It was a rare 7:00 pm game on Saturday night for the Toronto Marlies, but it didn’t seem to faze them one bit as they blanked the Laval Rocket 3-0 for a flawless victory, their 37th in 70 games. The Marlies now stand third in the North Division, eight points clear of a playoff spot.
Chris Mueller scored a hat trick, his first since 2013, while Kasimir Kaskisuo shut the door on the frustrated Rocket, stopping all 19 shots he faced for his 10th win of the season.
It was also a big night for the kids, as a pair of Toronto Maple Leafs draft picks from 2017 made their AHL debuts. Sixth-round pick (172nd overall) Ryan McGregor made his professional debut as the fourth-line centre.
The Leafs also brought Eemeli Rasanen back from across the pond in the KHL (Finland, to be exact) so that he could finally get in some games. For context, Rasanen has only played in 17 games in any league all year. He started on the third pair with fellow rookie Kristians Rubins, who impressed with the ECHL Newfoundland Growlers before getting the call to the big minor leagues.
Adam Brooks - Chris Mueller - Jeremy Bracco
Dmytro Timashov - Pierre Engvall* - Michael Carcone
Tanner MacMaster - Colt Conrad* - Nicolas Baptiste
Griffen Molino - Ryan McGregor* - Josh Jooris
Rasmus Sandin* - Timothy Liljegren
Andreas Borgman - Steve Oleksy
Kristians Rubins* - Eemeli Rasanen*
The Hat Trick
The Rocket got into some penalty trouble early in the second period, taking consecutive penalties just over 90 seconds apart. The Marlies weren’t able to score on the 5-on-3 advantage, but they carried that momentum before finally breaking the deadlock. All five players on the power play got a touch of the puck leading up to the goal. Brooks and Bracco worked together to get the puck out from behind the net to Liljegren at the point. He gave the puck to Timashov, who walked in and took a low shot that was just asking to bounce off something and in. Mueller was in front of the net, with body position, and was able to tap home the rebound for his 30th goal of the year.
Before this goal, the Marlies actually gave up a 2-on-1 the other way. Rubins was the only man back and he honestly played the situation perfectly. The tall defender made sure to stay on his feet for as long as he could, while using his stick and body positioning to stay aggressive to the puck-carrier. Eventually he forced a pass that he was able to break up with the tip of his stick. The puck stayed in the Marlies zone for a little bit longer, but eventually Bracco was able to get the puck with space around him and launch a pass up to Brooks, who fed Mueller on a 2-on-1 going the other way.
With three minutes left, the Rocket pulled their goalie, looking for something to spark the comeback. Unfortunately for them, the Marlies broke up their attempt in the defensive zone and slowly worked their way through the neutral zone before Mueller shot the puck from the point and got a favourable bounce into the net for his third goal of the night.
After the Whistle
It was a dominant game for the Marlies. They more than doubled the Rocket in shots 39-19, not falling behind in shots at any point in the game. They also didn’t take a single minor penalty, forcing them to play down a man. Andreas Borgman did get into a fight in the first period after the Rocket tried to goon up the game early on. The referees, to their credit, did well to stamp the extracurriculars out after Mueller took a questionable hit along the boards after the fight. By the way, I don’t think I endorse the idea of Borgman taking punches to the head after he spent the better part of a month recovering his second (maybe third) concussion since joining the Leafs organization. Please, Andreas, think about your healthy. We all know you’re a gronk, you don’t need to fight people to show it.
I liked McGregor’s introduction to the Marlies. He didn’t play a lot, but he did all the right things in his own zone, and had a big chance in the offensive zone to try and get out of his funk since the Sarnia Sting playoffs. McGregor took 22 shots in a four-game sweep, scoring only two goals in that time. The kid is snake-bitten like crazy now that he’s 2/23 after ringing a shot from a tough angle off the crossbar and out. He let out a cry in frustration as he headed to the bench at the end of a long shift.
Ryan McGregor: surprisingly great shot. Just murdered the crossbar with a shot from a tough angle. #Marlies— Hardev Lad (@HardevLad) March 31, 2019
The Leafs don’t have many centre prospects, so whenever I see one with any kind of promise, I’m rooting for him just that little bit more. This year will just be an introduction to the team and system and an attempt to get him comfortable. I can’t wait to see what he does next year.
Drew a penalty and played really dependable third-line minutes at centre. I’d definitely like to see a larger sample out of him, but he skates well and isn’t afraid to stand up for his teammates. Right now, the 5’10” centre is signed to a two-year AHL contract. If he keeps playing the way he is, he’ll definitely spend most of that time in Toronto rather than Newfoundland.
Right off the bat, I noticed Rasanen’s skating as something that stood out. He’s very good on his edges and moving in a straight line. He can get up and down the ice with ease. Another thing I noticed from Rasanen with the puck is his vision. He’s able to pick out teammates through the neutral zone well and get them the puck with sharp passes. He shoots hard, but there was a moment in the game where he was banging his stick looking for a pass before eventually getting it and throwing a useless shot from basically his own bench right into the goalies chest. He left the ice frustrated with himself, presumably in a different language because I couldn’t pick it out. The tools are there with him, which is all you can really ask at this point with his development. So far so good with this rookie.
Continuing in the vein of big young defensemen, Rubins is another player who impressed me in this game with his skating and instincts. He made that great defensive play on the 2-on-1 before the second Mueller goal, and was generally pretty competent in his own zone. The thing that impressed me with Rubins is his skating and urge to play offense. He frequently took advantage of space in front of him to drive the net and park himself there for a rebound. There were a few shifts where he swapped positions with Timashov before an offensive zone faceoff to see if the shorter Timashov could create a loose puck in front for the hulking Rubins to bang in. Please, Hockey Gods, let us use The Chara play on the Bruins one day.
The Marlies are running a pair of Rubins - Rasanen and I gotta tell you, I freaking love it. They're both massive. But they both skate really well and jump up in the play. A 6'4" defenseman barreling towards you in front of the net? Tell me you're not scared#Marlies— Hardev Lad (@HardevLad) March 31, 2019
I hate to say it, but I think Borgman’s taken a step back since his latest concussion. This was his second game since coming back from the head injury over a month and a half prior. I’m hoping he gets his feet back in the coming weeks, but he looks slower and a little delayed in his decision making in terms of getting to where he needs to be. There were moments in this game where I was glad he had a babysitter in Steve Oleksy on his right. Here’s hoping I’m proven wrong in time.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe was very pleased with his teams effort tonight. Very very pleased. One thing I will note from Keefe’s presser. Whenever he praises Jeremy Bracco, he’s very keen to include the word “offensively” in everything he says. I think that says a lot about where he feels Bracco’s defensive game is, despite the points.
Godspeed, Calle Rosen. Good luck in Toronto, and thank you for the ring.