The Marlies played their third of eight games this season against the Amerks (Buffalo Sabres affiliates) on Friday night, winning 2-0. It was a tough game for both sides, with goaltenders Linus Ullmark and Garret Sparks keeping their teams in the game to the end.

Marlies Lines

Andreas Johnsson - Miro Aaltonen - Jeremy Bracco
Dmytro Timashov - Chris Mueller - Ben Smith
Colin Greening - Frederik Gauthier - Trevor Moore
Kerby Rychel - Jean Dupuy - Rich Clune

Martin Marincin - Timothy Liljegren
Rinat Valiev - Justin Holl
Andrew Nielsen - Calle Rosen

Garret Sparks

Scratched/Injured: Adam Brooks, Mason Marchment, Vincent LoVerde

The Amerks’ roster has several familiar names on it, including ex-Marlies player Seth Griffith and ex-Leafs prospects Stuart Percy and Eric Knodel. There’s also, of course, Alex Nylander, whose brother was at the game last night.

First Period

The Bracco line caught my eye quite early in the game. He really connected well with his linemates and they were the first line to get real traction on their attack runs through the neutral zone and all the way to the net. But, either the plays broke at the last moment or Ullmark would block them.

Sparks had to make a big stop early, and it became clear he would need to do it quite a few times more in this game as the Amerks offence, including the Nylander line, could work their way through the Marlies defence from time to time.

Timashov gave a reminder to all of his excellent agility just before the halfway mark of the period. He recovered the puck from one of those broken plays and manoeuvred it around all the Amerks defenders to get it back to the net. Unfortunately, he had no angle to get off a shot and there was no one to pass to. But, the moves had the crowd on its feet.

Moore also showed off some deke moves coming down the ice with Holl to get off a shot right in front of the net, which was stopped again.

With about six minutes left in the period, the Gauthier line was out and really turned up the heat. Gauthier is great at setting up a goal whenever he gets a controlled entry, and he did it again. He tried it first with Moore and they came close, but Moore was going too fast to make it work.

He set up the same play again ten seconds later, this time with Greening on the rush, and it was executed perfectly for the first goal of the game.

There were more scoring chances for the Marlies by Smith, set up well by Valiev, but none panned out. The Marlies spent most of the last few minutes stuck in their own zone with Sparks bailing them out. The Amerks had one final rush to the net before the end of the period but Sparks shut it all down.

Second Period

The Amerks came back with a big offensive push to start the period with their Nylander line getting down into the Marlies zone for some time. While they were able to control the puck, there was some impressive work by Nielsen to shut them down completely, especially Nylander, whom he seemed almost prescient about, stopping his next move before it started.

The Marlies had one power-play opportunity in the period but could not get shots past Ullmark.

The now usual suspects from the first period again had the scoring chances: the Bracco line for the Marlies, trying his setup move again.

Rosen was injured after going hard into the boards. He was helped off the ice favouring one leg, and then left the game. It sounds like it’s not a serious issue, but there is no confirmation yet.

The period ended without any goals, and a big scrum formed with Justin Bailey nearing a fight with Valiev.

Third Period

I have some notes about this period, but it can all be summarised by the Marlies keeping on the pressure and trying to add to their lead, not just protect it. Moore was notably good in the period.

Eventually the Amerks pulled Ullmark, and it was all over when Gauthier passed the puck up to Dupuy who kept it just long enough to get it into the empty net at a really difficult angle.

Post-Game Thoughts

Ultimately, the Amerks simply ran out of time in this game. I think they eventually could have adapted and scored to tie the game, but Sparks prevented that as long as needed, stopping 31 shots on goal.

I really liked Bracco’s game tonight, and his linemates Aaltonen and Johnsson should be noted for playing well too. Coach Sheldon Keefe liked that lineup and said it was a deliberate choice against the Amerks. “We thought with Johnsson and Aaltonen’s speed that Bracco could get them the puck in good spots.”

Valiev had a solid game. I stand by my choice to bump him into our Top 25 Under 25. Keefe noted he is having a “bounce-back season” and praised his game.

As noted above, there are five more games against the Amerks this season. While the Marlies may still be at the top of the league, the Amerks are right behind them, and the Marlies will be seeing a lot of them in the next few months.

Up Next

The Marlies are in Syracuse to play the Crunch (Tampa Bay Lightning affiliate) Saturday night, then have several days off for the AHL All-Star break. Their next home game is Saturday February 3 vs. the Laval Rocket (Montreal Canadiens affiliate) at 4PM.