The Marlies played back-to-back games against the AHL North Division leader Syracuse Crunch this weekend. Each team walked away with one regulation win; the Crunch maintaining their position atop the division standings, and the Marlies clinging to the last division playoff slot.
This weekend’s games come after a very successful road trip during on which the Marlies won five of six games. That success vaulted the team back up the standings, and gave them a much-needed confidence boost. Between the return and Saturday’s game something went askew. However, Sunday’s game was a reversal of fortune, and a return of the Marlies that are tearing up their division.
Saturday: Crunch 5 - Marlies 3
The Marlies started this game looking dominant. The shots on goal total was 22-5 for the Marlies at the end of the first period, but any sense of dominance seemed to slip away, and then frustration set in.
It was quickly obvious that Cory Conacher was the Crunch player to watch. He scored on Garret Sparks with his team’s first SOG, 2:47 into the game.
Sparks was screened a bit by Byron Froese (what was he doing down there?), and Holl was doing the “Oh shit, I should be over there” scramble, but it was too late as Conacher blasted the puck. That one would be difficult for any goalie to stop in those circumstances.
The Crunch scored again about 30 seconds later.
The Marlies, from here through the end of the period, were peppering Crunch goalie Adam Wilcox with shot after shot, but he proved resilient.
Dmytro Timashov was the first to finally break through. Only seconds after being blown up with a huge hit by Jonathan Racine, Timashov exacted his revenge with a goal that finally put the Marlies on the score sheet.
Trevor Moore added a goal to end the second period and tie the game. Moore primarily played with Froese and Seth Griffith.
Moore scored again on a power play in the second period and tied up the game again to make it 3-3 going in to the third.
Unfortunately the third period was lopsided in favour of the Crunch. The shot imbalance reversed, the Crunch taking 17 to the Marlies’ 5 in that frame. Conacher scored the first of two goals in the third with this ridiculous deflected, bouncing puck shot.
The Marlies looked really discombobulated. Ending their four-game road winning streak with a loss at home like this was a blow.
Coach Sheldon Keefe was not pleased with their effort. “In the second and third period we just weren’t good. We were outclassed in every which way. The better team won today.”
Keefe recognized that Sparks did not have a great game, but wouldn’t pin all the blame on him. “There’s a lot of things that lead up to them getting access to our goaltender that just weren’t good enough for us at all.”
His advice to the team for Sunday was simple “Just play. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Don’t make excuses. Don’t blame your goaltender.”
Sunday: Marlies 3 - Crunch 2
Bizarre was the word of the day.
This game felt like it was spent entirely on a power play, often at 5-on-3. In total, 24 minor penalties were handed out. You name it, the officials called it: hooking (x2), slashing (x2), holding (x2), boarding (x2), tripping (x2), roughing (x6), high-sticking (x2), interference, too many men (x3), delay-of-game, and unsporstmanlike conduct. There were three misconducts in the third period too.
It was difficult to keep track of who was in the box for what.
Things really went off the rails early in the second period when Travis Dermott hit Conacher by the boards, which led to his stick breaking. Then the already frustrated Conacher found the play suddenly coming right at him, and Viktor Loov pounded him into the boards. Loov took a boarding penalty and Conacher went back to the bench where he had a meltdown, slamming the door, kicking the boards and throwing stuff around. Conacher did not regain his cool for the rest of the game.
I don’t want to dwell too much on the specifics of the game play since there was so much rapidly alternating PP and PK time, including multiple 5-on-3 power plays for each team, that everyone seemed confused about what was going on, and what would happen next.
That being said, I shouldn’t neglect to point out how well Froese played. On the first goal of the game Froese and his linemates (still Moore and Griffith) showed some great patience to cycle around the puck until they had setup the perfect shot.
Froese also scored the second goal. It was the classic “sit in front of the net and let the puck come to you” type that JvR often gets.
An honourable mention goes to Andrew Campbell for ringing one off the post near the end of the second period. I was sure that one was going in.
In the end, they wouldn’t need that extra goal, winning 3-2 after a third period that frequently looked one punch away from the instigation of a line brawl. That’s six wins in eight games now, if you’re counting.
Thoughts on Players
This was my first time seeing Griffith in person for the Marlies and he was quite impressive. He has great speed, and he set up a lot of good plays for his linemates. He already has 10 points in 7 games.
Antoine Bibeau was out with a sudden undisclosed illness, so the Marlies activated their EBUG, signing 23-year old Brampton Beast goalie Andrew D’Agostini to a PTO. He got to enjoy the warm-up with the team but Sparks carried the goal-tending workload for the weekend.
Gauthier had some PK team in the Saturday game. I didn’t feel I had a good handle on his performance so I asked Keefe, and he did not think he was at his best. “We need him to play with the same level of urgency he does when he’s in the NHL. He needs to bring that here.”
Specifically on his penalty killing Keefe noted they need him to be better. “That’s who he’s going to be if he’s going to play in the NHL. Is he a leader there? I’m not so sure he’s that yet. We need him to be that.”
Fast! Fast Fast! He was a bit of a pest, zipping around, and harassing the Crunch stars like Conacher. He’s definitely someone to watch in upcoming Marlies games.
The Marlies next game is a rare Tuesday match against the Utica Comets, the team chasing them in the division standings. It’s a really important game. We’ll have full coverage Tuesday night! See you there.