It was a busy week between Christmas and New Years as the Toronto Marlies played four times in that stretch. I wrote about Toronto’s Boxing Day loss to the Belleville Senators already, talking about understanding this team and players from a new perspective.

Coming back to the Marlies with a fresh perspective as Toronto falls to Belleville on Boxing Day

Here, I’ve recapped the last three games for the Marlies — two in Laval over the weekend and the New Year’s Eve game at home on Tuesday. The Marlies won the first game on Friday, but then dropped the next two by a combined score of 10-2. Performances were not ideal, and I got into that in the recaps.

There has also been a lot of news around the team, particularly a pair of trade requests and a new coach in a new league looking to implement his vision with a roster that is quite thin on depth at the moment. Currently, the Marlies have 15 healthy forwards, seven defensemen, and two goalies. For an organization who had upwards of five NHL-contracted players in the ECHL, only Aaron Luchuk remains there at the moment.

Mason Marchment called up to the Maple Leafs
Updated: Maple Leafs recall two defenders (really just one) ahead of their roadtrip

Let’s get into it.

Friday @ Laval (3-2 win)

Marlies Lines and Trade Talk

The Marlies have settled into a new arrangement offensively, with Nic Patan and Pontus Aberg becoming a pair, usually with Adam Brooks up the middle. Kalle Kossila, Kenny Agostino, and Jeremy Bracco are the new second pair, while the bottom six has been a combination of role players.

With Rasmus Sandin at the World Juniors and Martin Marincin up with the Leafs, Teemu Kivihalme got the assignment to play on the top pair with Timothy Liljegren. After the disaster that was the first period against Belleville on Boxing Day, Jordan Schmaltz and Ben Harpur have stayed on separate pairings, with Harpur and Joseph Duszak remaining together for the second straight game.

31 Thoughts: NHL trade market beginning to take shape

According to Elliotte Friedman, Bracco and Harpur have expressed interest in being moved to another team. Considering Bracco has failed to show himself as a forward capable of playing a two-way game, along with the fact that he’s seemingly fifth or sixth on the RW depth chart, this was news I was not surprised to hear.

As for Harpur, he’s been shown capable of doing what was advertised from him. Unfortunately, the Marlies don’t have as much of a need for him as other teams might. A change of scenery could be good for him, too.

Mason Marchment - Nic Petan - Pontus Aberg
Kenny Agostino - Kalle Kossila - Jeremy Bracco
Garrett Wilson - Hudson Elynuik - Darren Archibald
Nicholas Baptiste - Tanner MacMaster - Matt Read

Teemu Kivihalme - Timothy Liljegren
Jordan Schmaltz - Jesper Lindgren
Ben Harpur - Joseph Duszak

Kasimir Kaskisuo
Joseph Woll

First Period

The first period between Laval and Toronto was quite even, there were no penalties, no goals, and shots were 9-10. If anything, I’d say it was almost boring. Both sides had a handful of chances in the slot, but there weren’t any grade-A chances you would get from in front of the net or off the rush with any pre-shot movement. Both goaltenders were solid.

In terms of performances, I liked Kalle Kossila in his third game of the season, I think he’s scraping off the rust and showing a nice versatile presence up the middle. He’s smart and gets the puck where it needs to be for himself and his teammates. Kenny Agostino (Kossila’s winger) had the two best chances of the period, with Kossila working for a rebound in front of the net.

Jesper Lindgren went for a skate near the end of the period and was at the side of the net for a shot before having to scamper back. He doesn’t jump up like that often, but when he does it’s usually at a good time like during a change. Joseph Duszak had another nice chance, pushing down from the point to get another chance. He’s becoming someone I can see play regular minutes in this development league as he gets stronger and faster.

Second Period

In the second, things got really interesting. Liljegren opened the period with a mildly dangerous elbow to an opposing player on his first shift. The ensuing power play for Laval didn’t result in much offensively, but it sparked some emotion into the game that led to some dangerous chances as well as increasingly vicious penalties.

The Marlies kicked the game open with a power play goal by Aberg while Dale Weise was in the box for tripping. Kossila and Duszak followed up with goals within the minute, the first goals of the season for both. Suddenly the Marlies were up 3-0 and coasting. That was until Evan McEneny and Yannick Veilleux scored 10 minutes later. McEneny’s goal came on the power play with Agostino in the box for slashing.

Similar to the Marlies goals, Veilleux followed up within 30 seconds of the power play goal to bring the Rocket within one. In coasting, the Marlies got lazy as the period was coming to a close. Sheldon Keefe had to work hard to keep his players focused. He would often take timeouts with big leads, when the game was just starting to swing the other way. Hopefully, this is something head coach Greg Moore learns over time, or finds a way to not let happen in the first place.

In terms of performances, Marchment was strong on the penalty kill. I liked how he worked the opponents hard and got them to create a turnover. Marchment isn’t the fastest player on the ice, but he can move and has some slick moves on a breakaway. He probably won’t get a game in after being called up on Wednesday, but if he does, I’d be pretty confident that he can hold his own. Hopefully the increased pressure doesn’t push him over the edge in terms of taking reckless penalties and giving dangerous hits.

Third Period

Of the 12 total shots in the third period, the Marlies took two. I know, I know, they were ahead and score effects dictate the leading team gives up more offense late in games, but two shots (one scoring chance) is ridiculous. Early in the period, the Petan line had a fair bit of offensive zone time, but they were stuck to the outside and didn’t end up doing anything with it. None of the other three lines were effective at all. Aberg and Elynuik both took penalties in the middle of the period, but the Marlies were strong on the PK (led by Liljegren and Kivihalme), giving up only two shots from the wings in those four minutes.

Saturday @ Laval (6-1 loss)

Marlies Lines

In the third game in three days (THIGABABA), the Marlies rolled pretty much the same top group, but with Timothy Liljegren getting the day off in the Maple Leafs press box. Giovanni Fiore made his Marlies debut against Laval, the town he grew up in. Fiore is on a PTO with the Marlies after being placed on unconditional waivers by the Arizona Coyotes earlier this season. He has been playing in the ECHL for the Rapid City Rush.

Mason Marchment - Nic Petan - Pontus Aberg
Giovanni Fiore - Kalle Kossila - Jeremy Bracco
Garrett Wilson - Tyler Gaudet - Darren Archibald
Rich Blune - Tanner MacMaster - Nicholas Baptiste

Teemu Kivihalme - Jordan Schmaltz
Michael Kapla - Mac Hollowell
Ben Harpur - Joseph Duszak

Joseph Woll
Kasimir Kaskisuo

The Game

I’ll be honest, this game sucked. The Marlies sucked. In the first two periods, the Marlies were out-shot 11-34, including 1-16 in the second period. One shot in a period that saw the Marlies on the power play three times, including a 5v3 near the beginning of the frame. Zero shots on the power play, zero scoring chances.

The first period failed to impress either, with the Marlies taking 10 shots, but unable to find a shot in a high-danger area between the hash marks and in front of the net. Petan and Aberg were the only players able to get close enough to challenge for a scoring chance.

The Marlies gave it an honest try in the third period, but having gone down 6-1, it was fruitless — especially when none of the chances early or late in the period arrived in the back of the net.

Poor Joseph Woll, there wasn’t much he could do in this game. He gave up the first five goals, before getting the mercy pull midway through the game. Having played the first and third games of the THIGABABA, there was no point shelling him out there when he was on pace to face over 45 shots in a blowout.

Tuesday vs Cleveland (4-1 loss)

Marlies Lines

After seven games out of the lineup due to a right-leg laceration, Egor Korshkov made his return to the lineup in his regular third-line position. I wonder, as things evolve with this team, whether Korshkov will move up the lineup or not. Before his injury, he was playing with Aberg and Pierre Engvall, two bonafide top-line players in the AHL. Now, without them, it’ll be interesting to see what the Marlies do with the ice time and usage of arguably their top forward prospect.

On defense, Kivihalme was called up to the Leafs between games while the team was in his hometown of Minnesota. As a result, Mac Hollowell was called up from Newfoundland and played on his off-side with Liljegren on his opposite side.

Mason Marchment - Nic Petan - Pontus Aberg
Kenny Agostino - Kalle Kossila - Jeremy Bracco
Egor Korshkov - Hudson Elynuik - Garrett Wilson
Darren Archibald - Tyler Gaudet - Matt Read

Mac Hollowell - Timothy Liljegren
Kristians Rubins - Jesper Lindgren
Ben Harpur - Joseph Duszak

Kasimir Kaskisuo
Joseph Woll

The Game

Again, the first period of the game was quite even for the Marlies. They kept within a few shots of their opponent, and while the Monsters did open the scoring, the seemed poised to keep it close, which they did in the second on Agostino’s 17th goal of the season. Liljegren got the primary assist on the goal with his accurate stretch pass at the end of a penalty kill, giving him 15 on the season.

Among defensemen, Liljegren is 24th in league scoring (18 points in 28 games), surpassing the 15 points in 43 games he posted last season. I said it over the summer, and I’ll say it again: this is the power of letting Liljegren be the primary on his pairing; he’ll command the ice more, make more plays, and improve his point production. Power play time when Sandin hasn’t been in the lineup has helped, too.

The second period was when things started to fall apart. Shots were 4-3 in the period when Agostino scored the game-tying goal with 10:43 left on the clock. After this point, the Monsters used two power plays (Agostino for a second time and Duszak) to hammer the Marlies for 12 shots to their three. The Marlies were able to escape the period unscathed, but it felt like the team had lost its legs through all the penalty trouble.

When the third period came around, the Marlies got an early power play.

The first unit moved quite well in the offensive zone, giving the trio of Bracco, Aberg, and Petan plenty of looks to get the puck on net with Marchment in front, but they never penetrated the bottom half of the zone nearly as effectively enough as they could’ve. When you get the puck down low, you force the penalty killers to turn and put their head on a swivel, rather than just having to look ahead and stay in formation.

I wonder how long before they try Korshkov with Marchment on the first unit and perhaps bring in someone like Kossila or Agostino to add some different types of looks. To me, Aberg and Petan are twins of each other while Bracco is the youngest sibling who can’t shoot yet.

Archibald on the second unit had the best chance of the group as he got ahold of a rebound that he couldn’t bury, other than that, there wasn’t much going for the Marlies power play. Once it expired, the Monsters came back the other way and scored on their first shot because of course. Justin Scott took a shot from the point and it found its way through. I have to point out how bad Rubins gets punked here. He was cross-checked from behind right as the puck was being shot and the 6’4”, 220 lbs defender just dropped like a feather. It was a tough screen for Kaskisuo to deal with as he had a Monsters player in front and Gaudet trying to block the shot up top.

For some reason, this goal seemed to take all the wind out of the Marlies’ sails and they didn’t seem to have much fight in them as the clock ticked down. Maybe they thought they would get them at the end because apart from Agostino and Archibald, no one was getting anything of substance on Monters goalie Veini Vehvilainen between the 2-1 goal and the the next one they would give up.

With eight minutes to go, things went from bad to worse as Kaskisuo let this hunk of moldy cheese past him. Often goalies will be asked to make the important save when their team is trying to mount a comeback. We’ll never know if the Marlies would’ve gotten close had this puck not gone in, but this goal put them yet another step back after wasting time throughout the period.

And then things got a little ugly. As the Marlies were on the power play, the first unit was trying to keep possession with a bouncing puck in the offensive zone. Petan tried to make a pass from the corner to Bracco at the opposite point, but his pass was deflected and it went up. Liljegren was in the middle of the ice and tried to bat it down. At the same time, a Monsters penalty killer was trying to corral the puck in his chest (the puck was at normal chest height) and got hit in the face either by the puck, Liljegren’s flailing stick, or both. Either way, Liljegren was called for high sticking. While it is unclear whether Liljegren actually hit the player in the face, the fact that his stick was in a dangerous position and the player reacted to getting hit was enough to get the call.

Jeremy Bracco did not see it that way. He was whining all the way to the bench (because he doesn’t PK), and at the bench said something to the referee that got him two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. Now, while you can argue that is a tough call for the referee to make in a close game, it is on the player to keep their head on their shoulders and not give the referee the chance. It might not be what we want the game to be, but it’s the one that’s given to us and this cause and effect is pretty standard.

When Bracco and Liljegren got out of the box with 1:33 left on the clock, Bracco tried to jump into the play as the puck was in the offensive zone. From the bench, he was getting the call to be replaced with a different player. After a second of hesitation, Bracco yielded to the coach and skated back to the bench behind Liljegren (who was thrown right back out at the next instance).

Bracco didn’t play the rest of the game and when the 4-1 goal was scored on the empty net, you could hear a player smash something on their way down the tunnel to the dressing rooms. While I have my suspicions as to who that player was, I couldn’t see for sure from my vantage point. Kaskisuo definitely smashed his stick against the boards as he was leaving the game at the end. If someone who was at the game knows, I would love to be corrected.

After the Whistle

  • The Marlies have played five games for new head coach Greg Moore. In that time, they have played around the Christmas break followed directly by a 3-in-3. It hasn’t been the best schedule for the new leadership, but the results have been awful, even if you give the group some slack. In those five games, the Marlies have a 43.9% shot share (all situations) and 45.8% scoring chance differential. This has mostly tracked with their full season numbers of 45.9% shots and 46.4% scoring chances, which is concerning on its own.
  • What’s brought this issue to the fore right now is that the team that was running on a 104 PDO is starting to see their shooting and save percentage numbers fall back to earth. All season, the Marlies were running at about a 55% goals for team, despite getting out-shot most nights. Under Moore, they’ve suffered a 43% goals for ratio. I am not saying this is all the coach’s fault. This PDO bender has been running on high for a calendar year and it was bound to pop. Losing a lot of the team’s best players due to injury and call ups didn’t help either.
  • I don’t think this team was worthy of their Eastern Conference Finals achievement last season, and their current third place position in the North Division this year. I expect to see some changes in the new year on both the systems side and in terms of personnel (see who’s on the trade block at the top of the article). After listening to Coach Moore’s press conference after the Tuesday game, I can see what he’s trying to do on the power play and I hope it can be brought into the 5v5 game as well. What I still need to see is this team’s ability to play relentless hockey. No more stretches where they’re falling asleep at the wheel or have given up because they’ve fallen down. I think they need a rejuvenation. /

The Marlies play another three-in-three beginning this Friday, and then they spend mid-January on the Boat Show Road Trip. This year they go to Texas and North Carolina for six games in 10 days.