The Marlies were back in Toronto this weekend after playing three straight weeks out of town because of the Royal Winter Fair taking over the Exhibition Place. Welcoming them back in town were the Manitoba Moose for back-to-back games.
While the Marlies made a bang with their return on Saturday, defeating the Moose 7-2, things didn't go as well on Sunday with a 4-2 loss. It's the latest of several split weekends for the team so far this season, though they did trounce the Griffins back-to-back last weekend. Overall the team maintains a solid record, now 20% of the way through the AHL regular season.
By points% the Marlies are now in a three-way tie for second place in the division. It's common for the standings to be so tight at this point in the season, but it's still great the Marlies aren't chasing the pack from the bottom half.
These were the lines for the skaters on Sunday, though Saturday was almost identical except Keenan Suthers was out and Robert Mastrosimone was in.
With the Maple Leafs returning from Sweden, both Bobby McMann and Simon Benoit have been returned to the Marlies.
Saturday: Marlies win 7-2
Denis Hildeby started in net for the Marlies on Saturday up against Colin Delia for the Moose. This game was simply domination from the Marlies, which you can tell from the score. Delia was chased from the net quickly in the first period after letting in three goals on five shots. He was replaced by Thomas Milic, a rookie 20 year-old goalie drafted just this past summer who was essentially thrown to Wolves in only his fourth ever pro hockey game.
Two goals I will pick out to highlight are, first this one by Pontus Holmberg who really does have one hell of a shot.
Second is this goal by Ovchinnikov which has a fantastic setup by Bellows.
I asked Bellows how he pulled off that pass and it was all about experience, saying it was "something my dad taught me back in the day is for all the guys on your team you got to know what hand they are, without even thinking about it. Shaw made a great play, chipped it off the glass to me right over the defenceman. I saw Chinny right before driving the net and I knew if I got it on his tape he would make good things happen."
Chinny! Because of course that's Ovchinnikov's nickname. But he has been great with five goals in eight games as of the end of the weekend.
And of course I can't go without mentioning Hildeby again, but his record must be getting noticed by those higher up the ladder. His 0.941 all-situations sv% is tied for first in the whole AHL.
Sunday: Marlies lose 4-2
Was Sunday ever a turnaround for the Moose and a letdown for the Marlies. Colin Delia was back in net to start for the Moose and he was having none of what happened in Saturday's game.
The one highlight I will pull out is this fun turnover and breakaway goal by Alex Steeves.
so nice you gotta see this at least twice 👀 pic.twitter.com/9y5ntHyjXQ— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) November 19, 2023
Steeves took responsibility on behalf of the team for the loss after the game saying bluntly "I don't think we were good enough for enough of the game, and I thought our power play sucked."
He added, "I just thought early on, myself included, maybe just forcing stuff, not as connected as we usually are. When you get a lot of opportunities like that with the man advantage you got to make good on a couple. You're not going to score seven even-strength goals every night."
There's not much more to add on to that!
Kieffer Bellows has made quite a name for himself since being signed him to a try-out contract back on October 30. With five goals and six assists in 7 games, he's right there and involved in the scoring almost every time he's on the ice. He had three primary assists in Saturday's game, and on Sunday he scored one of the two goals, literally driving the puck into the net (he is #20).
There's obviously a lot of raw skill there and I get an immediate feel that he's not just another "AAAA" player destined to be an AHL star and not go beyond that for whatever reasons, instead he looks ready for an NHL team, but where is always a question for these players, and the bar for them to prove they can make that jump is high, perhaps unfairly high. There is a hockey team in Toronto I can think of that has had worse players languishing on its fourth line for multiple seasons in the past decade.
The Marlies play against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers affiliates) for a rare Tuesday night home game at the Coliseum. The Phantoms sit at fifth by points% in their division.
There are a few recognisable names to Leafs fans on the Phantoms roster including Victor Mete who has been up and down from the Flyers this season, but is presently attached to the Phantoms. He may or may not still be there on Tuesday.
Newfoundland Growlers fans might also remember Parker Gahagen, who has had a journeyman minor league career that briefly stopped on their team and even on the Marlies for the 2019-20 season before it was prematurely ended by the Pandemic.
Also from that same season is Garrett Wilson who actually signed with the Leafs in the summer of 2019, but was assigned to the Marlies and never got a call up. He signed up with the Phantoms after that and has played with them ever since.
Tonight's game starts at 7:00 p.m.