The Marlies split the series in St. John’s this past weekend, and while they put Josh Leivo in the lineup for both games, they also used a fourth line of NHL players that saw Milan Michalek in the lineup for the first time.
The lines for both games looked like this:
Leipsic - Froese - Lindberg
Rychel - Smith - Johnsson
Leivo - Gauthier - Kapanen
Michalek - Laich - Greening
Nielsen - Holl
Valiev - Campbell
Loov - Wrenn
Saturday: Marlies, 1 - IceCaps, 4
Antoine Bibeau was in net on Friday with Garret Sparks backing up, making that the first time Sparks has dressed for a game since October 24. Jeff Glass has been backing up Bibeau since then.
The IceCaps started their hottest goaltending prospect, Charlie Lindgren, in his first professional season, with Yann Danis backing up. Zach Fucale is playing in the ECHL right now.
Lindgren was lights out good in the game, and while the Marlies won the contest of the shot clock in the first period 9-4, it was old nemesis Charles Hudon who scored first.
Kasperi Kapanen had the Marlies’ only goal of the game on the power play.
The IceCaps dominated play more in the second period, and with several nearly NHL-calibre players of their own and a much better defensive corps than they used to have, they are not quite so easy to outplay with speed and thread the needle moves as they used to be.
At the start of the third period, this game unraveled for Leivo and for the Marlies. He had an offensive rush up-ice and was harried very effectively and physically by Markus Eisenschmid. Eisenshmid ended up taking the puck the other way, and Leivo was called for hooking in his attempt to return the favour. He decided that would be a good time to mouth off to the referee. He got an unsportsmanlike like conduct penalty added on to the end of the first minor.
The Marlies were facing four minutes of power play time, but the IceCaps gave them a break and scored seven seconds into the first power play and then 21 seconds into the second.
That was the game. The IceCaps added an empty net goal to make it 4-1.
The Marlies lost that one on very poor penalty killing and poor on-ice choices.
But what about that fourth line of NHLers? Greening forechecked well, and they all had some shots on goal, but the only lively looking forward lines were Byron Froese’s and Frederik Gauthier’s.
Leivo was fine but not outstanding when he wasn’t watching goals scored from the penalty box.
Sunday: Marlies, 3 - IceCaps, 2
The Saturday game saw Garret Sparks make his first start since October 21, when he gave up five goals to the Rochester Amerks.
He was not good right out of the gate. The IceCaps netted a nice easy one five minutes in off a Laich giveaway.
Sparks is nothing if not a man who will battle for control. He got that control, and the game settled into a very evenly played affair with a lot of chances at both ends. The final shot total was 31-30 for the Marlies.
However, within the team, the Marlies had some very lopsided numbers. One forward was hogging the puck.
Kapanen had an astonishing 8 shots on goal in this game, and his linemates had three between them. Some of this success is absolutely Gauthier. If you haven’t seen Freddie since last year’s team where he played comfortably on the fourth line in a more defensive role while leaving all the skating and offence to Nikita Soshnikov, you should watch him. He is a whole new player. Leivo was great on Gauthier’s in this game, too. He backchecks better than most on the team, and he is positionally smart.
One of the keys to the Marlies’ success so far is that a lineup that looked on paper to have too many fourth line centres is getting excellent play out of both Gauthier and Froese.
Brendan Leipsic wrestled the puck away from Kapanen long enough to get the go-ahead goal.
Kapanen added one of his own right after, as they continued to make the IceCaps pay for taking penalties. I double checked, that is not Patrik Laine, it just looks likes him.
The IceCaps continued their parade to the penalty box with two more minors in the second that they got away with, and then, as happens, it was the Marlies’ turn. The IceCaps only scored once in four chances, so credit a much better PK than the previous day with keeping the game 3-2 heading into the third period.
The Marlies were getting some chances on Lindgren, who was back for another excellent performance in net. They got the IceCaps stirred up with some excellent fast and physical play by the fourth line. Michalek does the net-front agitator job very well. He made himself no friends that way, and a vigorous dig into Lindgren’s pads for the puck blew up into a shoving match that was as much a welcome to the AHL moment as you will ever see. Somehow Michalek took the double minor out of the scrum, but the Marlies killed it off.
They stayed out of the box for the rest of the period, which in the AHL might by your choice or it might be the ref’s; it is hard to tell sometimes.
The fourth line provided an effective shut-down line, something the Marlies usually don’t have. By the last five minutes of the game, however, Sparks was under siege. With Lindgren pulled for the last two minutes, Sparks stopped a lot of shots, held on, and got the win.
While riding a one-goal lead is not the best tactic, it worked. The Marlies went to a dump it in and fall back defensive shell way too early in the game, and when they needed to take control of the puck, or put it in the empty net, they were hesitant, not aggressive.
Watch Kapanen in much better quality video that those GIFs.
They have the talent to roll over a team like the IceCaps, but so early in the season, in the middle of the long road trip, it might not be such a surprise that they played with less verve than they show at home.
Next weekend the Marlies play Wilkes Barre-Scranton and Lehigh Valley, home to Stu Percy and T.J. Brennan respectively, and also the number one and three teams in their division. Josh Leivo can be on the roster for the first game and two more if the Leafs apply for an extension on his conditioning loan.