The Marlies kicked off back-to-back weekend games against teams from the Atlantic Division on Friday night, starting with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers affiliate).
Andreas Johnsson - Chris Mueller - Ben Smith
Dmytro Timashov - Miro Aaltonen - Kasperi Kapanen
Colin Greening - Jean Dupuy - Trevor Moore
Kerby Rychel - Adam Brooks - Rich Clune
Martin Marincin - Vincent LoVerde
Rinat Valiev - Justin Holl
Andrew Nielsen - Calle Rosen
Scratched: Bracco, Paliotta
The most notable lineup changes were to the defence pairings with Travis Dermott called up to the Maple Leafs on Thursday, and Marincin returned to the Marlies. At least one Marlies player certainly missed Dermott being there.
This was also the first home game after the team named Ben Smith as captain, with Colin Greening and Rich Clune and assistant captains. Marlies Coach Sheldon Keefe had previously said that this was something he wanted to let happen naturally over time. Smith is a veteran with significant NHL experience, and is currently the goal scoring leader of the team, so this is not a surprise choice.
The Phantoms are big on defence, and I mean that literally. Defenders Reece Willcox and Mark Alt stand at 6’4”, while Philippe Myers is listed as 6’5”. One who is not that tall is a familiar face to Marlies fans; T.J. Brennan. Brennan played in the Maple Leafs system for several seasons, including a point-per-game season with the Marlies in 2015-16.
The Marlies got right to it this game, getting the puck to the net and scoring in the first minute of the period. It was a rather odd goal too.
T.J. Brennan wasted no time reminding the Marlies he wasn’t their friend on the ice anymore, roughing up Brooks along the boards.
The Johnsson-Mueller-Smith line had a great start, maintaining possession for a long stretch in the Phantom’s zone, but having difficulty generating an actual scoring chance.
The Marlies continued to go for controlled zone entries as their first choice, but Holl learned you need to keep your head up doing that, receiving the biggest hit of the game.
Clune apparently didn’t like that and skated over, during play, to chew out the Phantoms bench. He was there a good ten seconds all the while the game was going on behind him. I’m not sure if he was asking someone to fight, or what, but his timing was impeccable. The moment he jumped back in to the game it was to intercept a pass and stop a Phantoms rush from forming. No fight ever materialised.
Another scoring chance came from Dupuy setting up Kapanen, who was coming in a bit too hot towards the net and couldn’t control the puck.
Either way, not much else happened in the period. There were no further goals, and no penalties assigned to either team at all.
The Rychel-Brooks-Clune line had a solid performance to start the period, with Rychel getting set up for some chances.
Unfortunately, the Phantoms took an early lead when Alex Krushelnyski had a breakaway, and Sparks was out-maneuvered right at the net.
The Phantoms took the first penalty of the game, and there was a succession of alternating power plays and penalty kills for the Marlies.
The Rychel line continued at times to totally contain the Phantoms in their zone, but the period would end with the Marlies down by one.
The giant Phantoms defenders were almost like second goalies when they were in front of the net in this period. Colin Greening said there was a clear sense of urgency among his teammates to get the tying goal. “There’s no panic” he explained. “Our team has really prided itself on not having any panic, but just being able to step on the gas a little bit more to get that extra goal.”
With the clock ticking down after missing out on two minutes on a penalty kill, Greening himself would tie up the game.
Despite a last minute scare when Mueller took a penalty, the game stayed tied through the end of regulation.
Overtime and Shootout
Brennan got the first big shot off in OT, but then the Marlies had their chances, specifically Johnsson who was out with Kapanen and
The Phantoms took a very unfortunate penalty to give the Marlies a four-on-three power play for the last 90 seconds. Johnsson had another great chance, but they couldn’t convert anything into a goal and it went to a shootout.
Aaltonen and Kapanen scored for the Marlies and Sparks stopped both of the Phantoms first two attempts meaning the Marlies were declared winners.
This is the second of three games in four nights. It’s a tough schedule against opponents the Marlies don’t see very often, and the games are for points they need to pick up to cement their turn around from a long string of losses in December. They certainly did it Friday, but it was still a close call.
It was certainly great to have Marincin back. He’s consistent and reliable as the go to defender.
I didn’t talk about Kapanen at all, but he was certainly visible, and quick with his shot, as always. He had some chances throughout the game including four shots-on-goal, but bad luck getting it to go in the net this game.
The next game is Saturday at 4:00pm against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (New York Islanders affiliate).
Here’s the complete shootout for your enjoyment.