It was a wild weekend to end the Marlies regular season, and it made you wonder what is going on with this team which made first place in the North Division but has also lost 11 of their last 13 games.
The Marlies clinched a playoff spot a whole month ago on March 17, and then they clinched first place in the division a few weeks ago, but all that didn't help satisfy when you see on ice a Jekyll and Hyde type team over March and April that one day plays great organised defensive and offensive hockey, and then becomes a complete disaster on ice the next. This all played out yet again on the weekend with the Marlies losing to the Belleville Senators 7-2 on Saturday, then beating them 7-2 on Sunday. It was a huge turnaround, but one of many flip-flops of effort in recent weekends.
After the loss on Saturday, Greg Moore reflected on the game and said what we have heard several times before that the team has issues with consistency, summing it up simply with "we weren't ready to play."
He explained there's continuous messages being delivered to the team before the games and between periods, but they haven't always been working, and frustration is mounting. "I know that they care, but they've got to start showing it and they've got to stop talking it and just do it," said Moore of their effort, adding "I think at this point I'm really frustrated with where things are at, [and] the inconsistencies of our play."
Moore further noted he didn't not place blame on goalie Keith Petruzzelli in net, saying it was a team loss, and he put in Denis Hildeby simply to try and change things up, and change the energy of the group. But that didn't work.
An example of the confused play can be seen right here by Semyon Der-Arguchintsev. I have to wonder what exactly he was expecting to happen here? This can't be some kind of set play. It was a silly move and it led to a very bad outcome.
As to what needs to be fixed, again Greg Moore deferred to consistency and said "we've got to find it really quick because we're not too far away from our first playoff round and we've got to find a response to what happened today."
It sure sounded like the Marlies got that message before Sunday's game, with Logan Shaw adding the exclamation point to it before the game started.
And the results showed it. You can watch the highlights pack below, but to be fair, I will use SDA again as an example because contrary to his flubbed play on Saturday, he had this neat little manoeuvre were he starts in the d-zone and scores in the o-zone controlling the puck himself the entire way.
This drive to score was there with the team the whole game. Here's another great effort from Marc Johnstone for his 9th goal for the season, and it's short-handed!
I would also note William Villeneuve has quietly racked up assists, including three in Sunday's game, bringing him to a total of 22 for the regular season plus 3 goals for 25 points in 54 games.
On an injury note, Ryan Tverberg returned to the lineup on Sunday from his upper-body injury from a game on April 2.
The Playoff Dates and Format
The AHL playoffs have a play-in round which the Marlies get to skip as the first place team in the North Division, but this also means they play the winner of that round so they won't know their exact opponent for about another week. The two teams in that fight are the Laval Rocket (Montreal Canadiens affiliates) and the Utica Comets (New Jersey Devils affiliates). They will play out their best-of-three series this week, with a winner decided on by Friday night (a sweep) or on Saturday night if needed.
As such, the Marlies can't yet pin down the game times for the road games until they know to which city they are actually going, but all the home games times are now set. The "Division Semifinals" or simply Round #2, will start at the Coliseum on Thursday April 27th.
As you can see, the AHL uses a best-of-five format for rounds #2-3, with the conference finals ans Calder Cup Final having a best-of-seven series.
Here's where the teams outside the Marlies division wound up.
If the Marlies make it out of the division championships they could face the Providence Bruins who had the best record in the Eastern Conference this season—yes, even in the AHL you have to eventually go through the Bruins to win in the championship form the east.
The Western Conference is more interesting, with the Calgary Wranglers (relocated from Stockton, California) fighting for supremacy with the new expansion Coachella Valley Firebirds (Seattle Kraken affiliates) all season long. Both are top tier teams and would be really tough opponents in a final, and though while the idea of a Toronto/Calgary match up is really fun, on the other side of the West you have the Texas Stars at first place in the Central Division, and that was the team the Marlies beat to win the Calder Cup in 2018, so a rematch with them would also be fun.
Either way, those possibilities are a long way off. Right now, the first hurdle is one of the Rocket or Comets, or perhaps it is the Marlies own chaotic dual personae. Will we get the consistency of Dr. Jekyll or the anarchy of Mr Hyde in the playoffs? We'll see who shows up on both side starting on April 27.
And here you can enjoy the Marlies Sunday game (I won't link to the Saturday one!)