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Marlies overwhelmed by Checkers, trail Conference Final 2-1

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The goaltending and power play that were once hot, are now not.

Aleksi Saarela and Andrew Poturalski celebrate a Charlotte Checkers goal in the second period against the Toronto Marlies
Credit: Christian Bonin - TSGPhoto.com

After eight straight wins in the Calder Cup Playoffs, the bubble has appeared to burst for the Toronto Marlies. After a three-goal collapse in a 5-3 loss in Game 2, the Marlies came home and gave up five more to the Charlotte Checkers in a 5-1 Game 3 loss. They now trail the regular season champions 2-1 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo started the playoffs on fire, allowing only 12 goals on 242 shots in his first eight games, a mark good enough for a .950 save percentage. His last two starts have seen him give up seven goals on 46 shots (a .829 SV%). Kaskisuo was pulled to start the third period of the game after spotting the Checkers three goals. Michael Hutchinson came in and didn’t exactly improve things, allowing two goals on five shots, but after a considerably stronger regular season, it appears as though he will be the starter moving forward.

That said, the whole game and fate of the series shouldn’t be pinned on just the goaltending. The skaters as an entire group were awful in front of them.

The power play has been the primary source of offense for the Marlies in these playoffs, and they have gone utterly cold. The first unit are shooting for deflections in front of the net form the perimeter to no avail while the second unit can’t even get in the offensive zone. In their first seven games before facing the Checkers, the Marlies were a scorching 9/23 (39.1%), but in the ECF, they are 2/10. Half as effective.

At even strength, the story isn’t any better. Of the 16 teams in the Calder Cup playoffs, the Marlies rank eighth in even-strength goals for with 2.1 per game (21 total). The Checkers throughout the playoffs have the best even-strength offense in the league, knocking in 3.45 per game (38 total). The Marlies have never had the same firepower as the Checkers, even in the regular season, so without the power play acting as the difference-maker, the hole the Marlies are currently in feels like a chasm.

The Team

For the third game, Mac Hollowell and Jesper Lindgren have swapped places as the number six defenseman on the Marlies. Keefe has shown much more affection toward the younger Hollowell since he arrived versus when Lindgren made his entrance to the team over a week ago. It’ll be interesting to see whether the rotation continues or Hollowell stays in the lineup full time.

In seven playoff games, Hollowell has six shots. Lindgren has one shot in his lone game of the playoffs. Both have one secondary assist.

Hollowell will skate on an offensively-specialized third pair (or second pair depending on who you ask) with phenom Rasmus Sandin. They were put together when Rosen first re-joined the Marlies and Keefe liked it enough to go back to it with a fully healthy lineup.

One important thing that facilitated this change is the play of Andreas Borgman. He’s been very good in these playoffs, especially in a matchup role with Vincent LoVerde. He looked somewhat lost skating on the third pair with Lindgren in Game 2 so Keefe and co found a way to put him back in the position he excelled in.

Forwards

Michael Carcone - Chris Mueller - Jeremy Bracco

Mason Marchment - Adam Brooks - Trevor Moore

Dmytro Timashov - Pierre Engvall - Egor Korshkov

Nicolas Baptiste - Colin Greening - Josh Jooris

Defense

Calle Rosen - Timothy Liljegren

Andreas Borgman - Vincent LoVerde

Rasmus Sandin - Mac Hollowell

Goalies

Kasimir Kaskisuo

Michael Hutchinson


The Game

First Period

The first period was messy in a lot ways. The two teams combined for five minor penalties, including one each for too many men on the ice. When the Marlies were in their own zone, they were, frankly, a tirefire. They couldn’t get hold of the puck, they weren’t skating, and the Checkers, as a result, were getting an abundance of slot chances.

On offense, the story was the same; they couldn’t move the puck to save their life. Both power plays the Marlies had, they struggled to get a zone entry until they finally gave up and dumped the puck in and chased it. That strategy, surprisingly, was the best option. Once in the zone, the only line that was able to get to the front of the net with any vigor was the fourth line. Even the first line, who had some of the better chances, were only doing so by whipping pucks in from the perimeter and hoping for a bounce.

Another indicator that the Marlies really had trouble getting to the front of the net came in the form of shots from the point. Of the nine shots the Marlies put on net, five came from the defensemen (Borgman 2, LoVerde 2, Rosen 1). Bracco (2), Baptiste (1), and Moore (1) had the only shots on goal from the forwards. For the Checkers, they had 11 shots on goal and only four of them came from defensemen.

0-1

Fourth line had a great shift, but then the play went back the other way and they gave up a goal. Crowd believed that the goal should’ve been called back on goalie interference, but the Marlies declined trying to challenge.

0-2

On the second goal of the period, the Marlies had a different forward group on the ice, but they achieved the same result. They were slow to pucks and were just reaching with their sticks rather than moving their feet and getting on top of their attackers. This was the second goal against for Sandin, who had the goal-scorer Tomas Jurco behind the net but didn’t move to cover him when he skated to the side of the net.

Second Period

The second period didn’t go any better than the first. Once again, the Marlies struggled to win battles in front of their net and along the boards. Sandin was caught for a third time being late to cover his man on the third Checkers goal late in the period. Sandin is a very good player who’s had many great games. This just wasn’t one of them.

The offense was slightly better. The third line created two great chances off the stick of Eggy Korshkov. His first came at the front of the net when he got his stick free in a scrum and couldn’t quite beat Alex Nedeljkovic on the far side. The second came off the rush when he and Engvall connected one a 2-on-1. Korshkov redirected the pass that came to him but just missed the far post.

There was also a lot of frustration building in Coca-Cola Coliseum among the players and fans against the referees. There were multiple calls that went against the Marlies and things started to really boil over when Andrew Poturalski shoved Kaskisuo down onto the ice while the two were trying to untangle themselves after the Charlotte forward bowled into net after a shorthanded chance. The fans were up in absolute arms at this point and it didn’t get better

0-3

The third goal was an unlucky bounce in front of Kaskisuo off a point shot, but once again, none of the Marlies were on the inside of their man. They were all reaching to make up for being in the wrong position. Sure, it was an unlucky bounce, but the defense would’ve had a better chance at covering it up if they were in the right position.

Third Period

The final period was very frustrating. The Marlies had two power plays in the first five minutes, but didn’t do a single thing with them. The rest of the period felt really fruitless as the Marlies just couldn’t get anything into the offensive zone, let alone near the front of the net.

Full credit to the Checkers defense, who was disrupting passes and getting in the face of their opponents with the energy of the army of the dead. No matter how much the Marlies tried, Nedeljkovic was very well protected and successfully stopped 33 of 34 shots for the win. He was very close to the shut out, but Marchment scored in the dying minutes to ruin the moment (which the crowd loved).

0-4

This was the first goal against for Hutchinson, who had to come in cold to start the third period. The Marlies had given up the numbers heading back into their own zone and just couldn’t defend against the cross-ice saucer pass from Martin Necas to Patrick Brown.

0-5

Marchment was attempting to skate the puck through his own slot, but he got bumped off the puck and Morgan Geekie immediately took advantage. Marchment, who seemingly felt embarrassed, felt the need to cross check the goal scorer and start a scrum after the whistle.

1-5

Marchment got his revenge almost immediately, scoring the first goal for the Marlies in over four periods (it felt like a lot longer). Marchment redirected a shot-pass from Engvall on the power play and promptly got cross checked in the back, onto Nedeljkovic, starting another string of shoving matches. Eventually, the dust settled and Marchment was kicked out of the game, but his goal still stood.


After the Whistle

Sheldon Keefe spoke after the game on the lack of rhythm he felt his team had, having to be on special teams for over a third of the night. The power play was once the number one asset for the Marlies has since been completely neutralized by the Checkers. They were a staggering 1/7 in this game.

“I don’t think we’ve played focused, intelligent hockey.”

And the Game in Six: