So the Toronto Maple Leafs may have lost to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night, but the Toronto Marlies made up for your craving for beating Manitoba teams by beating the Moose 3-2 and 5-4 in their own barn on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.
It was a team effort for the Marlies, with six Marlies having multi-point weekends and both netminders earning a road win for their club. Captain Ben Smith led the charge with a goal and two assists over two games including his 100th goal in the AHL. He has been at over a point-per-game pace for more than a month.
Let’s get onto the games. These will include a lot of video clips because there’s no way I’m voluntarily travelling to Winnipeg in the winter.
Game 1 (Friday)
Toronto Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe made a point of wanting to find “continuity in our group”, and this lineup looks like Keefe kept his promise. The playing roster contains only one PTO/ATO player: Pierre Engvall, and he’s appeared to have solidified himself in the top-six a mere three games into his season in the AHL.
Lineup vs Manitoba - Friday— Todd Crocker (@HockeyCrock) March 30, 2018
Engvall - Aaltonen - Bracco
Brooks - Mueller - Smith
Moore - Gauthier - Baun
Timashov - Greening - Clune
Marincin - Holl
Borgman - Liljegren
Rosen - LoVerde
With Jeremy Bracco in the box for slashing, the Marlies give up the first goal of the game 8:37 into the first period. Sami Niku, a Finnish defenseman who the Jets drafted in the 7th round in 2015, sneaks down to the right faceoff dot and snipes on goaltender Calvin Pickard. With the possibility of Niku passing the puck through the seam, defenseman Vincent LoVerde was too slow to divert Brendan Lemieux from screening Pickard in front of the net.
Sami Niku scores his 15th goal of the season for the Moose, who lead the Marlies 1-0 in the first period. pic.twitter.com/BAnGBU6sMm— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) March 31, 2018
The Marlies were getting outshot for most of the first period (6-11 after one), but Elgin Pearce was kind enough to take a slashing penalty with 20 seconds remaining in the frame, setting up Dmytro Timashov for this beauty of a blast 14 seconds later. Chris Mueller and captain Ben Smith team up to win the face-off and as a result receive the two assists on the goal. Adam Brooks and Calle Rosen completed the power play unit for anyone interested.
The Timashov power play group that scored the first goal of the game struck again in the second with Michael Spacek (no relation to Jaroslav) in the box. After successfully killing off a Kyle Baun interference penalty, Winnipeg-born Adam Brooks cleans up rebound left by Ben Smith after he drove to the net. It’s Brooks’ ninth point in eight games, he’s been getting a lot more done offensively since he was moved up with better linemates (namely Mueller and Smith).
Brody Sutter (second generation Sutter) brings the Moose back to evens six minutes later. Niku once again creates magic in the offensive zone. “Where did they find this guy!” says the team that picked Andreas Johnsson and Pierre Engvall in the same round in consecutive years previous to Niku’s draft.
We wouldn’t have another goal for nearly 26 minutes, each side playing to a dead heat. The shots were pretty much even, for the final two periods, with the Marlies gaining a slight advantage in the second that erased the deficit in the first. The Moose took four consecutive penalties at one point, but they killed them all off, and the Marlies were forced to defend an Andreas Borgman interference penalty that they successfully killed.
With less than a minute to go in the game and overtime looming, Adam Brooks did the Mitch Thing, setting up his very own Patrick Marleau aka 32-year-old Chris Mueller for the game-winning goal!
Four Marlies finish the game with two-point nights: Timashov, Mueller, and Brooks all had a goal and an assist, Ben Smith had two assists. Calvin Pickard stopped 25 of 27 shots for the win, pushing his season save percentage up to .923. Despite not recording a point in this game Timothy Liljegren was one of four Marlies to have three shots in the game, which is encouraging to see.
With all his friends and family in the crowd, you can tell Brooks (and the people of Winnipeg) was happy with his performance and the night as a whole, until he does the typical self-deprecating Leafs thing which is to point out that his shift was a little too long on the GWG. “YOU’RE A STAR!”
All in all, a hard-fought win on the road against a very good Manitoba team. A refreshing change from bottom-feeding, grinding, annoying teams like the Belleville Senators and Laval Rocket. No offense (not really).
Game 2 (Saturday)
The Marlies made some lineup changes between their two games in less than 24 hours, Derian Plouffe makes his way in with Kyle Baun stepping out. Plouffe appears to have taken that 13th forward spot on the team. With Mason Marchment on the shelf with a concussion, the only players remaining on the Marlies roster are players on try-outs. As stated earlier, aside from Engvall, Plouffe is at the top of that try-out group right now.
Teenager Timothy Liljegren gets some rest with Andrew Nielsen coming in for him. The swap on defence is something that has been happening all season and isn’t a surprise at all, making teenagers play back-to-backs is unnecessary and giving Nielsen ice time is pretty important as well.
Lineup vs Manitoba - Saturday— Todd Crocker (@HockeyCrock) March 31, 2018
Timashov - Aaltonen - Moore
Brooks - Mueller - Smith
Engvall - Gauthier - Greening
Clune - Plouffe - Bracco
Marincin - Holl
Borgman - Rosen
Nielsen - LoVerde
This was the start of a great night for Jeremy Bracco, and it is only fitting he starts the play that ends with the games opening goal. With C.J. Suess (real name) in the box for high-sticking, Bracco side-steps towards the half-wall, opening up space for Andrew Nielsen to walk into the slot. His shot gets stopped by Michael Hutchinson (who played all of both games this weekend), but Miro Aaltonen shows off a pair of sweet mittens to corral the puck and scoop it over the Moose netminder.
This play starts with Nelson Nogier giving the puck away to Trevor Moore in the high slot. Nogier’s reception of Chase De Leo’s pass was not clean, and it kicked the puck right out to Moore who had ample space to drive around the flat-footed Nogier and score a weak goal on Hutchinson. I assume Hutchinson thought Moore was going to pass the puck which is why he left his post, but ouch, you have to be sure first.
Either way, a nice birthday present for Moore, who turned a ripe old 23-years-old on Saturday!
Martin Marincin, who has been playing solidly for the Marlies this season, tries to reverse the puck against the cycle but puts it right on the stick of Darren Kramer who shoots and scores on goalie Garret Sparks. A giveaway for a giveaway — are we even now?
Darren Kramer scores to put Manitoba back within 1. Rough giveaway by Martin Marincin (who I will stress has not done this with the same frequency this year) pic.twitter.com/X3LZliTymd— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) March 31, 2018
Okay, so there are no singular clips of the next two goals but they are in Manitoba’s highlight pack that they post on Youtube after the game. I have attached that at the end of the recap if you want to follow along.
Mason Appleton, a 2015 sixth-round pick, starts the play with a quick zone entry on the power play (Andrew Nielsen for hooking) before dishing the puck off to Buddy Robinson (real name) before beating Marincin in a foot-race, taking the puck right back and sniping on Sparks. On video, that looked a lot more like a good power play execution than a poor penalty kill effort, but once again Marincin wears the goat horns (joining Freddy the Goat Frederik Gauthier who was also on the ice for the goal).
So the clip fittingly starts with Garret Sparks already sliding to the boards behind his net. Not sure why Sparks wanted to poke-check JC Lipon when Andreas Borgman was right there, but either way, he leaves the 6x4 wide open giving C.J. Suess his first ever professional hockey goal. Suess is a 2014 5th rounder by the Jets who spent four years with Minnetosa State University before signing an ATO with the Junior Jets.
Aside from a too-many-men penalty against the Marlies (they were excited to play and got a little ahead of themselves, okay), the Marlies dominated the second period. They took 17 shots on Hutchinson in the period alone, surrendering only 10. And they drew two penalties on the Moose; the latter of the two leading to the even-strength goal we’re about to talk about, scored by Calle Rosen just as the penalty was expiring.
Dmytro Timashov tees up Rosen for a blast from the high slot. Michael Hutchinson gets just enough of the puck that it bounces off the post and back towards him. As Hutchinson is falling, his right skate steps on the puck and inadvertently kicks the puck back into his own net. Smith and Mueller both cause havoc in front of the net but only Mueller gets an assist on the play because he passed Timashov the puck earlier..
The third was a lot of fun. Toronto and Manitoba traded blows throughout the frame, just like they had during the previous five periods of play this Easter weekend.
With penalty killer Colin Greening in the box for interference, Ben Smith jumps up on Mason Appleton and beats him to a puck. The player Leafs fans famously consider to have cement hands (he had a busted wrist) sets himself up to get stopped by Hutchinson and gets fortunate when Spacek bats the puck in for him.
Ben Smith is the benefactor of a Manitoba shorthanded own-goal. Marlies take a 4-3 lead in the third. pic.twitter.com/qs066VVTxW— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) March 31, 2018
Despite being down, B. Sutter will not let his team go away quietly. Sami Niku (who had four points and eight shots over two games) walks the line and throws the puck past two Marlies (Smith and Goat) and on to the stick of Sutter for a tip-in goal that beats Sparks. Me thinks Justin Holl probably should’ve had his man there. He ended the game a minus-2, which means something, I guess.
Brody Sutter redirects a point shot to tie the game at 4-4 for Manitoba pic.twitter.com/0mwFUTQSMr— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) March 31, 2018
Unlike the game on Friday, the Marlies didn’t wait until literally the last minute to score the game-winning goal, instead they scored with over 12 minutes left in the game and showed that they can shut down a game from there onward.
Before I get ahead of myself, let’s actually get to the goal. On the power play, Jeremy Bracco starts by picking up the puck from the corner and walking it back up so he can pass to Calle Rosen who sends the puck to Pierre Engvall at the far boards. Engvall sets and shoots but can’t get it past a pair of bodies. Luckily, the puck drops right to the stick of Bracco who ends his 22-game goalless drought!
Bracco's first goal since Jan 20!!!!— Pierre Engvall 👀 (@HardevLad) March 31, 2018
He's had 14 assists in the 22 games between goals https://t.co/iy8BV0Y6WW
Seriously, Bracco hadn’t scored since January 20th, a game where Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Rinat Valiev, and Kerby Rychel combined for a goal and two assists. Bracco is your classic playmaker.
Jeremy Bracco scores to put the Marlies up 5-4 in the third period pic.twitter.com/wyol28kGws— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) March 31, 2018
Bracco gave the most hockey of hockey interviews after the game, so of course I have to share it with you.
Thanks Manitoba for the highlight pack and the W!
After the Whistle
All right Mr. Crocker, what record did the Marlies break today?
The #Marlies now hold the single season road wins mark with 29. More remarkable? Every win has been in regulation. 29-5-1— Todd Crocker (@HockeyCrock) March 31, 2018
That’s league-wide, by the way.
Ben Smith has been everything you can ask for this season with the Marlies. He wasn’t great with the Leafs, but his contributions to this farm team hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Ben Smith had his first shorthanded goal of the season which is also the 100th AHL goal in the AHL. Smith leads the #Marlies with 27 goals and points with 57. He has 19 points in his last 17 games.— Todd Crocker (@HockeyCrock) March 31, 2018
33 points in 35 games, not bad at all.
Ben Smith is the #Marlies Mad Max (Road Warrior) with 33 points on the road scoring 18 goals in visiting rinks.— Todd Crocker (@HockeyCrock) March 31, 2018