Here’s what an arena looks made over into a fake lake:
The Marlies headed off south to finish off their season series with the Charlotte Checkers to start the boatshow trip. Charlotte, the affiliate of the Hurricanes was in the Western Conference until this year so this is a new experience for everyone.
Friday’s game had the following lineup with both Frederik Gauthier and Travis Dermott back on the roster. It also marked the return from injury of Mason Marchment:
Lineup vs Charlotte Friday— Todd Crocker (@HockeyCrock) January 12, 2018
Johnsson - Gauthier - Kapanen
Marchment - Mueller - Smith
Moore - Aaltonen - Greening
Rychel - Brooks - Clune
Valiev - Holl
Marincin - Dermott
Nielsen - Rosen
Jean Dupuy had been sent back to Orlando, who were playing over in Greenville, South Carolina. Timothy Liljegren and Dmytro Timashov, who were both on the trip, were sick, and Vincent LoVerde and Jeremy Bracco were the scratches.
Note that Gauthier has vaulted up to the top line, not a place he had played before with the exception of the New Year’s Eve game right before he was called up to the Leafs.
I also think it’s interesting to see Miro Aaltonen playing on more of a checking line in order to give Gauthier the top spot.
The Marlies won this game in fairly dominating fashion. Kasperi Kapanen started off with a power play goal in the first, Aaltonen added an unassisted even strength goal in the second, and after allowing one in the third, the Marlies got the insurance goal from Ben Smith and an empty netter from Andreas Johnsson. The final was 4-1 Marlies.
Dermott had the primary assist on the first goal, and Aaltonen had two points, as did Smith and Kapanen. Gauthier had zeros across the board, no shots on goal even to prove he was there.
For the Saturday game, Jeremy Bracco came in on the fourth line and Kerby Rychel moved up to take Marchment’s spot as he got a rest, while LoVerde came in for Justin Holl. In net, Sparks gave way to Calvin Pickard.
The team didn’t start off playing very hard, and Pickard held the door for the first period while they were outshot 10-3. They righted the ship for the second period, and a tight game of few chances dragged into the first few minutes of the third when Bracco got his third goal and made it 1-0 Marlies.
Midway through the period it seemed like Calle Rosen had got his first Marlies goal, but the scoring was changed to give it to Ben Smith. The Marlies allowed the traditional shutout killer, and then Kapanen sealed the deal with an empty net goal for a 3-1 win. The second time was tougher than the first, but for the start of a roadie that moves on to the worst sort of AHL weekend this Friday (three games in three cities in three days) it was exactly what the team needed.
After the Saturday game, Jean Dupuy was called back up. He plays centre as well as wing, and has filled in on the Marlies fourth line nicely. It seems like we should expect Gauthier, who had one shot on goal in the Saturday game, to be heading back to the Leafs.
The Marlies are one point behind the Manitoba Moose at the top of the league standings, although they have more wins. The Marlies are yet to collect a loser point as they have got where they are with 28 wins and only 11 losses for a points percentage of .718.
They are getting their wins with stellar goaltending — the Checkers played Alex Nedeljkovic both games in a effort to get a win, but the Marlies just rolled out Sparks and then Pickard. The Marlies are also getting their wins with points from all over the lineup.
The top points man on the team is captain, Ben Smith, and he’s only 20th in the league. You won’t find one or two Marlies jousting for the league lead like they did in the William Nylander days. Instead the whole team is good. There’s no star point per game player, but there are four over .75 points per game. Travis Dermott, by the way, is now fifth behind the top four forwards.
The Marlies also used to be a team that relied heavily on their power play for goals, and that’s no longer the case. Most of their top forwards are succeeding at even strength. The team is better, and the defence is killer for the AHL. And that’s the question: How many of these players are more than good for the AHL?
It was good to see Marchment back from injury. He’s taken over the niche filled by Kerby Rychel, and he does it better with more scoring. Rychel has tumbled down the Marlies depth chart this year. He shoots a lot, possibly too much, but he’s not scoring. Similarly, Dmytro Timashov has cooled off a bit lately, and Andreas Johnsson has stayed hot. Timashov has the more plausible shooting percentage, however; so when you account for that, they likely are about even.
Both Adam Brooks and Jeremy Bracco are just never shooting the puck. Brooks has less than one shot on goal per game. And while they both play limited minutes as they’re being eased into pro hockey, they are clearly lagging on a high-flying team. Bracco is improving faster. There’s enough depth right now that their issues don’t matter, but Martins Dzierkals is ready, willing and perhaps able to come up from Orlando and take some ice time from anyone who underperforms.
The Marlies next game is in Syracuse on Friday to face the Crunch.