Ah, yes, the Royal Winter Fair. It's that thing that people used to go to in 1921, but today seems to largely exist for the sole purpose of kicking the Toronto Marlies out of Ricoh Coliseum for a few weeks. Okay, I'm sure it means a lot to the agricultural industry in Ontario, but that doesn't change the fact that I've never once talked to someone who's been to it.
Before the Marlies had to give up their home ice, however, they still had a few games to play at home. It's always key to grab whatever points you can, and while things looked iffy at first, the Marlies recovered and put together a 2-1 weekend.
Toronto vs. Syracuse (Wednesday)
Toronto appeared to start this one off pretty well, scoring five minutes into the game thanks to a rebound by recent Leafs signing and call up Rich Clune. To go with the tally, Toronto was pummeling the shot clock, outshooting the Crunch 13-7 through twenty minutes. But Joel Vermin managed to the game for the Tampa Bay affiliate late in the period, and when former Marlie Dave Broll started pushing and shoving towards the end of the frame, you this game was far from over.
Sure enough, the Crunch completely flipped the tables in the second period. Antoine Bibeau was pummeled for fifteen shots against in the second period, and while he was able to keep most of them out of harm's way, a snapshot from Anthony DeAngelo snuck through his pads to give them the lead. Matt Taromina capped off the game with five minutes remaining in the third period, unleashing an absolute cannon from the point.
Toronto vs. Grand Rapids (Friday)
This game went immensely better than the one before it. Two minutes in, William Nylander opened up the scoring by capping off a breakout that he instigated with a stretch pass, setting up the team for a high-scoring adventure. With Louis-Marc Aubry in the box, Ryan Rupert took quick advantage of his entrance into the Toronto powerplay by capping off a feed by Matt Frattin to double Toronto's lead before the period could pass its midway point.
Grand Rapids weren't looking to let this game go easily, creating a ton of opportunities for themselves throughout, particularly in a 17 shot second period. Garret Sparks, on the other hand, wasn't ready to let them come back, and stood on his head long enough for Nylander to double dip and for TJ Brennan to find the back of the net for the second time this season.
The Griffins broke the shutout on a powerplay opportunity in the opening seconds of the third period; Andreas Athanasiou took advantage of the lack of initial structure and found himself some open space to bring his team back in the game.
Things began to fall apart towards the end of the third period. Andy Miele was tossed out of the game for complaining about a penalty to Athanasiou. While he likely spoke a little too much for the ref's liking, he didn't appear to be wrong about his assertion that Frederik Gauthier was the actual aggressor in the Athanasiou's collision. While Grand Rapids killed the penalty, they weren't fully focused, and within ten seconds of the powerplay's end, Josh Leivo found room to pick up his third point of the night, and more specifically his third goal of the season.
From there, the two sides got to pushing and shoving, which culminated in Tyler Bertuzzi glove punching and slew-footing an unwilling Kasperi Kapanen, earning himself a match penalty. Sam Carrick also got tossed for trying to break free of the linesman, and the two ultimately ended up getting suspensions for their actions.
But that discipline came after the game, which still had a goal in it, as Brendan Leipsic potted his first of the year to give the night a 6-1 final score.
Toronto @ Albany (Sunday)
Mark Arcobello made his Marlies debut on this weekend afternoon, and boy did he ever make the most of it. Toronto initially fell behind not once, but twice in the first period, but after Andrew Campbell tied the game an initial time with his fourth point shot to find mesh this season, Arcobello played recovery man with his first goal in the organization.
Despite the four-goal first period, the two teams tapered off for the remainder of regulation, exchanging just 32 shots over 40 minutes and rarely created so much as a power play to generate excitement. This lead to the oldest and youngest AHL teams squaring off in 3-on-3 overtime, which took just twenty seconds to resolve. After a hard-fought faceoff win by Arcobello, Frank Corrado took the puck back into his own zone before sending it back to his new teammate. Arcobello made no mistake, carving through the Devils defence and beating Yann Danis to win the game.
Fancy Stats to Date
The Marlies remain near the top of the charts, coming in at a full-season Fenwick Close of 54.02%, 5th highest in the AHL despite having one of the longest samples. In the process, they find themselves 11th in the league in shots for per game (31.2), and their 27.6 shots against per game ranks them as the 10th best defensive team. Strong performances by Garret Sparks and Antoine Bibeau to close off the weekend have moved Toronto into the top half of the goaltending rankings while their shooting percentage remains at 10.9%.
I'm coming around to the idea that the Marlies are going to be a high PDO team. The general rule of thumb is that teams shouldn't drastically deviate from 1000, but it looks like the Marlies might have a combination of good goaltending and great shooters. Their current 102.2 might be expecting a bit much, but I could see them being a bit ahead of the curve based on more than just luck.
Player of the Week
I'm going to go with both of the goaltenders here. Antione Bibeau wasn't overwhelmingly great this week, but stayed above 0.900 and kept his season save percentage at 0.908, above the league average. This was enough to get him a consecutive start, the first for either of the Marlies goalies this year. It also earned him an emergency recall when Jonathan Bernier was confirmed to require some time off this morning.
Sparks, on the other hand, bounced back from a weak start with a 38 save performance on Wednesday. The beauty of small samples is how easily they can be swayed; his full season save percentage with up 30 points in three hours! needless to say, it might take some time before we know which of the two is definitively better, but both helped theri teams win this week.
Who's Hot, Who's Not?
Richard Panik is hot. After missing the game against his former Syracuse Crunch, Panik exploded for four assists and four shots on Friday night. There are times where you can see that his hockey sense is drastically above this level; that night was one of them.
Josh Leivo is hot. A lot was made of Leivo's struggles last year, but he seems to be back to what everyone was hoping he'd develop into. Played in all three games and averaged a point in each of them, and lead the team with ten shots. Leivo has quietly put up seven points in his first eight games.
William Nylander, is, well... himself. Almost anybody else on the team would get a hot rating for two goals, an assist, and eight shots in three games, but you expect that out of him at this point. I guess that's what happens when arguably you're the best player in the AHL at 19 years old.
Kasperi Kapanen is not. No points and just one shot in three games played, and that shot came relatively early into the Syracuse game. Sheldon Keefe mentioned him feeling worse for wear after the Bertuzzi shenanigans; maybe he's already playing through the pain of something? Whatever the case, he hasn't made the immediate impact people hoped for.
Zach Hyman is not. Hyman is incredibly fast and an asset to the penalty kill, but as far as producing, he also had a quiet week; not a goal, not a point, not a shot.
The Marlies play three games this week. Tomorrow sees them take on the Hartford Wolf Pack at a horrifyingly early 11:00 AM, while their weekend games in Utica and Binghamton are more reasonably scheduled. Hartford currently finds themselves in the Eastern Conference's 5th position by Points Percentage, though they've been a below average possession team to start the year. Utica is a slightly above middle of the pack team in terms of underlying numbers but have won just three of their first eight games, and Binghamton will no doubt be looking to repeat their 5-1 result that they had against the Marlies a little over a week or go.
This could go either way, really. All three games are extremely winnable for the Marlies, though they all come with their challenges as well.