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Toronto Marlies vs Syracuse Crunch Series Preview

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Toronto vs Tampa Bay as it always should have been.

Pierre Engvall
Christian Bonin

The Toronto Marlies will hope to keep Kyle Dubas in his role for at least a couple weeks longer while they take on the Syracuse Crunch in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. This is the second time in as many years the affiliates of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning will be meeting in the “North Division Final.” Syracuse topped Toronto last year in a brutal seven-game series that went all the way down to the wire in a seventh game. It was also the year Leafs fans became acquainted with Jake Dotchin.

The Marlies

From the last game

Forwards

Andreas Johnsson - Miro Aaltonen - Carl Grundstrom

Dmytro Timashov - Chris Mueller - Ben Smith

Pierre Engvall - Frederik Gauthier - Colin Greening

Mason Marchment - Adam Brooks - Trevor Moore

Defense

Martin Marincin - Justin Holl

Travis Dermott - Vincent LoVerde

Andrew Nielsen - Timothy Liljegren

The Marlies forward group has so much depth that judging a player based on where they sit in these current standings would almost be folly. Moore has been a top-line player in the second half of the season, but the introductions of Grundstrom, Engvall, and Johnsson’s return from the NHL has pushed him all the way down to Sheldon Keefe’s “kid line.”

The Marlies were floundering after their disastrous trip to Utica, but the infusion of AHL dominant Johnsson gave the whole lineup a massive boost, especially to the power play. It also allowed Keefe to take Jeremy Bracco out of the line and put a more capable player in Moore on the fourth line. It definitely is a small step back in development, but the kid line had only been putting up points on the power play and against weak competition at even strength. Once the playoffs started, that line was not nearly as effective and their increased need for favourable zone starts was taxing on the rest of the squad. Frankly put, the trio of Marchment, Brooks, Bracco won’t be ready to play meaningful offensive AHL minutes until next season. This season was great for learning, but they were getting eaten alive by a playoff team in the Utica Comets. It wasn’t going to get any easier against Syracuse.

Greening and Gauthier have become a dynamic duo as shutdown players at both even strength and on the penalty kill, the fact that Engvall is on the line with them at 5v5 just exemplifies his versatility as well. Engvall came onto the team as a tall top-six winger who liked to play along the perimeter. Now that he has gotten more comfortable in the AHL, he’s been asked to play a more shutdown role and has done an admirable job at it.

The Marlies have a defense core that is similar to the forward group in that each pairing is pretty interchangeable in terms of what you should call each one. Liljegren has been incredible for the Marlies as an 18-year-old. The team tasked Timoth with learning the defensive side of the game above all else and he’s done a great job of it. We’ve seen flashes of a promising transition game from him, but so far the majority of the offense from him has come from anchoring the second power play unit.

Dermott is such a good player. Like Johnsson up front, his return to the lineup was able give the Marlies the dynamism that they desperately needed. The Return of the King of breakout passes has drastically helped the Marlies get the puck not only out of the zone, but into the offensive zone with numbers. There were countless times where Dermott either killed a zone entry himself and pushed the puck up for the counter-attacking offense, or jumped in the rush himself as if he’s a third winger.

Dermott joined the team at the perfect time because Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosen were both slated to miss Game 5 against Utica due to injuries and it didn’t look like Keefe was keen on playing rookie Jesper Lindgren in the playoffs at all. Since Game 5, we received some good news and bad news. The good news is that Borgman has been skating with the Marlies and could make his return very soon. The bad news is that Lindgren has flown the coop back to Sweden to train with his club team. Lindgren has one more year of control before he must sign a contract so the news brings concern but shouldn’t cause panic.

The Marlies starter is Garret Sparks. He’s literally the best goalie in the AHL, winning the Baz Bastien Award this season. He played in 43 games this season and picked up a 0.936 sv% in all situations. Sparks is entering what are, on average, the prime goalie years and is likely to get a promotion to an NHL job next season, either with the Leafs or elsewhere via a trade. He’s the real deal and will be a major factor in the games. Behind Sparks is not any random backup. Calvin Pickard is himself a star goaltender with NHL experience playing for the Colorado Avalanche. His pedigree as a second round draft pick in 2010 was well earned. Both of these goaltenders have been game changers for the Marlies and integral to their success this season. The Crunch will face a challenge getting anything past them.

Syr-excuse me?

My Raw Charge colleague JustinG. and I traded five questions and answers regarding each of our teams so that we can share a little more information about our respective teams.

Please go over to the site and check out their preview, it is very well done, especially the end ;)

1. Who is your goalie?

Our goalie is everyone and no one. I was putting off answering in hopes that Coach Groulx would announce a starter, but he is being mysterious as usual. I would say Eddie Pasquale gets the bulk of the starts, but young Connor Ingram will get at least one start. Their rotation was fairly strong to finish the season and while their counting stats weren’t overly impressive against the Amerks, they made key saves when they had to.

2. What is the singular form of Crunch? (Arvind. thinks a Chomp). And is Crunch by name, Crunch by nature still true?

Crunch is actually the singular. Crunchen is the plural. Crunch by name, Crunch by nature? I think you figured out the team’s marketing push for next season. Much like their parent club they are surprisingly physical for a skill-based team.

3. Are the Crunch without Gourde like a garden without squash? (Seriously, how has the team still done so well despite the loss of Yanni and Anthony Cirelli).

More like the Avengers without Hawkeye. Yeah, it’s nice to have him around, but the rest of the team is just fine. The Crunch are a product of good mid-draft scouting and developing. Of the roughly 645 rookies that played for them this year, only Cal Foote was a first round pick. The top players left Mathieu Joseph (4th round), Matt Peca (7th round) and Mitchell Stephens (2nd round) are all fast, high-hockey IQ players in the mood of Cirelli and Gourde.

4. Is Jake fucking Dotchin on the Bolts or the Crunch.

Jake F’n Dotchin is currently in Tampa I believe. He was last seen in the press box, boarding a Toronto-based reporter in front of the Cuban sandwich station. The good news is that Daniel Walcott is still around to annoy the hell out of your fans.

5. Who on the defense is the biggest offensive threat, and how important is the defense in creating offense, if at all?

It’s definitely not Reid McNeil. He just picked up his first goal in a Crunch uniform last round. Goals aren’t a thing that their defense is really into. Even on the power play. There have been a few occasions that Coach Groulx has rolled out five forwards on a 5-on-4 power play. That being said, the blue liners do activate quite a bit in the offensive zone. They are very good at holding the play in and cycling the puck down low. It occasionally leads to odd man rushes the other way when they choose poorly, but that’s a story for another day. Dominick Masin. I’ll go with Dominik Masin as the answer.

Schedule

Unlike last season, the Marlies will have home-ice advantage for these next seven games, and that’s going to be super important. The last time one of these two teams won a game on the road, it was 10 years ago when Toronto stole game 6 before coming home and beating the Crunch in game 7.

The series is a classic H, H, A, A, H, A, H, with the Marlies — who were first in the AHL — having home ice advantage. Games on a weekday will be at 7:00pm, and weekend games will be at 4:00pm.

Stay with PPP (and my work at Raw Charge) for complete coverage of this series. Let’s keep Dubas away from the GM chair!!