The Manitoba Moose (Jets affiliate) are visiting Toronto for two games against the Marlies this weekend.

Before the first game, the Marlies were the top team in the AHL Eastern Conference while the Moose were number one in the Western Conference. The Marlies got off to an unfortunate start on Saturday, losing 2-1 in the first round of this clash of the titans.

There were minor changes to the lines for this game, most notably for the defence pairings. Timothy Liljegren has been loaned out to the Swedish team for the World Junior Hockey Championship, and Travis Dermott was sitting out this game.

Garret Sparks was in net for the Marlies, and Michael Hutchinson for the Moose.

First period

The Moose got off to a slow start offensively. Only the Marlies registered any shots on goal in the first half of the period.

The Marlies got the puck to the front of the Moose net on two occasions, the first on a shot from Colin Greening, with Dzierkals following up on shot from the rebound off Hutchinson. Two minutes later the exact same thing happened, but this time it was Andrew Nielsen and Adam Brooks, but he was tangled up with a Moose defender and couldn’t get it in the net.

The Moose were getting a bit chippy and it looked like they were trying to provoke the Marlies. I specifically saw them trying to engage Rinat Valiev and Nielsen to perhaps draw penalties. Valiev used to be easy prey for that, but during last season he visibly matured and continues to demonstrate he knows better than to take the bait and get suckered into a penalty.

Nielsen did take a penalty in the period, but not for anything related to any engagement with the Moose. It was a rare “closing hand on puck” during play penalty, but the Marlies killed it off. In fact, the Marlies killed off all the penalties handed out in the game, and so did the Moose.

Marlies Coach Sheldon Keefe noted both teams are considered to have the top penalty-kill units in the league, which is likely a big reason they are also the top two teams in the league.

The period ended without anyone scoring a goal.

Second Period

The Moose scored in this period.

That’s all I am going to write about it.

What? You want to know more?

Well, there really isn’t much more to write about. This was a dry period. Scoring chances seemed to happen only when there was a big mistake or accident. Nielsen blew a tire on one play which led to one for the Moose. Kerby Rychel had a great one after the same thing happened to one of the defenders on the Moose.

It was as though these teams had figured out what plays the other would make, before they had even decided to make them. When they hadn’t, both had a stellar goaltender in net to rely on.

It felt like the game would end with that one goal being the only one scored in the game.

Third Period

The Marlies pressed hard in the period and suddenly the Moose were letting them get off dangerous shots. I noted all of Rychel, Greening, Bracco and Dmytro Timashov had some chances in only the first six minutes. Timashov’s shot actually looked like it might have gone in the net, but on review it was ruled no goal. It apparently only grazed the underside of the crossbar.

In the final minutes it still looked like the game would end 1-0 for the Moose. Keefe pulled Sparks from the net to help with the attempt to tie up the game. The Marlies were regrouping behind the net, waiting to get organised for a breakout when Aaltonen ran into trouble skating in the corner.

That was a tough goal for the team to have to take. Rosen (48) is first to notice Aaltonen (45) is in trouble. He moves in to help, but his stick appears to get tangled with Aaltonen’s who is making a desperation dive to whack the puck away. All that ends up happening is the puck is pushed forward at low speed. Mueller (19) has come down toward the net and is now the only Marlies player in range to do something, but he winds up behind the puck, likely not expecting it to go where it did.

I am not certain there was anything that could have been done here to prevent the goal when you take into account reaction time required of the players to understand there’s a major problem developing. The one thing I wonder about is Timashov, and why he stays there in the opposite corner from Aaltonen for so long after he has passed him the puck. Perhaps they had a specific play in mind, and this was a part of the setup? I don’t know, but he stayed there after it was obvious things had gone awry, and there was an emergency situation. It’s certainly not his fault though. It’s  a series of unfortunate events you can’t quantify on a stat sheet beyond noting an empty net goal for the Moose.

Now down 2-0 with only one minute left, Sparks went back in the net while the Marlies faced a near impossible challenge to get the game to overtime. Bracco stepped up to the plate to keep hope alive.

Scouting Jeremy Bracco, Timothy Liljegren, and the Toronto Marlies

This game featured the annual teddy bear toss, so Bracco’s goal set that off and hundreds of teddy bears and other stuffed animals came raining down on to the ice.

The Marlies now had 20 seconds on the clock to score a goal and tie the game; difficult, but has been done before. As a side effect of the teddy bear toss, Keefe had a few bonus minutes to plan out what to do next. He had a very animated conversation with the players, however, whatever plans they made didn’t pan out. The game ended with the Moose winning 2-1.

Other thoughts

  • Poor Calle Rosen had a rough game with two cringe-inducing bad plays, and then a tripping penalty while the Marlies were on a power play at the end of the second period. However, it seemed uncharacteristic for him. I’d say this was “one of those games” that every Marlies player wants to forget and just move on.
  • Start slotting Bracco in on your Leafs 2018-19 lineup predictions! Quietly remove Adam Brooks. Or, better yet, just don’t throw these players in or out of future lineups. It’s normal to have ups and downs, sometimes very long ones. Don’t assume too much on less than half a season.
  • There is very visible netting at both ends of the arena, people. The teddy bears do not have magical powers to pass through it. Walk around to the side and throw them./

Upcoming games

The Marlies play the Moose again Sunday at 4:00PM, then travel to Utica for games against the Comets (Canucks affiliate) on Wednesday and Friday.