It’s not often a Western Conference team comes to visit the Marlies in Toronto. Outside of the Manitoba Moose, who regularly visit each season, you have to go back to the days where the Marlies were actually in the Western Conference. But there’s one notable exception.
In 2018 the Texas Stars came to Toronto for the Calder Cup Final. The Marlies won the Eastern Conference and the Stars won the Western. The games went back and forth all the way to a game seven final here at the Coliseum. If you don’t know who won that game, here’s a clue.
It was a great idea to have a rematch between these two teams—and also send the Marlies out west to play games in the Central Division this year and have fewer games in the Atlantic Division—but I don’t think anyone expected the Stars would be this bad a team when they set the schedule.
Here were the lines on Saturday.
Kenny Agostino - Adam Brooks - Jeremy Bracco
Garrett Wilson - Tyler Gaudet - Matt Read
Egor Korshkov - Pierre Engvall - Pontus Aberg
Tanner MacMaster - Hudson Elynuik - Nicholas Baptiste
Rasmus Sandin - Jesper Lindgren
Ben Harpur - Jordan Schmaltz
Teemu Kivihalme - Mac Hollowell
Joseph Woll started in net for the Marlies on Saturday. Michael Hutchinson started on Sunday. The Stars started Landon Bow on Saturday, but... well, we’ll get to what happened to the Stars goalies later.
The lines for Sunday were changed only to substitute Sandin because of an injury (see below;) replaced by Kristians Rubins.
The Injuries and the Missing
Keefe commented that Timothy Liljegren has been on the ice and he’s further along in the path to returning than originally expected. Sandin was injured at the very end of Saturday’s game and he didn’t play on Sunday, but Keefe said there were ”positive signs” from tests and medical scans and he is not expected to be out for much longer, but Wednesday is still up in the air. Even with Liljegren out, the Marlies have a bit of leeway from their extra large roster to have players sit out until they are actually 100% back to mid-season form. There’s no need to rush any key players back right now when they are only ‘medically cleared’ to play. The expectation is for Sandin to still join the Swedish team for the World Junior Championship in mid to late December.
Pontus Aberg was injured in Sunday’s game, but Keefe said it didn’t look like anything too serious.
Mason Marchment’s status is officially still on Season Opening Injured Reserve, though it was mentioned on the Leafs Nation Network broadcast he is skating again. He was also very briefly (and probably unintentionally) visible in the dressing room in a video posted by the Marlies on their YouTube channel. I, for one, look forward to the return of the new master of the net front tip-in goal. I still remember back when Zach Hyman played that role several years ago. It’s a good reminder that players called up to the Maple Leafs will wind up doing much different things in the NHL than they did in the AHL.
Kalle Kossila and Ian Scott are still trapped in a parallel alternate universe, but research continues at MLSE to find a way to retrieve them. Hopefully they’re not stuck in an atomizer booth.
Saturday’s Game: Marlies win 8-4
Landon Bow sums up the Stars game on Saturday nicely in this GIF where he snapped his stick in half at centre ice when he was pulled from the net for the second time in the game.
Jake Oettinger was called back in to the Stars’ net for a second time, and he took the brunt of the loss.
I’m not sure what would be interesting for you to know about a game where at the end of the second period the Marlies were already up 8-2. The Marlies simply dominated, and, yes, the Stars did score twice in the third period, but there’s score effects there. At that point the Marlies had no sense of urgency because they were minutes away from the end of a game with a six goal lead. It was garbage time. Sheldon Keefe hinted that he was even using the third period partially as training exercise, instructing certain players to execute play that could be an improvement for Sunday’s game. He wouldn’t tell us what specifically what it was other than a focus on “winning shifts”.
There are of course a few fun goals to watch. This classic tic-tac-toe, power-play goal is one of them.
That was the first of Kenny Agostino’s three goals of the night. Yes, there was a bit of stat padding at one point, but, who can blame them. Come April, no one will remember this particular game where so many players racked up so many points. Get them when you can!
Nicholas Baptiste also got in on the action picking up his first and second goals of the season in this game.
And I will share this goal video because I laugh every time I see Matt Read (#26) wiping out all by himself for no reason right after the goal is scored. Sorry, Matt.
That goal was scored by Pierre Engvall, whom you may have heard of recently in the news.
Sunday’s Game: Marlies win 4-3
The tone of Sunday’s game was visibly different immediately, and you would expect that. The Stars sure wouldn’t want to end the weekend packing their bags and getting on the bus with yet another two losses.
But they did.
This was a much closer game, and there were moments of concern that the Marlies were not going to pull out the win. Roll the highlights!
Engvall scored in the first period, which perhaps sealed his call-up to the Leafs. It was his fourth goal in three games (one on an empty net).
The Marlies started the second period down 2-1, the first and only time they were behind in either game on the weekend.
Korshkov quickly tied it up scoring short-handed here. Do you even defence, Stars?
The Stars could have tied it up again but Connor Bleackly flubbed a shot on a wide open net. Bracco also had a dangerous turnover in front of the his own net but nothing came of it.
Ben Harpur is still around! I forgot about him as his presence has been somewhat low-profile. He fought Michael Mersch after getting hit hard in the corner by Connor Bleackly. Mersch got extra time for instigating the fight. That’s just how the AHL rolls, folks.
Baptiste scored his third of the season, but extra credit to MacMaster for a lot of the work to set it up here.
Matt Read added another and the Marlies went into the third period up 4-2.
Michael Hutchinson had a lot of work to do as the main factor to killing off two penalties in the third. The Stars racked up 20 shots on goal in that period to the Marlies three. Hutchinson really came through turning them all but one away and preventing a game tying goal. Hudson Elynuik chipped in with a great shot block in the dying minutes to help the Marlies seal the second win of the season.
Post Game Thoughts
The Stars didn’t take a lot of penalties in these games, so there wasn’t much time for the power play units to be out and evaluate them. If anything, the Marlies took too many penalties in Sunday’s game.
The PK units picked up a short-handed goal in each game, but, again, against the Stars, I’m not sure if that is anything to get excited about. Overall, I am neutral on the performance of the special teams this weekend because of the unusual circumstances. We’ll see a greater challenge for them in the games this coming week.
Adam Brooks’ return to form in the lineup is slow. With 12 goals scored by the Marlies this weekend he picked up only one secondary assist. That’s off the pace he had earlier. Perhaps his ice time went down with the Marlies penalties late in the game on Sunday.
This isn’t the last time the Stars and Marlies meet this season. In early January the Marlies head all the way south to Texas to play two games against the Stars on their home ice.
In the meantime, the Marlies next game is a rare Wednesday night tilt at 7:00 p.m. against the Laval Rocket.