Editor’s note: Please welcome our new Marlies reporter Hardev Lad.
You can follow him on Twitter: @hardevlad
The Toronto Marlies kicked off their season in style. Err... Not 15 goals in two games style, but a 3-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks affiliate, Utica Comets, did just fine.
Before we get into the game, let’s get to know the roster a little bit.
Line 1: Rychel - Aaltonen - Kapanen
Line 2: Johnsson - Mueller - Soshnikov
Line 3: Greening - Brooks - Moore
Line 4: Clune - Smith - Timashov
Scratches: Jeremy Bracco, Mason Marchment
Pair 1: Dermott - LoVerde
Pair 2: Nielsen - Holl
Pair 3: Valiev - Liljegren
Scratches: Martin Marincin, Michael Paliotta
In net: Sparks
Backup: Kasimir Kaskisuo
Scratches: Calvin Pickard
In his post-game interview head coach Sheldon Keefe didn’t say whether the scratches were going to get into the lineup Sunday for the second half of the weekend’s back-to-back so we will just have to wait and see whether players like Bracco, Marincin, Pickard, Paliotta, or Marchment get a chance to play against Utica.
Before the game started, the glass all around the rink was so foggy that the ice crew had to squeegee the glass.
Special teams were a theme in this game. Utica had four powerplays while the Marlies had seven, including four in the first period alone. Oddly there was only one penalty called in the entire third period.
The Comets did a great job of denying zone entries and not letting the Marlies get their diamond formation set in the offensive zone. The Marlies run their powerplay the exact same way the Leafs do, with a point-man, two players at the half-walls and a player each in front of the net and in the high slot. The only difference is that instead of Matthews, Nylander, Gardiner, Marleau, and Komarov on the ice, it was Kapanen, Aaltonen, Nielsen, Johnsson and Rychel.
During 5v5 play, the 4th line looked great. They spent the whole shift in the offensive zone, winning puck battles, and ended up trapping the Comets in their own zone so long that the forwards were able to start a line change. Andrew Nielsen got a decent point-shot off, but the tip from Ben Smith, who had not yet changed, went wide. The 4th line did this several times in the game, Sheldon Keefe should have no problem rolling four lines all season.
After a brief respite of even-strength hockey, we headed back to our regularly scheduled programming: the special teams. This time it was Kasperi Kapanen in the box for high-sticking and Smith (who was swapped out for Aaltonen after one whistle), Soshnikov, Dermott, and LoVerde on the ice. 20 seconds into the kill, all four Marlies got caught in one corner, leaving Nikolay Goldobin wide open, who wired the puck into the top corner. 1-0 for the space debris.
Timothy Liljegren had a decent game, considering it was his first regular season game in North America. Liljegren plays a very mobile, roving style of defense, meaning the other four players on the ice have to be aware of their assignments and rotate accordingly so that when Liljegren wants to go off and do the things that make him special, he’s not leaving a gap in the defensive coverage. There were a lot of times where I mistook Liljegren for a winger.
Liljegren is still very raw when it comes to his defensive game, meaning he had to get bailed out a few times in this game. There was one instance where his defensive partner, Rinat Valiev, got caught in the neutral zone and Liljegren had to defend a 2 on 1. The young defenseman hesitated and didn’t take the shot or the pass. Luckily the Utica forward redirected the pass wide of the net. We’ll chock that up to being barely 18 and playing in the second-best league in the world.
Speaking of defensive games, Garret Sparks was amazing in this game. He robbed Cameron Darcy of Utica with the shoulder on a shot from below the hash-marks, point-blank, and again with his left pad off a rebound at the side of the net. All of this happening in a span of 4 minutes.
The Marlies had three more powerplays in the period, but none of them amounted to much. Toronto tried rushing, passing, soft dumping, and hard dumping the puck into the Utica zone, but the opponents’ defense did a great job of sending the puck right back out. Even the forecheck was able to hem the puck in the Toronto end, eating away even more time.
Early in the second frame, the 4th line was in the offensive zone again. After a clean zone entry from Rich Clune, the puck was ringed around to Andrew Nielsen who sent the puck back behind the net to Ben Smith. Smith pulled a Brian Boyle and sent a no-look pass directly to Clune again who buried it, tying the game at 1’s. This play was a carbon copy of Kapanen’s OT winner against the Washington Capitals during the playoffs last year.
Rich Clune = Kasperi Kapanen confirmed.
Nine minutes into the period, the Marlies were once again on the powerplay. Liljegren’s unit with Soshnikov, Greening, Mueller, and LoVerde were having trouble making that final pass to lead to a scoring chance, forcing the pass to the middle of the ice where Soshnikov was located and ended up not using Liljegren nearly enough.
Adam Brooks got a partial breakaway 12 minutes into the period, but had the puck bobble on him before he could get a shot off. Brooks wasn’t visible for most of the game but he did have moments where he would get a pretty decent scoring chance.
The rest of the period was mired in penalty trouble, with Kapanen and Dermott both in the box at one point, forcing the Marlies to kill off a short 5v3. The stick infractions by Dermott, of which there are many, is probably an aspect of the game that the Leafs would hope the young defender can get rid of. But we’re nitpicking at this point.
Once again the 4th line was out on the ice being extremely productive. Dmytro Timashov made a nice move in the corner to gain a step on the defender, unfortunately the pass he makes didn’t reach anyone because there was nobody else in the zone with him.
Utica Comets defenseman Jordan Subban got the boos rained down upon him from the fans in attendance after laying a questionable hit on Chris Mueller along the boards. The penalty was for cross-checking but it could easily have been called boarding because Mueller’s face nearly hit the top of the boards.
Early in the third, Kapanen blocked a blast from a Utica defenseman right off the leg, the puck going up and into the stands. Kappy was in clear pain as he carried himself off the ice. To many peoples’ surprise, Kapanen didn’t miss his next shift and seemed fine for the rest of the game. This happened to Greening as well, who blocked a shot from his own teammate off the leg and was in clear pain getting back to the bench. Here’s hoping none of these players are trying to play hurt, it’s only game 1.
A few minutes later, Michael Chaput took a tripping penalty, sending the Marlies to the powerplay. Miro Aaltonen showed off his puck handling skills a little bit as he was able to elude two defenders who tried to double-team him. His pass made it to Travis Dermott who got a dangerous shot through the two layers of attackers and defenders that were standing in front of Thatcher Demko. The puck bounced to an area beside Kirby Rychel, who turned and fired home the go-ahead goal, 2-1 Toronto.
The Comets definitely turned it on after this point, pushing for the equalizing goal. They almost got it thanks to a knuckle-ball style shot that was going for the upper half of the net before dropping out of the air towards the bottom half of the net. Amazingly, Sparks, who was screened the entire time, somehow saw the puck and fought it off with an incredible kick save. Sparks earned Second Star of the night honours, but he was the first star in my eyes.
Trevor Moore blocked another potential scoring chance from getting to the net only a minute later, also sending the puck into the stands. Moore, like Kapanen, looked a little slow to get back to the bench. Sources say it was just a stinger and not a middle-body injury. The stoppage in play allowed the 4th line to get and (say it with me) have a great shift in the offensive zone.
After cycling the puck around the boards, it got loose and a Utica forward was staking it out when Timashov suddenly stick-lifted the player, turned around, and almost got a shot off right in the slot. Unfortunately, Timashov double-clutched on the shot and wasn’t able to get it off as three defenders surround him and took the puck off him. Everything leading up to the shot was very impressive and something to look forward to this season. Hopefully we will be able to see more dynamic plays out of Timashov this year.
With 2:20 left in the game, Utica pulls Demko for the extra attacker, and with 0:37 seconds remaining, Soshnikov ices the game for Toronto. 3-1.
All in all, it was a pretty even contest. The shot clock remained fairly even throughout the game, until the first half of the third period when the Marlies were pushing the play a little more than their opponent, leading to the Rychel goal. Sparks and Demko both made some spectacular saves. Demko, in fact, pushed aside a rising shot from in close from Adam Brooks with a little over three minutes to play, keeping the Comets in the game and allowing them to push for the equalizer.
These two teams will play each other again today, Sunday October 8th, at 4pm at Ricoh.