This weekend the Marlies played their fourth and fifth games of the season against their AHL North Division rivals, the Albany Devils. The end result was a split series, one loss and one win. That was the same result, though in the reverse order, from the first weekend meeting between the teams back in October, a wild series with a lot of fighting which set a chippy tone between the teams for the season. Those first two games were followed up with a loss on a road trip game in November.
Unexpectedly, the two games this weekend were physically sedate in comparison, or at least less so overtly. There was more emphasis by both teams on stymieing each others attacks and defending their zones, which resulted in a lot more turnovers and a back and forth kind of game.
The Marlies had the added challenge of playing without their offensive juggernauts, Kasperi Kapanen and Brendan Leipsic. Both sat out the weekend with minor injuries, but are expected to make it back for the first game after Christmas. Leipsic has 27 points this season, only 3 behind AHL leader Matt Lorito from Grand Rapids. Kapanen has 13 goals, only 1 behind AHL leaders Greg Carey and Nick Baptiste. Losing them was a blow, and, by Sunday, left the team scrambling, calling for backup from the Solar Bears and even then still forced to play short one forward.
Saturday: Devils 3 - Marlies 1
Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe’s first attempt to deal with the shortage of forwards brought in all the veterans allowed, plus rarely used Solar Bears call-up Mason Marchment. The end result was a messy game, with some bad luck that led to a loss.
For most of the game attacks were led by Andreas Johnsson and Colin Smith, who were playing together most of the game with Frederik Gauthier, but they also had some minutes with Byron Froese.
Albany took a goofy penalty for too many men to start the first period of the game, but that was countered by Andreas Johnsson taking one seconds later. Rich Clune had some good defensive play all game, including early on as the final seconds of the penalty 4-on-4 ended. However the Devils’ Brian Gibbons then picked up their first goal.
A later power play by the Devils was quite the opposite, allowing the Marlies to keep clearing with little pressure. The Devils Ben Thomson did make a good impression, with that edgy play against the Marlies I was expecting, but ultimately did not see much of.
Tobias Lindberg and Dmytro Timashov had some really good scoring chances in front of the net with about 6 minutes left in the first, scoring chance but they couldn’t get enough control to put the puck past Devils’ goalie Ken Appleby. 21 year-old Appleby was undrafted, and is an interesting find by the Devils’ scouting staff. He played well all game, stopping 34 of 35 shots.
The Devils' John Quenneville and defenceman Yohann Auvitu, a 27 year-old Frenchman whom the Devils plucked from obscurity out of Liiga this summer generated a lot of chances on a late power play, eventually leading to a rebound off Antoine Bibeau picked up again by Gibbons for their second goal.
With about three minutes left in the first period Kerby Rychel started a fight well after a whistle. Even while the refs were trying to break it up he kept at it, and they eventually let them duke it out, but slapped Rychel with an instigator putting the team on a PK.
Five minutes in to the second period another fumbled rebound in front of Bibeau put the Devils up 3-0. Things were looking grim
The tables were turned in this period good with the Marlies getting two power play opportunities. While the puck never went in, Colin Smith was notably good both at passing and knowing when to take the shot.
Finally, late in the period, Johnsson got the Marlies on the board, showing some good vision, getting exactly where he needed to be to pick up this rebound.
The third period saw the Devils turn up the pressure again, but the Marlies had some chances, and hit the post a few times. Finally, with just over 7 minutes left on the clock, Froese scored to bring them back within one.
Or did he?
This game was played at the Air Canada Centre, which means it wasn’t only a single potato-camera filming the play, but multiple HD cameras on many different angles. We all clearly saw the puck on the big screen replay go well over the line and then a Devils’ player bat it out. Good goal, right?
With a crowd incensed and screaming the AHL officials instead awarded a penalty-shot, which felt like some kind of compromise consolation prize. The penalty shot was blocked.
Keefe was not impressed. “There’s no video review available. I guess, apparently, somebody missed work today. That’s the way things go in the American Hockey League.” He appeared to be only half joking there.
The game ended 3-1 Devils.
Missed calls and pucks off posts were not the main reason the Marlies lost.
After the game, Keefe specifically pointed to the large number of penalties as an important factor to address, like this particular game was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
“We’ve taken a lot of penalties as a team, and there’s been very few this season that I would attribute to a lack of discipline. When you say “discipline” you think you’re just out of control and taking selfish penalties. A lot of our penalties this year have been tripping and hooking and high-sticking, careless things. Today was the first time all season we took what I would say was a selfish penalty.”
Keefe went on to specifically call out two players. “The Timashov penalty was very much a selfish one. We dug ourselves a hole here today with that one.” referring to his double-minor for high-sticking. Then put Rychel and the whole team on notice. “[We] didn’t do ourselves any favours with the instigator afterwards. When things are going bad, people are trying hard, but we will have to reel that in really quick.”
Sunday: Marlies 4 - Devils 1
Rich Clune suffered a groin injury in Saturday’s game, leaving Keefe with a whole in his lineup. The Marlies looked to their friends from Orlando for some roster assistance.
It must have been one hectic roster move for Faille. He played with the Solar Bears in Kalamazoo on Saturday, and then turned around for the 3:00 PM game Sunday in Toronto.
Faille played with Colin Greening and Marc-Andre Cliche, though all the lines were a bit scrambled up at times, as even with Faille called up Keefe had to roll with 11 forwards and 7 defenceman. Gauthier possibly was out because of his pending call up to the Maple Leafs for Monday’s game, however Katya pointed out we have not seen Trevor Moore for some time, and there isn’t any news out if he is injured or not.
Bibeau returned to the net for the Marlies while 2016 World Junior Championship villain Mackenzie Blackwood was In net for the Devils. It didn’t take long for Byron Froese to start lighting him up.
He joined Rinat Valiev, each scoring within 3 minutes of each other in the first period. Froese wasn’t done, following up with this great shot in the second period.
The only Devils goal came after that, and it was a stinky one. Mandat was left wide open to plunk one in behind Bibeau. The Devils line of Pelly - Sexton - Pietila had several more scoring chances, but they were fended off, with Bibeau making 29 saves in total during the game.
The Devils then looked totally discombobulated during the third. At one point a puck was loose in front of Blackwood and almost their whole team were scrambling around in the crease, literally falling over each other trying to get it out. There was a complete lack of coordination. It was clear their plan, whatever it was, had broken down.
Naturally, seeing defeat coming, that edginess I was expecting finally surfaced towards the end of the game. Both sides picked up some misconducts and fighting majors.
Dmytro Timashov padded his stats with an empty net goal at the end to bring the Marlies a much needed 4-1 win.
Keefe was noticeably happier after this game, and for good reason. The team came together well and Bibeau put on a much better performance.
He even sang the praises of Eric Faille for a solid minute, a rare event for a coach who usually sticks to comments like “I thought he was OK” to asses his players.
“We’ve come to expect good things from [Faille]. Anytime we called him up last year he was terrific for us” Keefe said, applauding his consistency. “He’s a really reliable player for us to call up in a situation like this. Under different circumstances he’d be here every day.”
Travis Dermott is working his way back after an extended time out with an injury, but is not yet at his prime form.
“I don’t think he’s quite there yet, no.” Said Keefe about his play. “Physically he’s been fine, but some of his decision making and timing and things of that nature are still finding their way back. He’s not quite at the level that we’ve seen him but he still brings a lot to our team.” said Keefe.
The Marlies have had a loss-win split for a lot of weekend series so far this season. They split their series against the Wolf Pack earlier this month, and split two weekend series against the Ice Caps in November. There was also the previously mentioned split series vs. the Devils at the end of October. Given their place in the standings in the North Division right now the team can no longer afford to give up one game every weekend.
Next up for the Marlies is a much needed Christmas break. They will return to face a tough schedule, and with the pressure to win turned way up. They host the Ice Caps on Boxing Day at Ricoh Coliseum, then head out for a quick road trip through New York state, including another tilt against the Devils on December 30.