The Toronto Marlies took to the ice for their first game of the 2019-20 season on Saturday, defeating the Belleville Senators 4-1. The season began with both old and new faces in prominent roles on the team. Some have a lot of NHL experience already, while others are looking to get a call-up to the Maple Leafs to play in their first NHL game this year.

It’s a time of transition, but the team still wants to win it all.

The Lineup

Scratched for the game were Jesper Lindgren, Nick Baptiste, Ryan Johnston and Garrett Wilson.

There’s no surprise that Adam Brooks and Jeremy Bracco are together. Bracco spent a lot of time with Chris Mueller as his centre last season, but Mueller left for the Lightning organisation (meaning we will see him playing for the Syracuse Crunch against the Marlies this season). Brooks is the logical choice to move up to top line centre given his strong performance in the second half of last season. You might expect Mason Marchment to be their partner on the left wing, but he is presently unavailable. Marchment has an undisclosed injury from some point prior to the official start of the season and so cannot be assigned to the Marlies until he is medically cleared.

Matt Read and Pontus Aberg stand out as players with a lot of NHL experience anchoring their respective lines.

There was also some improvisation to these lines later when Kenny Agostino left the game. More on that later.

The Game

You would think that a 4-1 win would be a largely good game through and through, but that wasn’t exactly the case. The first period certainly did start with a bang.

Ex-Marlies player Michael Carcone took a penalty for hooking, and we had the first power play of the season. It took all of five seconds for that to be converted into the first goal of the game.

The Marlies had to kill off a penalty by Aberg next, and Kasmir Kaskisuo definitely helped with that by stopping some big ones.

The Marlies went back on the power play three more times in the period, with one partially overlapping another by a few seconds. Timothy Liljegren put one away to put the Marlies up 2-0.

That mix of Bracco, Brooks, Korshkov, Aberg, plus an available defenceman, was a fixture through the first period and they got off off a lot of shots. Aberg had some bad luck when he was getting passes from Bracco to shoot; all of them either missed the net or were blocked.

The Senators made a final push through the last minute of the first period, but Kaskisuo came up with some great saves to stop them.

The second period did not go nearly as well. There was some Marlies offence, including a few chances by Aberg and Engvall (now with a left winger changing on the fly because Agostino is gone), but the bulk of the chances were in favour of the Senators. They did capitalise one which brought the game to 2-1. They almost had one earlier in the period too.

It’s difficult to see from the side of the rink where the broadcast camera is placed, but from the other side we saw the puck get tucked in behind Kaskisuo, but not over the red line. It achingly slowly crossed through the blue paint and popped out the other side, all behind him. If Kaskisuo had moved backwards, or kicked back his leg, he would have pushed the puck in the net himself. Fortunately, he froze in that position, perhaps thinking it did go in and only realising it did not a few seconds later when they play continued.

The Marlies found their offence again in the third period, picking up 14 shots on goal to the Senators 7. In the first five minutes alone there were three great chances; Brooks on a breakaway after a hilarious mid-ice collision between two Senators players (we should call that a Melnyk Moment,) then Aberg with a great shot Senators goalie Marcus Hogberg deflected, and Read with an old-school wrap around attempt.

Hogberg was indeed great all game, but he finally let one shot in by Jordan Schmaltz. It was assisted by Bracco, giving him a point in all three goals of the game to that point.

Pontus Aberg had six shots on goal during the game, and finally got one to go in... on an empty net. That wrapped up the game and the Marlies continued a streak of home opener wins that goes back to 2015.

Post-Game Interviews and Thoughts

Here is the play that injured Agostino.

He was visibly woozy coming off the ice and went immediately back to the locker room and did not return to the game. Coach Sheldon Keefe said Agostino was “feeling better” after the game but there was still an examination and follow-up to be done.

“The skill, I think that is going to take some time to come out. We have the ability to really wear on teams, I think, physically, but we need to do that with good structure.” - Sheldon Keefe

As for the game as a whole, the players and Keefe were unanimous that the second period was poor, and they only pulled out the win in the third.

Schmaltz noted that “A little bit in the second period we kind of got away from our game. [There was] a little bit of panic.” Keefe added that this a different makeup of the team than in past seasons, saying “I think we’re really going to have to rely on structure to wear on teams.” He reemphasized that again, saying “The skill, I think that is going to take some time to come out. We have the ability to really wear on teams, I think, physically, but we need to do that with good structure,” and noted that’s what they did in the third period. “It showed in the third that we kind of got back on our toes, played a little more offence, and took over the game,” added Read.

When it comes to the Marlies special teams, who we saw tonight may not exactly be who see every time in future games. Keefe described it as a “work in progress,” citing his dual mandates to have a winning team and to ensure the development of Leafs prospects who could be called-up at any time and have to know the system and structure. Many of the prospects are now involved in both the power play and the penalty kill such as Korshkov, Brooks, and Liljegren. Keefe said it’s a balancing act, “We’re trying to prioritize these guys for sure but we’ve got a lot of guys with both great NHL and AHL experience that are sitting on the bench a lot of time and waiting their turns,” he noted. “We’re going to balance that, and that will be my greatest challenge here in the next coming weeks.”

Next Game

The Marlies will head to Winnipeg to play the Manitoba Moose in back-to-back games next weekend. They’ll be back for three home games after Thanksgiving.

Here’s the game in six.