 minutes. McAdam, and Kaskisuo for that matter, has struggled with giving up the first big chance against, but he was strong in Wednesday’s game and in this one, which is a great sign.
Former Laval Rocket defenseman (who has since joined the light side) Stefan Leblanc got his first career point with the Marlies when his point shot was tipped by Greeniing into the back of the net. Over the course of the weekend, I was pleased with what I saw in the 22-year-old i used to watch in junior. He’s got good pace, a smart stick, and he’s quietly very capable in his own zone.
Leblanc was paired with Jordan Subban for the weekend, so there were plenty of “chaos” moments he had to deal with. Jordan, please, learn how to control the puck at the blueline!
The Rocket scored on a high stick here. It shouldn’t be a goal, but the referees missed the contact (despite giving Michael McCarron the goal) and didn’t get a chance of reviewing the call BECAUSE HIGH-STICKS ARE NOT REVIEWABLE?! ARE YOU SERIOUS, AHL? McAdam and head coach Sheldon Keefe were both pissed at the call, and rightfully so.
Xavier Ouellet lets a bomb go from the point, and Michael McCarron re-directs it home in front of the net. pic.twitter.com/Jp5bVktVLY— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 22, 2018
The puck was bouncing all over the ice in this game, and a whiffed shot from former Marlie Byron Froese took an unfortunate bounce off McAdam and right into the path of Cale Fleury. Bounce aside, it looked like Josh Jooris got caught puck-watching on this play and was too far to the left to make a difference in the Fleury shot.
Cale Fleury joins the rush, scoring his second goal of the year to give the Rocket a 2-1 lead on the Marlies. pic.twitter.com/vkNEIzsDX8— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) December 22, 2018
The Marlies were down late, and tried to mount a comeback. LoVerde grabbed the puck in the neutral with about 10 seconds left and shot it at Michael McNiven. He gloved the puck and stood there as the Marlies all surrounded him, waiting for a whistle so they could try and tie the game. However, no whistle came. The two remaining seconds ticked off the clock and the Rocket were deemed the winners.
There was time on the clock! The Marlies were in the zone! Sheldon Keefe tried to yell at the referees, but they quickly bolted from the scene and went into their dressing room. They, nor the scorekeepers (of which I am one for the Mississauga Steelheads) were available for comment after the game.
On Saturday, a rested Kasimir Kaskisuo (who is a dad now!) stood on his head for his fourth career shutout as the Marlies won 2-0 on Saturday afternoon, their third game in four nights. It wasn’t too busy of a night for Kaski, who only faced 19 shots, but there were a handful of moments where the tide could’ve turned, but he stood tall. There were some questionable calls in this one, too, but none detrimentally hurt the Marlies. Thankfully.
Trevor Moore opened the scoring on the power play. Yesterday was the first time all season he failed to record a shot on goal, so it was nice to see him succeed in his natural spot on the PP here.
Late in the first period, the Marlies got another one on the power play. This time, Bracco made a sweet, no-look, back-hand pass to LoVerde at the point for a brilliant shot to the top corner.
Once again, the refereeing in this game was, I don’t want to say bad or questionable, but it definitely raised an eyebrow. Looking at the play below, McCarron went for a low check on Mason Marchment, who mostly stepped out of the way. At the end of his spin, Marchment swiped his stick in McCarron’s direction.
Mason Marchment gets 2+10 for slashing. That's a heck of a call. pic.twitter.com/eBg6F0eaOf— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) December 22, 2018
On one hand, yeah, you should probably call that a slash to dissuade players from taking exception from each other with the stick, it’s another thing entirely to kick Marchment out of the game for it. Todd Crocker, the Marlies play-by-play announcer, confirmed on the broadcast that Marchment didn’t even say anything untoward at the officials before getting the game misconduct.
But on the other, attempted hits like the one McCarron tried to pull aren’t cool. He went for the hips and knees, and moved at the last minute in order to get a piece of Marchment. Marchment wasn’t born yesterday, he knew what he was doing, and took exception to the dangerous play.
At least the referees admitted their mistake later in the period by calling McCarron for a pretty weak slash.
After playing 160 minutes of hockey in 68 hours, the Marlies began to slow in the third period, but the well-rested Kaskisuo stood tall, stopping several big chances throughout the third. He only had to stop eight shots in the third period, but there were two or three that he definitely bailed his defense in front of him on. Here is one of his best saves from back in the second.
“Our guys did a great job blocking and boxing out and getting the rebounds, so it made my night really easy.”— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) December 22, 2018
Kaskisuo speaks to @HockeyCrock following this shutout in today's 2-0 win over Laval. #MarliesLive pic.twitter.com/qd9dxFcNPv
And that was it for the Marlies. They now fly off to their respective families for the holidays before having to return to Toronto to play the Belleville Senators on Boxing Day at Scotiabank Arena. From past experience, these games tend to look more like organized scrimmages than super competitive and over-coached affairs. I’m sure tickets are still available for those in the area and in need of a stocking stuffer for Christmas or whatever.