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Marlies at 50: In a playoff spot and battling injuries

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With 50 games played, the Marlies have bounced back into playoff contention while facing the loss of their two best players.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Toronto Maple Leafs

To refresh our memories, let’s look back at last year’s Marlies. They led the league in points percentage with .750 (the method the AHL uses to rank teams). They had a Goals For percentage of 61, and scored 294 goals in total, the most in the league. They were fourth best in goals against.

It was never reasonable to expect that to carry over into this season with the loss of huge chunk of that scoring in Mark Arcobello, William Nylander, Josh Leivo and T.J. Brennan.

This season, Byron Froese is filling the Arcobello role, and doing a credible job but with considerably fewer points. There is no one even slightly in the Nylander range on the team, certainly not at centre, and Kasperi Kapanen and Andrew Nielsen are both good players, but they have not measured up to Leivo or Brennan in points this season. They are playing on a weaker team, so it’s not a simple one-to-one comparison.

This year, the Marlies have a points percentage of .520, 18th in the league, and their Goals For percentage is 52. If they maintain their goal scoring rate, they will finish with 234 goals for, or back in the normal range for a good to medium quality team, not up in the stratosphere. If they keep allowing goals at the increased rate they have been showing this season, they will finish with 214, which is 26 more than last year.

They are in a playoff spot right now, but the league is very unbalanced this season, and no one in the Marlies’ division, the North, would even make the playoffs in the Atlantic where the powerhouse teams all reside.

To boil it down, the Marlies are a little worse defensively up and down the lineup, have poorer quality defenders overall, and cannot outscore their problems the way they did last season.

The Marlies had good, but not league leading, special teams last year. They scored 19 percent of their goals on the power play, but they were a little loose about it, and allowed 12 shorthanded goals against, for the third worst in the league.

This year, they have a better power play percentage, a very mediocre penalty kill, and they are getting 35 percent of their goals on the power play. That success is partly because they have some good shooters and skilled power play units. Nielsen’s rocket from the point and Brendan Leipsic’s shot make for a lot of goals. But it is also an indication that their five-on-five play is just not very good. Relative to last year, that is.

Now let’s look at the players.

Marlies as of February 16, 2017

Name Position GP G A PTS +/- PIM PPG Pt/G SH Shots/GP PPG %
Name Position GP G A PTS +/- PIM PPG Pt/G SH Shots/GP PPG %
Andreas Johnsson LW 50 14 15 29 4 34 8 0.58 99 1.98 57
Andrew Campbell D 50 1 12 13 8 40 0 0.26 69 1.38 0
Kerby Rychel LW 48 11 21 32 -16 85 9 0.67 129 2.69 82
Andrew Nielsen D 48 10 20 30 -3 45 4 0.63 97 2.02 40
Colin Smith C 48 6 19 25 -3 22 0 0.52 97 2.02 0
Justin Holl D 48 4 6 10 -5 24 0 0.21 81 1.69 0
Byron Froese C 47 23 14 37 7 18 8 0.79 133 2.83 35
Colin Greening C 46 7 8 15 0 29 1 0.33 69 1.50 14
Dmytro Timashov LW 43 8 7 15 -4 26 3 0.35 87 2.02 38
Viktor Loov D 41 2 4 6 1 43 0 0.15 41 1.00 0
Travis Dermott D 37 3 14 17 2 18 1 0.46 61 1.65 33
Tobias Lindberg LW 35 5 9 14 5 32 2 0.4 56 1.60 40
Brendan Leipsic LW 34 11 27 38 -3 24 4 1.12 98 2.88 36
Rinat Valiev D 34 2 7 9 1 70 1 0.26 57 1.68 50
Kasperi Kapanen RW 33 16 17 33 -3 14 9 1 97 2.94 56
Trevor Moore LW 33 7 13 20 2 12 2 0.61 39 1.18 29
Richard Clune LW 30 3 6 9 -2 68 0 0.3 20 0.67 0
Frederik Gauthier C 24 1 4 5 5 12 0 0.21 31 1.29 0
William Wrenn D 24 1 3 4 2 12 0 0.17 23 0.96 0
Tony Cameranesi F 19 3 3 6 6 4 0 0.32 35 1.84 0
Brooks Laich C 19 1 5 6 4 12 0 0.32 15 0.79 0
Milan Michalek LW 16 2 3 5 -1 20 0 0.31 25 1.56 0
Marc-Andre Cliche C 16 1 2 3 -1 6 0 0.19 18 1.13 0
Brett Findlay C 14 4 4 8 -5 4 1 0.57 17 1.21 25
Seth Griffith RW 12 3 12 15 2 14 0 1.25 27 2.25 0
Frank Corrado D 12 1 8 9 5 12 0 0.75 30 2.50 0

I included everyone with over 10 games played, and I added the Shots per Game and the percentage of goals that are power play goals to the standard AHL stats.

We don’t have ice time for the AHL, and the estimated ice time used by some AHL stat sites is not something that is reliable for the Marlies. So put a mental asterisk beside Dmytro Timashov and Trevor Moore because their elevation to scoring lines is recent. They have played a lot less time than someone like Kapanen or Froese have.

Kapanen and Leipsic are clearly the class of this team. It’s obvious from watching; you don’t need any numbers to prove it. Leipsic has not proven he is capable of plying his magic at five-on-five yet, however. After them is a gap and you have the current AHL co-leader in goals scored, Byron Froese.

Kerby Rychel, Frank Corrado and Seth Griffith all sit in a bunch in my mind, as players who are good AHLers, have some NHL experience, but maybe are not quite up to an NHL job. I don’t see any of them fitting in on the Leafs just due to the competition above them.

Next is the rest of the good ones: Nielsen, Timashov, Andreas Johnsson and the two AHL contracted centres Colin Smith and Tony Cameranesi. Smith has spent a great deal of time at wing this season, and has not performed as well as last year. He has great chemistry with Johnsson, but their line did not score goals.

Trevor Moore and Travis Dermott are both interesting players who have room to grow, but so far their actual performance is only okay. Rinat Valiev has been disappointing this year, and none of the grinder types impress me beyond Colin Greening.

Frederik Gauthier is not contributing anything meaningful to this team beyond filling a centre spot while not scoring and playing on a an average penalty kill unit. He has spent considerable time with Kasperi Kapanen as a winger, and if Kapanen had played with Froese right off the drop, he might have more five-on-five points.

The injury list for this team is the driver behind both their struggles, and the opportunities Timashov in particular has capitalized on.

The most recent game was played with the following on IR: Kapanen, Leipsic, Valiev, Lindberg, Michalek, Cliche, Loov. No one expects Kapanen back soon, or possibly at all, Leipsic is unknown and, of the rest, only Valiev is really missed.

Brooks Laich is just back from a long stint injured, and I would rather see Cliche play than him. Perhaps when the trade deadline is past, and Cliche is healthy again, we will see that.

Marlies goaltending as of February 16, 2017

Name Team GP Min GA SO GAA W L OT SA SAV%
Name Team GP Min GA SO GAA W L OT SA SAV%
Garret Sparks TOR 20 1191:12:00 46 3 2.32 13 7 0 573 0.92
Antoine Bibeau TOR 22 1311:13:00 63 3 2.88 8 10 4 627 0.9

There are only two goalies left on the team now after all the upheaval of the prior comings and goings.

Sparks’ save percentage is one of the highest in the league for regular goalies. So it isn’t fair to lay the Marlies struggles on the crease line, at least half of the time, anyway.

The Marlies are a scrappy team that can lay down a tight game some nights, and who also fall apart defensively with alarming regularity. They simply don’t have a competitive roster, but their power play might just carry them when the rest of their games unravels.