When you're in a race to pick up as many standings points as possible, you typically like to get involved in as many hockey games as you can. The Toronto Marlies only played two games over the past week, but fortunately for themselves, made the best of them, winning them both and, for a few hours, snuck into a playoff position for the first time since the season's opening week.
Toronto vs. Lake Erie (Friday)
The Marlies opened up their weekend against the Lake Erie Monsters on "Star Wars Night", one of the most hilarious cross-promo efforts I've ever seen from a team in a league higher than the ECHL (who, along with the now-defunct CHL, are the best at these type of things). The music was on point, much of the arena staff were in costume, and the ceremonial faceoff was even taken with lightsabers. It was amazing.
Also, two teams played hockey. Greg Mckegg opened up the scoring for the Marlies, picking up on a perfect backhand pass by Petter Granberg that left him with a wide open net to work with. Lake Erie poured it on from this point, dominating the latter half of the first period and completely controlling the second, eventually tying the game thanks to a pretty toe drag by Andrew Agozzino.
"[Lake Erie] came out and they were ready to go, and really took it to us in the first two periods." said head coach Gord Dineen after the game. "We recognized what we were up against in the third, and picked up our level of play."
They definitely did. While neither team scored in the third period, Toronto took control, outshooting their opponents 21 to 7 in the final 26 minutes. Late in overtime, with the two sides playing 3-on-3 hockey, McKegg struck again, this time opting for the wraparound to win it for his team.
Toronto vs. Rochester (Saturday)
Hours later, the Marlies returned to the very same rink to take on the Rochester Americans, who are the AHL affiliates of the Buffalo Sabres. Just two minutes into the game, Frazer McLaren took advantage of a rare appearance and dropped the mitts with Jack Nevins, that later of whom managed to get the takedown. If there's truth to the theory of fights changing momentum, the fact that Rochester would score on their first shot of the game shortly thereafter will add credence to it.
Toronto didn't sulk, though. Minutes later, William Nylander went for the knee-drop one timer, blasting a pass from Greg McKegg past Anthony Peters, who was making his professional debut. Toronto poured it on for forty minutes, outshooting Rochester 25-12 in the first two periods, but couldn't find the back of the net.
Seven minutes into the third period, Matt Frattin provided his team with the game winning goal, finding a hole in Peters' gloves side that wasn't much bigger than the puck and sniping home his twentieth of the year. Greg McKegg and Josh Leivo both added empty netter's in the final minutes. Leivo's in particular was really impressive; he won a footrace, bounced it off the boards, dove back, and curled the puck in while lying down. "All about effort." said Dineen of Leivo's goal. "It sure made me feel good to see that go in."
Player of the Week
At the start of the season, many people expected to see Christopher Gibson end up as the starting goaltender for the Orlando Solar Bears. By the end of training camp, he turned into the 1B, and down the stretch, has become the consensus starting goaltender for the team.
This weekend, Gibson stopped 42 of 44 shots against, moving him up to a spectacular 0.924 save percentage on the season. That's ninth amongst goaltenders who have played at least 25 games this year, though he still has a ways to go before reaching Matt Murray's insane 0.941.
Who's Hot, Who's Not?
Antoine Bibeau is not, if only because he didn't play at all. After being pulled against Adirondack on March 14th, Bibeau has not been between the pipes at all, leaving Gibson to start three consecutive games for the first time this season. With that said, Dineen isn't calling this a one-horse race just yet.
"I think they're both still adept, and have played quality hockey for us. But, as of late, Christopher has been hotter. His win/loss record of late has been better than Bibeau's, so we're riding him for the moment. Not to say that Antoine is a guy we won't rely on at some point, but for now, we're going with Gibby."
William Nylander remains hot. The young Swede picked up another goal this weekend and controlled the pace of both games at points. He was very active near the net, taking a total of nine shots.
Byron Froese is hot. While he wasn't every effective on Friday, Froese was very clearly driving play against Rochester, picking assists on Nylander and Leivo's goals and taking a ridiculous eight shots on net. He now has 26 points in 33 games with the Marlies.
Greg McKegg is hot. If Gibson wasn't so dominant, he would have been the player of the week. Scoring both goals on Friday paid obvious dividends for the team, his assist to Nylander on Saturday was a display of fantastic vision, and the trouble he caused after his empty netter was hilarious. His four points lead the team in scoring for the week.
TJ Brennan is not. Maybe its a matter of getting adjusted to playing with the new guys and getting re-acquainted with his former teammates, but Brennan's point totals have been disappointing. He has just one assist in eight games since re-joining the club.
Toronto plays three games this week. The last School Day game of the year goes down on Wednesday (11AM), as they take on the Oklahoma City Barons, affiliate of the Edmonton Oilers. The Barons are 13 points ahead of the Marlies in the standings, but have two games in hand and have lost their last four games.
Saturday's game (3PM) against the Hamilton Bulldogs is a massive one in terms of standings implications, and they'll close off the weekend with another matchup against the Rochester Americans, in Rochester.
I'm particularly interested in the game against Hamilton. The Bulldogs are one point ahead of the Marlies with two games in hand, and this is the last time the two teams will likely ever face each other. It's going to be weird not seeing them over a dozen times per season moving forward.
Check back next week to see how the blue and white fared, as they continue to push towards a playoff spot.