It was a wild weekend for the Toronto Marlies back from the All-Star break to play back-to-back games against the Laval Rocket. The Marlies demolished the Rocket in the first game on Friday, winning 6-1, then the opposite happened on Saturday with the Marlies losing 7-1.
It was a tale of two games and that season-long word "inconsistency" has made its return.
The team's roster was unchanged between the two games aside from Dennis Hildeby starting in net on Friday and Keith Petruzzelli starting in net on Saturday, though he was replaced by Hildeby after the first period (more on that below). This also came after Max Lajoie was called up to the Leafs and so the defence was shuffled around a bit.
This game didn't start out fast, with the game tied 1-1 at the end of the second period, but then the Marlies took over and scored five times in the third period, one an empty net goal, but all the others at 5-on-5. The Rocket looked out of place and Dennis Hildeby stood tall in net (literally and figuratively - as usual) for the team at all times. It doesn't get more convincing than a 6-1 win.
I do love these two highlights though, both goals by Shaw, and in this first one he's coming in so fast I don't know how he managed to snag the pass from Nick Abruzzese and get off the shot.
And then Shaw ended it all with a hat trick.
The game was a disaster, despite the Marlies starting off looking pretty good for the first few minutes of game time, but there's not many other words you can use to explain a 7-1 loss. Both teams had a lot of energy to their skating, and there was a lot of physical play to separate players from the pucks both on the boards and in open ice, but in the middle of the first period the Marlies simply flamed out. I can't explain it exactly, but the team changed very quickly from looking competitive to looking way out of their depth against the same team they steamrolled the day before.
Of course, it should be noted it was an ex-Marlie in net for the Rocket, Kasmir Kaskisuo. Now 30 years-old, he has returned to North America after spending two seasons playing in Sweden where he was best known for being suspended for five games after throwing a water bottle at a referee.
But since his return he has been on fire for his first few games since signing with the Rocket; a 0.932 all-situations sv%. He's a potential deadly foe if the Marlies wind up facing the Rocket in any playoff competition.
On the Marlies side, Petruzzelli was pulled after the first period where he let in three goals on twelve shots. After the game, Marlies Coach John Gruden said the reason for that change was he was searching for a way to create a spark for the team and get them going, already seeing trouble for the team. That spark didn't happen and the Rocket scored another three straight goals in the second period.
There was only one single break from the carnage when Roni Hirvonen took advantage of a power play to score his first goal of the season. This was his first home game since returning from injury, though he played a few on the road trip before this. He's still wearing the fishbowl mask for protection after the eye injury.
Overall, this was a very poor outing for the team after a good road trip. John Gruden says he cannot explain it beyond the accumulation of "little things" going wrong in the outing, saying "I didn't see it coming, I didn't see us having that type of effort. I thought we started well, but there were some uncharacteristic turnovers, holding on to pucks too long, and allowing them to get some momentum. I'll have to look at the tape again to get my finger on it, but I didn't see that coming to be quite honest."
Here's how the North Division stands at the end of Sunday with the Marlies tied with the Amerks for third place.
The Marlies have a school day game at 11:00 a.m. Wednesday against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Then they will head out to Belleville to play the Senators on Friday and then will be back on Saturday to play the Hershey Bears.