The Marlies have lost the winning formula they used against the Albany Devils in the regular season. The key ingredient was, as always, outscoring their opponent, particularly late in the game.
Two things are getting in their way: the Devils have beefed up their lineup with an NHL defenceman, and the Marlies are not getting scoring from some of their usual suspects.
A look at the playoff scoring stats for the league shows the surprising appearance of Connor Carrick at the top with 10 points. And then you have to look all the way down to 28th place to find T.J. Brennan, Connor Brown and Zach Hyman with four points each.
While it's good to see scoring from all parts of the roster, the idea that the Marlies were a deep team that got points from everywhere was always misleading. In the regular season, they had a big four who led the team in points per game at a mark of .94 or better: William Nylander, Mark Arcobello, Brennan and Josh Leivo. You could do without one or the other of the interchangeable top centres, but you couldn't do without both. And Brennan was always the backbone of the offence.
In the playoffs, Andrew Campbell, Brennan's usual partner, is hurt for the Albany series and his effectiveness has waned, although he has four goals so far. Connor Carrick has stepped up to fill that role perfectly, so it comes out even, but those interchangeable centres have been interchangeably ineffective.
Arcobello has three assists and Nylander has two goals and one assist. Leivo isn't adding much with only one goal and three assists. Nikita Soshnikov and Brendan Leipsic have looked occasionally brilliant offensively, but they aren't showing much in points, and Tobias Lindberg, Freddy Gauthier and Rich Clune are all zeros across the board. So neither the top nor the bottom end of the roster are producing.
The scoring coming from the two most effective forwards in the playoffs so far, Connor Brown and Zach Hyman, along with the two defencemen is what has got the Marlies this far.
The Marlies have another centre. He scores goals, he racks up points, he's nearly at the level of the two in front of him on the depth chart, but for whatever reason, Colin Smith has played only two games in the playoffs, both at wing, where he has two points.
With the series tied at one game all, the Marlies played their first of the series in Albany. The Marlies looked better than they had in their first two games of the series in their overtime loss on Sunday. But it wasn't enough. And it wasn't quite as good as it looked.
Todd Crocker @HockeyCrock 17h
Lines vs Albany Game 3
Leivo Arcobello Brown
A.Johnson Nylander Hyman
Leipsic S.Carrick B.Smith
Clune Gauthier Kapanen
It is easy to look at the game and say it was bad luck, a 2-1 lead spoiled in the dying seconds and an overtime winner for the wrong team. You can look at the hit on Stuart Percy and point out the lack of penalty call on the play and say that was the difference, but the way the the Marlies power play was going, it wouldn't have made a difference. And if that seems, harsh, it's a direct quote from Sheldon Keefe in the post-game presser.
The Devils scored three goals against the Marlies special teams, who were special in all the wrong ways. They opened the scoring in the first with a short-handed goal, and then tied the game up with 21 seconds to go in the game with another. The tying goal was technically a five-on-five, as the Devils had pulled their goalie, but it was the Marlies power play unit on the ice.
Not shown: Connor Carrick starting his very bad night with a brutal turnover that led to the opening goal.
Watch the five Marlies with their backs to Nick Lappin, who had five shots on goal at that point, and see him calmly waiting for a gift wrapped scoring chance.
The third special teams failure was the overtime winner where Lappin again, got the opportunity and didn't miss, this time against the Marlies penalty kill unit. Not shown: Connor Carrick in the penalty box, ending his night worse than he started it.
In between those low points, Josh Leivo and William Nylander scored two even strength goals for the Marlies in a game they likely should have won on the strength of Antoine Bibeau's hot, hot game more than anything else.
Technically not a power play goal, but is was the power play unit still on the ice:
The Marlies were outshot by the Devils 39-27, they started slow and finished poorly and went zero for eight on the power play.
Andreas Johnson, Leafs draft pick and prospect, Swedish champion and 21-year-old, fourth-year pro hockey player landed on one of the top lines for his first AHL game.
He is nominally listed as the left wing with Nylander and Hyman, but he played the right side a lot of the game. His office is at the opposing goalies left hand. His forté is the power play, but he is also an outstanding puck carrier and can be deadly off the rush.
He got no power play minutes, which is to be expected; you can't bring a guy in in the playoffs and a week later put him out on a special team—no matter how bad they are. He tried very hard to get into his office to get to work, but he did not manage to get on the score sheet.
Several times on offensive zone faceoffs, he zoomed to the net as soon as the draw was won; the lack of hesitation was remarkable when seen against the backdrop of the rest of the players on the ice. It was for nothing though, as his linemates set up passing practice, routinely moving the puck back to the defence instead of forward to the net.
He looked effective, and he was not intimidated by the physicality of the Devils, but then, the Devils are not Skellefteå, not even close. He was excellent with the puck, tough in the corners and obnoxiously banged his stick on the ice looking for the pass to carry the puck in, seemingly incredulous that the Marlies would want anyone else to have it. You need an ego to succeed in this game, and he's fully equipped there.
He seemed faster than everyone else on the Marlies. Not in foot speed, but in brain speed. It didn't take Nylander and Hyman long, with their NHL games in their recent memory, to catch up. The first time Johnson swooped through the neutral zone (where he looked like Nikita Zaitsev as much as anyone else), he dropped the puck back to no one like an egg laid in the middle of the 401. The next time, Zach Hyman was there to pick it up while Johnson drove the net.
He was particularly good with Nylander, able to read his centre's moves, speed to the right location, and his passes were accurate and his puck carrying successful. The ice in Albany is reported to be terrible so late in the year, but Johnson and Nylander had no problems. Connor Carrick and Leipsic were the ones flubbing passes and giving up the puck.
Johnson's line shared out nine shots on goal, which includes his partners' time on the power play, and compares favourably with the other two lines in the top nine who each had five. They had a lot of offensive zone time and were particularly good in the second period.
As a trio, they have potential, but it might take time the Marlies don't have to realize it fully.