Coming out of the Christmas holidays, the Toronto Marlies and the Belleville Senators played to a 2-1 game in front of over 12,000 people at the Air Canada Centre. The affair saw power play goals, giveaways, and a whole lot of neutral-zone play.
1-0 (6:06 of the first)
The hardworking Dmytro Timashov draws a tripping penalty on Macoy Erkamps in his second shift of the game. The power play group of Nielsen, Johnsson, Kapanen, Kerby Rychel, and Jeremy Bracco get on the ice and make Macoy pay.
In the 31st game of the year, Andrew Nielsen gets his first goal of the season with patented one-timer from the point. The apples go to top-scoring prospects Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson.
1-1 (12:27 of the first)
Rinat Valiev was forced to take a hooking penalty while trying to stop Jack Rodewald from winning the footrace to Pickard’s red line. Right off the faceoff, defenseman Ben Harpur and forward Colin White go D-to-D so that White can send a wrister towards Pickard’s net. Ethan Werek, who is standing in front of the netminder gets a stick on the shot, deflecting it past Pickard. A quick equalizer for the B-Sens.
1-2 (8:23 of the third)
Midway into the third, the Marlies’ first line gets hemmed in their own zone. Adam Brooks tries to tie up his man as the two head to the half-wall. Brooks falls and can’t get back up to cover Francis Perron — his man — who scores, giving Belleville their first lead of this low-scoring game.
Marlies with their heads in the clouds, lose Perron. 2-1 BSens.— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) December 26, 2017
Toronto mounted a comeback of sorts late in the game, but ultimately came up short.
Sheldon Keefe described the lacklustre effort as such.
“When you come out of the break like this, you don’t skate for three days, it’s Christmas, guys are spending time with family, travelling and all that stuff. All of a sudden, you throw your gear on and play an afternoon game, it’s not going to be a masterpiece by any means.”
How’d the kids do
Lineup vs Belleville Boxing Day— Todd Crocker (@HockeyCrock) December 26, 2017
Johnsson - Brooks - Kapanen
Rychel - Gauthier - Bracco
Clune - Greening - Moore
Timahsov - Mueller - Smith
Valiev - LoVerde
Rosen - Paliotta
Nielsen - Holl
Travis Dermott hasn’t played for the Toronto Marlies since their 3-2 win over the Rochester Americans on December 15th when they were on a four-game winning streak. Since that point, the Marlies have stumbled, going 1-4-0 without their top defenseman.
The team revealed that the injury is “upper-body” with head coach Sheldon Keefe saying that:
“...he’s coming. Pretty much where we’re at now is trying to get him enough quality skates and practices in. The number of games and breaks have been tough because we haven’t had many chances to skate and practice. We’ll see him on the ice before too long.”
With Miro Aaltonen out of the lineup due to a two-game suspension for a boarding penalty on Jayson Megna on December 20th, Adam Brooks has been taking his spot on the first line with Andreas Johnsson and Jeremy Bracco (who filled in for Kasperi Kapanen until his return in this game).
Despite already turning 21, Brooks is a first-year pro and a “work in progress in terms of adjusting to this level” according to coach Keefe, so these two games have been a good “sink or swim” opportunity for the rookie.
Three shifts in the offensive zone stood out for me when it comes to Brooks’ play on the Johnsson-Brooks-Kapanen line. Johnsson won a puck battle just before the blue-line and sent Brooks in for a 2-on-1 with a streaking Kapanen to his right. Brooks elected to send the puck early to Kapanen, but put the puck too far behind his teammate. For a player who hasn’t fully found his legs in the league he’s in, I don’t blame him for the split-second decision to pass to the teams’ most prolific scorer (that isn’t 0.87 point-per-game player Ben Smith).
In the cycle, the 5’9” Brooks held his own both in front and behind the net but couldn’t get very much more done than continue the cycle or provide a decent screen for an Andrew Nielsen point-shot. If he can tailor his shifts to be more of a passing, shooting, and rotating option — similar to Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri’s role on the Leafs’ power play — instead of just being a screen and tip option, he can be very effective.
Later in the game, Brooks and his mates did just that as he and Johnsson played a little give-and-go in the corner to give Johnsson a one-time chance right in front of the net. More plays where Brooks and his wingers can use their feet to create chaos in the offensive zone will help give them space for scoring chances.
It was a decent showing from the 2016 fourth-round pick. He’s not quite ready for a full-time role in that position and that’s okay. Letting him develop on a lower line with veterans like Smith and Greening will be very beneficial for the late-bloomer.
Chris Mueller out with Johnsson and Kapanen for the final three minutes of this game. Was Adam Brooks for most of the game— Papi's biggest fan (@HardevLad) December 26, 2017
This game also saw the good and bad of Andrew Nielsen. The good: his first goal of the season on the power play in the first period. The bad: a brutal giveaway right in front of his net and his 14th minor penalty in 27 games.
Nielsen was tracking back in his own zone when he attempted to pass the puck across to Justin Holl. Nielsen’s whole body was unbalanced and he had to stretch to get any force on the pass. As a result, the puck fell right to a Senator forward who’s backhand shot was snared by an alert Calvin Pickard. A close call that could have been avoided with a little more patience.
To be fair, the 2015 third-round pick was not the only defenseman to give up some god-awful pucks. Vincent LoVerde and Rinat Valiev got their signals mixed up behind the net with Pickard handling the puck.
Neither defenseman was prepared to collect the puck from their goaltender meaning when Valiev collected the puck from his feet, he couldn’t make a clean outlet pass to a teammate, leading to a turnover.
Nielsen has had a tough second year in the AHL. He leads the team in penalty minutes, with 2.07 PIM/game and he was tied with Timothy Liljegren with only nine points heading into this game.
With Dermott out with an upper-body injury, Timothy Liljegren Swedening it up at the World Juniors, and Martin Marincin on a mini tour of the NHL’s best press-boxes, the increased role for Nielsen this month has seen him swim more than sink.
He’s only taken two penalties in the last seven games, has a goal and assist in the last two games, and his point-shot continues to be extremely dangerous whenever he is in the offensive zone.
Last thing on the defense (I promise to keep it positive). Calle Rosen made an outstanding breakout pass to Ben Smith in the second period at a time when the Marlies were reeling from sustained pressure by the Senators.
They had just killed off a two-minute power play and were struggling to even get the puck past a Senator-filled neutral zone for a solid minute until Rosen was able to find a seam that sent Smith in for a shot on goal. Hammond had to cover the puck and the stop in play was just what the Marlies needed to reset themselves.
With the loss — and the subsequent 1-4-0 in their last five — the Marlies are now tied with the Rochester Americans at the top of the North Division standings with a 0.710 points percentage.
Looking ahead, Toronto gets set to play the second of a three games in four nights stretch, as they travel to Syracuse to play the Crunch on Wednesday before coming back home to play Rochester at home.
There are two ways of looking at the game against Syracuse. Either Toronto comes out flying after getting the egg-nog out of their system against a last-place team in time to play one of the hottest teams in the league, or they look like they are playing the second half of a back-to-back that included travelling. I have my money on the former because these two teams have a history, and it is not pretty.
See ya then!