The Toronto Marlies visited the Grand Rapids Griffins for a weekend pair of games on Friday and Saturday. The Marlies lost the first game pretty handily by a score of 4-1, but came back strong in game two, winning it 5-2, despite losing their best defenseman to an awful injury.
Timothy Liljegren left Saturday’s game midway through the first period after colliding with Brian Lashoff behind the Griffins net. It was a brutal play and Liljegren got hit both in the chest, but mostly on the knee. Head Coach Sheldon Keefe said Liljegren looked better after the game, and that the damage wasn’t as bad as it looked, so that’s very encouraging. We’ll provide more updates as soon as they become available.
Good news, the Marlies found ways to adjust their awful penalty kill in the first game to improve massively in the second and win. Players like Pierre Engvall, Garrett Wilson, and Teemu Kivihalme really stepped up and provided the Marlies with energy, commitment, and talent. Joseph Woll played very well in the first game when his team was at even strength, but couldn’t bail them out on the penalty kill. In the second game, Kasimir Kaskisuo was strong and steady, which is becoming more of the norm now.
Presumably since Nic Petan could not make it to Michigan in time for the game and be game ready, Tanner MacMaster took over as first line centre. The Pierre Engvall line with Egor Korshkov and Pontus Aberg have been on fire since they were put together and are arguably the Marlies best unit.
On defense, Rasmus Sandin missed his second game in a row. The scuttlebutt is that he was sick or that these were scheduled games off. Either way, he made it back for the Saturday game so crisis averted. Ben Harpur took his spot on the first pair and... well... let Liljegren do all the work.
Joseph Woll got his first start of the season with a rested team in front of him. He’s been amazing so far this season, but the numbers have been unfortunate for him.
Kenny Agostino - Tanner MacMaster - Jeremy Bracco
Egor Korshkov - Pierre Engvall - Pontus Aberg
Garrett Wilson - Tyler Gaudet - Matt Read
Nicholas Baptiste - Hudson Elynuik - Giorgio Estephan
Ben Harpur - Timothy Liljegren
Teemu Kivihalme - Kevin Gravel
Kristians Rubins - Jesper Lindgren
PP1: Liljegren - Bracco - Aberg - Agostino - Korshkov
PP2: Kivihalme - Engvall - Read - MacMaster - Wilson
PK1: Gaudet - Elynuik - Harpur - Liljegren
PK2: Wilson - Read - Harpur - Liljegren
PK3: Engvall - Korshkov - Rubins - Gravel
It was a good start for the Marlies, who jumped out to an early lead in the first. Whilst in the middle of a change, the Griffins gifted Korshkov with a breakaway, and he converted on former Marlies goaltender Calvin Pickard.
The Marlies had a few power play opportunities at the start of the game and their lack of quality really hurt them later. The Marlies couldn’t get to the middle of the ice, nor create any passing plays to open shooting lanes at all. The Griffins were aggressive and took away all of the Marlies time and space.
On the other side of the ice, Woll was out there making some big saves in key moments just when the Griffins were starting to gain some momentum. The Marlies could’ve easily have been down heading into the second if it weren’t for Woll. We’ve praised his ability to stay calm and mobile during scrums, but he made some strong stops against mid-range snapshots. He’s coming along really well.
Game 12 stats from the first period. #Marlies at Grand Rapids Griffins— Captain Jace Tavares (@HardevLad) November 9, 2019
Scoring Chances: 7-3
Goals: 1-0 (Korshkov )
Great first period from the Marlies drew a couple penalties, got themselves to the front of the net, and come out of the period with the lead.
So of course the first goal Woll gives up is this one. A bouncer off the back glass that fell perfectly for Filip Zadina on the weak side. Going to call out Liljegren here for missing his assignment. You gotta tie him up, Lily.
On the penalty kill, Gravel busted his ass to a cleared puck and got tripped up by a lazy Matt Puempel. He put the Marlies back to even strength and relieved some of the pressure that was mounting after the Zadina goal. I really liked Engvall on the 4v4, he’s gotten much better on the faceoffs — he actually looks like he knows what he’s doing now — and has combined that with some great transition play.
Kivihalme was also someone I saw move really well with and without the puck. Kivihalme is becoming the definition of the defenseman that thinks about the five-man unit. All weekend he was rotating with forwards and covering for blank spaces, I even caught him on the forecheck once!
Korshkov nearly got his second on the ensuing power play but a centering pass from Agostino went off his toe and just beyond the post.
Second period stats. #Marlies at Grand Rapids Griffins— Captain Jace Tavares (@HardevLad) November 9, 2019
Scoring Chances: 7-6
A goal early in the period and couple bad shifts at the end cost the Marlies, but on the whole, the Marlies are doing what they need to do to win.
Puempel gave the Griffins their first lead of the game at the tail end of an Aberg penalty. The Marlies took six penalties in this game, and honestly by the third period, every unit just looked like four tires on fire.
Two minutes later, Read took a tripping penalty of his own and Givani Smith converted on a loose rebound in front of Woll. Korshkov was the one here who was slow to the pinch to the net by Smith and allowed him to bang home the rebound without fuss. I still question what Harpur’s size is good for when he’s just willing to tie up a guy without bothering to do anything with the puck.
..... AND. GIVANI. SMITH. pic.twitter.com/IEaiRJqQpA— Grand Rapids Griffins (@griffinshockey) November 9, 2019
Dominic Turgeon scored an empty-net goal with two minutes left in the game.
The Marlies lost the shot battle every period in this game. They were able to say ahead in the first with a lucky goal and strong goaltending, but as the game went on, they wore down mentally and faded to a 4-1 loss.
Third period stats. #Marlies at Grand Rapids Griffins— Captain Jace Tavares (@HardevLad) November 9, 2019
Scoring Chances: 5-6
Goals: 0-3 (PPG, PPG, ENG)
Marlies 0/6 on the power play. 3/6 on the penalty kill. That's the game.
In his post-game comments, Keefe noted the luck his team was getting early in the season (PDO) and how it masked a lot of issues the team had that are revealing themselves now. He also cited the lack of discipline in staying out of the box — which is something the team talked about before the game — as being unacceptable.
Petan showed up and reunited the “Italian Line” as Katya likes to say. Nicholas Baptiste took Read’s spot from the night before. As did Rich Clune for Giorgio Estephan.
On defense, Sandin returned to his rightful place, while Teemu Kivihalme has somewhat solidified his spot as the third-best defenseman on the team. Jordan Schmaltz and Ben Harpur have been rotating on the second pair for a few games now.
Kenny Agostino - Nic Petan - Jeremy Bracco
Egor Korshkov - Pierre Engvall - Pontus Aberg
Garrett Wilson - Tyler Gaudet - Nicholas Baptiste
Tanner MacMaster - Hudson Elynuik - Rich Clune
Rasmus Sandin - Timothy Liljegren
Teemu Kivihalme - Jordan Schmaltz
Kevin Gravel - Jesper Lindgren
PP1: Sandin - Bracco - Petan - Agostino - Korshkov
PP2: Liljegren/Kivihalme - Engvall - Aberg - MacMaster - Wilson
PK1: Gaudet - Elynuik - Gravel - Schmaltz
PK2: Engvall - Korshkov - Sandin- Schmaltz
Special teams were a major player in the first period, with 20 minutes in penalties being shared between the two teams. Things started off fairly tame, but got chippier as the period went on.
From the power play, the Marlie that stood out to me the most was Pierre Engvall. He was all over the ice as the leader on the second unit. He carried the puck well, skated through the slot a few times and got some chances towards the goal. The skaters around him also moved well to create space and lanes to make passes or shots. There’s a lot of good things coming from the Marlies system with the man advantage.
The Liljegren Injury
And then at the 9:30 mark of the first period, Michael Rasmussen bumped into a pinching Liljegren just before Brian Lashoff flew into the young Swedish defenseman with his elbow and his knee. The elbow knocked a falling Liljegren back, while Lashoff’s leading knee went right into the side of Liljegren’s right knee.
“This elbow is a suspendable offense and I don’t usually jump to these conclusions right away,” said Todd Crocker on the broadcast, who swears to have seen the hit directly at the moment it happened. “You won’t see this on any kind of replay, but this elbow comes out on purpose,” continued Crocker, after having seen the cameras conveniently move so you can’t see the play in its entirety.
Liljegren is hurt after taking this hit.— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) November 10, 2019
He's been down for quite some time. pic.twitter.com/YWsgdHW7DW
I had to track the jersey numbers (which took a while with these god awful designs) from the Marlies zone to be sure it was Lashoff, and it was. And the only penalty he received was for fighting Garrett Wilson. Good on the Marlies for jumping to their teammate’s defense.
Liljegren fell right onto his side in immense pain. Head Athletic Therapist Jordan Aube ran over to look at Liljegren, eventually getting him on his back. It took over a minute but Liljegren eventually was hauled up and was helped off the ice by the nearest exit down the Griffins tunnel. Watching him go down the tunnel, he was putting zero weight on his right leg.
Crocker later walked back his comments after seeing it unfold in slow motion, likely noticing that Liljegren was already falling when Lashoff went for the hit, but it’s still an awful situation to befall a great player.
With his partner out of the game and the Marlies down a man on defense, Sandin spent most of the game with Schmaltz and Gravel. After penalty kills, he played with Jesper Lindgren.
The Marlies paid tribute to the loss of their teammate with a slick Swedish connection on a later power play. Engvall is the primary shooter on this unit and he was attracting a lot of attention. The first time Engvall had the puck, he shot it through a maze of bodies that just missed the net. The second time, however, he slid a sneak back-door pass to Aberg on the opposite wing. His shot was a glorified tap-in as the pass from Engvall fooled everyone. Somehow, MacMaster got a tip on the puck in the slot, though I don’t think he touched it on the way. Kivihalme was the third-last person I saw to touch the puck.
It was a sombre restart to the game following Liljegren’s injury, but I thought Wilson, Engvall, and Kivihalme were the first people to come alive and fight back. Wilson took charge of the play after the whistle like all good vets, while Engvall and Kivihalme each seemed to find a step and some fire in their play. Both were more aggressive in the second half. I hope all three can build on the qualities they showed here.
Game 13 stats from the first period. #Marlies at Grand Rapids Griffins— Captain Jace Tavares (@HardevLad) November 10, 2019
Scoring Chances: 4-4
Goals: 1-0 (Aberg )
Timothy Liljegren left the game with a serious injury midway through the period. Very chippy period after that. https://t.co/cOjiSsjGww
Right at the end of a penalty kill where the Marlies got a couple chances from the Engvall and Korshkov duo, Wilson came out of the box and scored fourth goal of the season with a rebound shot from behind the net. Griffins goaltender Filip Larsson gave the puck away from behind his net to start all of this off when Petan jammed away at the rebound a few times. However, it was eventually Wilson who finished it off.
With Aberg in the box, the Griffins got their one and only power play goal of the game late in the man advantage. The Griffins were finally able to set up their unit and pounce on rebounds created from wing shots that eventually got Kaskisuo swimming. Once Kaskisuo was down, it was an easy goal for Filip Zadina.
FILIP. ZADINA. pic.twitter.com/BO9D470lta— Grand Rapids Griffins (@griffinshockey) November 10, 2019
The Griffins got a second behind Kaskisuo when he could hold onto a shot from the low slot and Dominic Turgeon tapped in the puck from behind.
CONFIRMED: A two-goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey... pic.twitter.com/yrBzvedRqt— Grand Rapids Griffins (@griffinshockey) November 10, 2019
Engvall gave the Marlies their lead back with a beautiful tip right in front of the net on a Sandin point shot. The play started when the Marlies drew an icing call and Engvall won the faceoff back to Lindgren (he and Sandin were playing offensive zone shifts together). Lindgren set up Sandin for a bomb with Engvall screening in front. The big centre got a Swede tip on the puck to redirect it up and around Larsson to restore the Marlies lead.
11 of those 18 shots in the second were against a PP and i think the scorer was quite generous with the definition of shot on goal here.
Second period stats. #Marlies at Grand Rapids Griffins— Captain Jace Tavares (@HardevLad) November 10, 2019
Scoring Chances: 7-11
Goals: 2-2 (Wilson , Engvall )
Engvall really stepped up in this period. Set up the Aberg goal, scored one himself, and did a lot of work on the 3v5 PK against the leagues best PP.
I just want to point out this play in particular from the first half of the third period. Engvall retrieved the puck behind his own net, made a quick give-and-go with gravel before bursting out the defensive zone like a gazelle. From there, he pushed into the offensive zone and created a half-chance for his linemates. I don’t see Engvall doing this every shift, but you get one or two of these every game or so. If he can make effort like this a regular occurrence, he’s a definite NHLer.
Great moves from Pierre Engvall here. Quick feet to spin around a check before making a few short passes to create offense from defense. Then, hands the puck off after a zone entry and heads straight to the net. This is the stuff you like to see from a real 200ft player. #Marlies pic.twitter.com/ijypEoNgmC— Captain Jace Tavares (@HardevLad) November 10, 2019
Near the end of the game, Agostino gave the Marlies some breathing space with a quick one-timer on the power play from the slot. The Marlies first unit moves the puck around the zone really well and on this example, they were able to open the slot pass while the Griffins were thinking of covering the cross-ice pass. Petan gave Agostino a good pass and Agostino buried it home for his fifth goal of the season and second point of the night.
Engvall finished off a great night with his second goal of the game and third point on the night with a shorthanded goal while the Griffins net was empty. Engvall won a puck battle along the boards and skated out with the puck at full speed. He had Baptiste with him but instead he made certain of the game and shot the puck in with gusto. His line with Aberg and Korshkov had a good night, combining for six shots in this game, Engvall had three of them.
A quieter third period, but one that Keefe enjoys producing, so a good finish to a good win.
Third period stats. #Marlies at Grand Rapids Griffins— Captain Jace Tavares (@HardevLad) November 10, 2019
Scoring Chances: 3-3
Goals: 2-0 (Agostino , Engvall (ENG) )
Solid defensive period to close out a good win.
Keefe really liked the effort from his team after the game. He made a short but curious comment about how the system and the process needs improving, which might mean either some change to the personnel or the plays being executed. The Marlies improved their PK, giving up only one goal on six attempts, instead of three in as many chances the night before.
Sandin and Engvall also spoke after the game about the ebbs and flows, and especially the penalties. Engvall and Crocker had a nice laugh at the end about the fortunate circumstances that gave Engvall his first goal of the game.