The Toronto Marlies did not show up on time for their final game before a five-game, 20-day long roadtrip through the America’s but, after a quick scolding, put themselves together and cruised to a commanding 6-1 victory over the New York Islanders AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Andreas Johnsson - Miro Aaltonen - Kasperi Kapanen
Dmytro Timashov - Chris Mueller - Ben Smith
Trevor Moore - Colin Greening - Jeremy Bracco
Kerby Rychel - Adam Brooks - Rich Clune
Calle Rosen - Martin Marincin
Rinat Valiev - Justin Holl
Andrew Nielsen - Vincent LoVerde
Scratched: Dupuy, Paliotta
Barely a minute into the game, Holl gets caught flat-footed at the blueline giving the puck away to Josh Ho-Sang for a 2-on-1 break. Valiev gets right in Ho-Sang’s face and blocks the pass across with a desperate falling block.
The Marlies have spent far too long in their own zone, the Sound Tigers have had the puck nearly the entire time. Bracco misses defenseman Kyle Burroughs jumping down from the point and is too late to stop him from putting home the first goal of the game.
Shots are 0-11.
Almost immediately, AHL All-Star coach Sheldon Keefe calls a timeout to get his team out of the rut they put themselves in to start the game. Keefe gathered the whole team around him and, apparently, gave a heck of a speech.
Keefe definitely did not like his defensive pairs as he immediately swaps his first and third pair left defensemen.
Defense pairs have been switched up to:— New Lad New Me (@HardevLad) January 6, 2018
Nielsen - Marincin (leftie on the right)
Rosen - LoVerde
Valiev - Holl
The talk pays off immediately! Kapanen, Aaltonen, and Johnsson jump onto the ice and cause havoc in the offensive zone right away. Johnsson sets up Kapanen for the first shot of the game for the Marlies, retrieves his own rebound, and wraps the puck behind his back to a wide open Johnsson for a tap in. Looks like that timeout worked.
Nielsen throws a floater to the net from what is essentially Bridgeport’s bench and it finds its way through former Marlies goaltender — and piece in the Michael Grabner trade — Christopher Gibson. That’s two goals on three shots against the 25-year-old.
The Johnsson - Aaltonen - Kapanen line has been reigning supreme in this game so far. The speed at which Kapanen and Johnsson operate together is NHL calibre. Their passes are crisp, their movement is swift, and their shots are always being respected. If both of these players are not in the NHL this calendar year, it’s on them.
11:48 into the period, Rich Clune ruins Seth Helgeson’s day. Helgeson had been going after Clune’s teammates all day and had even taken a cross-checking penalty for his troubles. Dicky stepped up and took down the 6’4” Helgeson at the offensive blueline with a combination of some well-timed punches and brute strength to unbalance the big defenseman of Bridgeport. Don’t mess with Dicky!
Not too long after (54 seconds later to be exact) Andrew Nielsen and former Leaf Casey Bailey get aggressive near the zamboni entrance at Ricoh. Bailey drops the gloves and promptly gets his behind handed to him as the 6’5” Nielsen lands blow after blow on the undrafted Sound Tigers forward.
Here's what we saw of the fight. Nielsen just fed Bailey all the way. pic.twitter.com/LjBavPrOTn— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 6, 2018
The blood took a few minutes to clean up.
Casey Bailey is a very bloody mess after a fight with Andrew Nielsen pic.twitter.com/MGqDYUUTfq— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 6, 2018
Nielsen and Bailey both got five minutes for fighting, but Nielsen recieved both a two-minute minor penalty for instigating and ten-minute game misconduct. His afternoon, a game that had been going very well for him in all areas, gets cut short.
Colin Greening picks up a loose puck in the neutral zone while killing the penalty to Nielsen. He blows by the forward playing defense on the powerplay snipes high blocker on Gibson. The timing could not have been better as the team was just starting to let the extracurriculars get away from them before the goal by Greening.
Johnsson steals the puck at the blueline with a sharp poke-check before passing to Kapanen for the high glove snipe on Gibson. What more can we say about these two. They have been unbeatable.
Greening gets his second of the game and fifth on Chris Gibson. The Marlies third line center beats Connor Jones in a battle in the corner, spins out towards the slot before throwing the puck on net and... scoring? A softie through the five-hole on Gibson. It has not been the night for the goaltender who was posting a .902 save percentage heading into this game.
The jeers have started to come down from the Marlies faithful on the LA Kings second-round pick in 2011. Gibson has now allowed 5 goals on 22 shots.
Adam Brooks gets in on the goal scoring frenzy, getting the third goal of his young career after jumping out of the penalty box and capitalizing on a lovely breakout pass from Colin Greening. Martin Marincin recieves the secondary, and much less important, assist on the play.
It appears that I was mistaken as to what the penalties were for Nielsen after his fight with Casey Bailey. Halfway through the final period, Nielsen would step onto the ice for his first shift since the fight... And immediately get into a fight with Sound Tigers captain Ben Holmstrom. Good on Nielsen, he clearly had to answer the bell for his unfair beating of the smaller Bailey and he did.
After Andrew Nielsen finished serving his 17 minutes (2+5+10) of penalties, Bridgeport captain Ben Holmstrom immediately tracks him down for a scrap pic.twitter.com/L3nzxo0PLw— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 6, 2018
Johnston tries going at Clune but Dicky as well as the linesmen have had enough and the fight stops before it even could get started. Johnston gets sent to the dressing room early and Clune is seen in front of the net on the powerplay barely a minute later.
These two teams meet again on January 21 in Bridgeport.
With two minutes remaining in the game, Pickard gets a chance to say “hey, I’m still here too,” when he flashes the leather on a Bridgeport forward who was on a partial breakaway. Big game from all players involved this afternoon.
Grass is Greening
Colin Greening recorded four points in the win, including a short-handed marker that put the early nail in the coffin for the Sound Tigers. Greening has been a great sport since his acquisition in the Dion Phaneuf trade in 2016. He’s been a good mentor for the young players, a pinch centerman when the team is short up the middle
“He’s played the powerplay, penalty kill for us, left wing, right wing, center. We asked him to play center here today and he had just a terrific game,” says head coach Sheldon Keefe. “He’s big and strong and a very reliable guy for us. We’ve had a really difficult schedule of late but hes the kind of guy that with his fitness and the way he takes care of himself, it doesnt faze him.”
Keefe has had 10 different defensemen play a game for him this season and very rarely has he been able to stick to a pair for longer than a four- or five-game stretch. His one exception has been high-flying Justin Holl paired with steady and quiet Rinat Valiev. Holl is less of a prospect and more of a solid AHL player at this point, but Valiev is someone who could still find his way into the NHL.
“They’ve been excellent. We’ve mixed our pairings up throughout this season. It seems like every weekend we’re juggling things a little bit,” said Keefe when asked about Valiev and Holl as a pairing. “Whether it’s injuries or call-ups or guys moving in and out of the lineup, [Valiev and Holl] have spent time playing together over the past couple seasons.”
“Hallsy’s been good for us all year but Valiev, to me, has really just bounced back this year. He’s in a groove, had great confidence, and has really stepped up for us and has been solid. We feel like we have a really reliable pair there.”
Johnsson and Kapanen
Andreas Johnsson has four points in his last four games including the #Marlies first goal of the night vs the Sound Tigers.— Todd Crocker (@HockeyCrock) January 7, 2018
Andreas Johnsson, 23, and Kasperi Kapanen, 21, are two of the best players in the American Hockey League, full stop. Kapanen should without question be in the NHL right now, and so should Johnsson. They work harder, think quicker, and move faster than every player they go up against. I firmly believe that these two could step into the big leagues this season and not look out of place. The two forwards have been playing together all season and have grown some impressive chemistry. Their ability to work together so seamlessly is an asset that I hope the Leafs employ when these two inevitably make their way onto the Buds’ top 12 forward group.
Oh, and Johnsson requires waivers to be sent back to the NHL starting no later than the beginning of next season. Something to think about.
The Marlies’ next two games will be in Charlotte to play the Carolina Hurricanes affiliate Checkers on Friday and Saturday. The next home game will be after the Toronto International Boat Show — the event in which Ricoh gets transformed into a man-made lake — when Toronto plays second-place Rochester on January 26.
See you then!