There really was nothing Sandin in the way Rasmus made the Ras-most of his AHL debut against the Syracuse Crunch. [kid! - Acha] I don’t apologize. The 18-year-old first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs is finally healthy, and already making waves at Coca-Cola Coliseum.
Sandin scored his first AHL goal on his first AHL shot in his first AHL game in a 4-1 Toronto Marlies victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning’s affiliate Syracuse Crunch on Friday night.
The Marlies were in control of the game all night, playing what veteren defenceman Vincent LoVerde described as a “persistent” and “consistent” effort over the 60 minutes of play.
The Marlies looked like a weird mashup of last year’s team and a bevy of new faces for the first few weeks of the season, but after several days of practice (and several more to come next month), the Marlies have begun to coalesce into a team that can play consistently and dilligently every night.
“We’re playing the way that we want to, we’re in position the way that we want to. The execution at times falls off — there is another team on the ice, and they make things difficult for you at time, but I just feel like we’re on the same page here as a group, and that sets us up well to take the next step.”
“A lot of our practice was working as a group of five, a lot of thinking about gap control and our forwards helping out. So there’s that piece of it, but we also had to get better with the puck. We had to spend more time with it, we had to make plays, we had to breakout better, we had to execute better, and that’s still something we’re going to focus on, but I think a lot of that is coming out nicely for us right now.”
If you ask me, the timing of the team becoming less chaotic on the ice and Sandin’s debut seem to line up very well. I’m not saying they were waiting to put Sandin in the best position to succeed, but I will say the Oilers and their management and development staff would never have thought of it.
Carl Grundstrom - Chris Mueller - Jeremy Bracco
Dmytro Timashov - Adam Cracknell - Sam Gagner
Mason Marchment - Josh Jooris - Trevor Moore
Pierre Engvall - Colin Greening - Griffen Molino
Calle Rosen - Timothy Liljegren
Andres Borgman - Jordan Subban
Rasmus Sandin - Vincent LoVerde
Sandin’s First Shift
Sandin’s first shift came in the defensive zone with LoVerde as his partner. Like a mother, I was excited, but also a little worried. My instincts aside, he played well. The Crunch overloaded Glass’ left side on the two occasions they tried for a goal. Both times Sandin did well to cover the back door and be a good outlet for LoVerde when he won a battle.
There was one play in specific that jumped out to me. Sandin was left alone just outside the faceoff circle, right in front of Glass defending a one-on-one. Sandin did a great job of making himself big and moving his feet laterally to always stay between the Crunch forward and the net. The forward (I’m sorry I missed his name) shot the puck but there was little to no net for him to shoot at and the puck went wide.
At the end of his shift, Sandin performed a switch with LoVerde and went into the far-side boards, pinning his man to the wall so his support could retrieve the puck. It was very well done, and he used his stick to great effect. He has all the tools to be in the NHL one day, and this was all off just one shift. Let’s be optimistic, but I don’t want to see anything crazy on HFBoards or Twitter after this is posted.
And case in point, on his next shift, he missed his man on a breakout pass and caused an icing, oops.
You won’t believe this... (I mean, it’s in the title so you should probably have figure it out by now, othewise I’d be concerned).
Sandin scored his first AHL goal in his first AHL game on his first AHL shot. Auston Matthews much?
The whole play was very random and extremely fun to watch. It was an offensive-zone start for the Marlies with Sandin and LoVerde at the point and Grundstrom, Mueller, and Bracco up front. The puck was thrown into the corner, Grundstrom retrieved it, and sent the puck up to the middle of the point. LoVerde and Sandin both went for the puck, but Sandin got it, threw it on net, watched as it bounced off a maze of bodies, and fell into the back of the net!
Unfortunately, the Marlies’ second goal wasn’t scored by Sandin as well. It was Mueller finding a loose puck between two of the Crunch’s brightest talents on defence in Cal Foote and Dominik Masin and absolutly sniped on Syracuse goalie Eddie Pasquale.
Jeff, what have I told you about coming out of your net!! Anyway, Glass spun around to the back of the net to play the puck, his backhand pass was tough to handle for Liljegren and Mitchell Stephens (not Mike Stephens) was able to steal possession right in front of the net and feed rookie and former Erie Otter Taylor Raddysh for a tap in with no one around him.
Boy, that was a fun second half of the first period. Shots were 2-1 in favour of Toronto after 11 minutes of hockey, but then in the final nine, the Marlies exploded for seven more, with the Crunch getting two themselves. Sandin has had a good AHL debut with the club. He got embarassed pretty badly by Alexander volkov right at the end of the period when the Russian forward found himself all alone in the slot with only Sandin in front of him, and decided to shimmy the 18-year-old who tried to pull a Dion Phaneuf high shoulder check at the same time. Maybe use a different defenceman as your inspiration there, Rasmus.
The Marlies kicked off the second in style. Rosen looked dynamic all game after what I felt was a slow start to the season. He was skating like the wind, on top of the puck, and using his very hard shot to good effect. On this play, he decided to step up for a loose puck at the offensive blue line since he was already moving through the neutral zone with such speed, stopped up, and found Marchment who put his habitually flashy finishing touches on the goal.
The Power Play
Early in the second period, the Crunch took two penalties in quick succession: Troy Bourke for tripping, and Masin for holding. This nearly two minute stretch of 5-on-3 time was a big opportunity for the Marlies. They had a 3-1 lead, but looked pretty awful on their first chance in the first, and knew they were against one of the best young top-sixes in the league, so head coach Sheldon Keefe called a timeout to get his group focused and ready so they could blow the game wide open.
When asked about why he took a time out at that time, Keefe gave a very reasonable response.
“We were trying to be a little more organized. We talked about it last week we haven’t spent any time on the 5-on-3, we still haven’t. We’re not going to prioritize that when we can take care of the areas that are more likely to occur a little more often in a game. We’re going to get there, in terms of fixing those kinds of things and addressing them. I’d like us to execute a little better, but like I said, it’s a work in progress here. It’s a long season.”
Alas the time on the man-advantage was all for naught. The Marlies were stuck to the outside, they were getting cut off when they tried to go down low, and they not only failed to get into the zone after losing the puck, but they took so long getting ready with the puck 200 feet away from its intended destination.
“Our power play was very good early on in the season, and clearly we were not good in any other area, so then you stop working on the power play, and you start plugging holes in all the other areas that will give you a chance to win games. So now that we’ve done a better job of that, we can spend a little more time on the power play; clearly we need that. Once you get going here, you can’t really fix everything all at once.”
Oh, yeah, that’s totally fair. I’m much more happy that the team is performing well at 5-on-5 than not. The Marlies have two games in the next 13 days, with all but the gamedays spent in the city. I think we can all expect the power play to be much better next time we see the team in seven days time in Cleveland.
The second period was much like the first; the Marlies doubled the Crunch in shots (10-5), Toronto couldn’t get anything going on the power play, and both sides did well to mute the other’s offensive chances.
It was one of those games where it really was going to take those big moments for a team to score. Credit goes to the Marlies — who have a penchant for leaving their usually outstanding goalies out to dry every night and hoping they win anyway — they did a great job of covering the middle of the ice, and making sure the forwards were supporting the defencemen. Every relationship is built on communication and support, and a hockey team is no different.
I’m not going to you, the first half of the third was super boring. Both sides kept the other to the outside and away from the middle of the net and any good chances. As the clock hit 10 minutes left and the “Blue Crew” came to scrape the ice, the shots were a steady 23-18 in favour of Toronto.
Trevor Moore was the lucky recipient of a convenient rebound that fell right to his feet with no one around him. Moments before Borgman threw the puck on net from the point, Moore customarily called to the bench saying his shift was done, but he stayed on long enough to find the Borgman rebound and poke the puck through Pasquale’s five-hole. That’s seven goals in nine games for Moore this season, he leads the team in points 12% of the way through the season.
And with that, the Marlies finished their first month of games on a high. It was a choppy start to the year; the team definitely didn’t look cohesive in the early going, but they do now. On top of that, Toronto doesn’t have another game until November 2 in Cleveland when they get to have a rematch against their new North Division rival.
After the Whistle
Both college graduate Vincent LoVerde and head coach Sheldon Keefe had some insightful things to say of Rasmus Sandin following his AHL debut. I’m just going to let them take it away.
LoVerde on Sandin
“I thought he’s very poised with the puck for a young guy. Obviously he’s 18-years-old, like I’m 12 years older than him! He’s very poised with the puck, he makes good plays, he’s a good skater. I was happy for him, he scored his first career goal, that was awesome. I thought he played a good game. There’s always jitters and a little bit of nervousness going on in your first game whether it’s NHL or AHL, but I thought he played really well.”
“Plays just happen quicker in the AHL, you’re almost in a hurry to get the puck off your stick because of the pressure, everything’s faster than it was in junior. I think he does a really good job making plays when under pressure, which is something that you can teach, but to me it’s kind of innate. I thought he did a lot of good things when he was under heavy duress. He makes the right plays.”
Sheldon Keefe on Sandin
“I think Sandin is very calm, he doesn’t waste an ounce of energy when he’s on the ice. You want to make sure that you put him in spots to succeed. I don’t know if it was his first pro game today, but it was his first game in over a month, or close to a month, since his injury. He was very much in control, and a lot of that comes from his brain. The way that he works mentally — the way he processes things — is very good, and it allows him to be comfortable in his surroundings. He’s a good player, but he’s still a young player.”