The Toronto Marlies followed up a 6-2 win over the Charlotte Checkers on Friday night with a 4-3 loss to the same reigning Calder Cup champions on Saturday afternoon, splitting the weekend series. That feels like a victory, but with the loss, the Marlies are now fifth in the North Division, one point back of the provisionally playoff-bound Laval Rocket.
Joseph Woll started the night for the Toronto Marlies, but gave up two goals on eight shots in the first period and sat on the bench for the rest of the game. The Marlies were no better in the second period, but put on a bit of a show in the first half of the third, only to fall short in the end. Timothy Liljegren led the way with two points (1g, 1a) and the second star of the game in the loss.
The Toronto Marlies are desperate for wins, any kind of momentum that they can use as motivation to find some consistency in their play. For a team that’s 5-11-2 under new coach Greg Moore since he took the job on December 21st, I can understand why that’s important. Three of the team’s five wins since then were blowouts by the scores of 7-3, 6-1, and most recently on Friday, 6-2. However, all of those wins were followed up by a loss, and in the case of the 6-1 win over San Antonio, five losses. I can see this team scrounging for any kind of good news that they grasp and ride for a while to lighten the pressure, and yet when they get those moments, they can’t hold on to them and make them something more.
The Marlies have been riding their top defensemen hard for the past month. Jake Muzzin told reporters he played around 27 minutes next to sophomore defenseman Timothy Liljegren in his one conditioning stint game for the team. Qualitatively this wasn’t a one-off, Liljegren and partner Teemu Kivihalme have been up there in terms of usage every night.
Liljegren quarterbacks the Marlies first power play that worked seven times in this game, while Kivihalme seemingly looks like he’s playing all five positions on the second unit. Both are on the first unit penalty kill that had to kill four penalties in the latest game. On Saturday, those two defensemen stood head and shoulders ahead of their teammates from puck drop to final horn. Both looked like they were dragging their inconsistent team up the ice for the full 60 minutes — especially Liljegren, who had points in two of the three goals the Marlies scored. They’ve both been able to take on the added responsibility and not be a problem for this team.
The other all-in tactic Moore and the Marlies have been implementing has been a little more controversial. That has been their deployment of the goaltenders. Especially Woll, who’s usage was highlighted in this game.
Of the 18 games under the new coach, rookie goaltender Joseph Woll has gotten the second or third game in a stretch of back-to-backs in six of the eight nights with a tired team in front of him. The only two he was able to rest for were when Kasimir Kaskisuo started the second game in a 3-in-3 weekend.
Let’s be clear, Woll has struggled under the 46% shot share team in front of him this season. He has a .885 save percentage in 21 games that went from bad to cratered in the past month. There have been moments of real hope with Woll, particularly his 40-save effort in the San Antonio game mentioned above. Like his team in front of him, Woll has had some moments of real confidence this season, but with the team in front of him playing the way they are, how can he find any momentum?
Woll has not been a problematic goaltender for the Marlies this season, in my opinion. He’s played admirably in front of a team that, frankly, isn’t cut out to play a lot of nights. I don’t blame one for the woes of other, obviously it’s a combination of both, but it’s hard to say Woll is to blame for this team’s struggles and can’t be trusted to give this team wins moving forward.
The goalie that has gone 2-6-1 since December 21st (Woll) can’t be trusted over the other guy (Kaskisuo) with... a 3-5-1 record.
The two goals Woll gave up in the first period were bad, that needs to be said, but to quote Moore, “not the start we wanted, we got better as the game went on... We talked about the response [the Checkers] were going to have after yesterday, but the first period was a little lethargic.”
I think there’s a lot of problems with this Marlies team, Moore has been preaching them in every single one of his press conferences in January. Consistency, intensity, attention to detail. One quote from Moore really stood out to me before the game. On January 24th, “we’ve put maybe one period together per game.” He’s right, it’s true visually and in the data. I just don’t think blaming the goalie fixes this problem, a lasting solution has to come from the players and the coach.
The Marlies mostly kept with yesterday’s 6-2 winning lineup against the same Charlotte Checkers. The only changes were Hudson Elynuik stepping in for Darren Archibald, shifting Tanner MacMaster to the wing.
I have to say, I really like this new top-six, having the likes of Mason Marchment and Adam Brooks really changes their complexion. It’s given Jeremy Bracco some familiar faces he play with comfortably, and it’s especially given Egor Korshkov some quality linemates that compliment him well.
I thought Korshkov had an amazing start to the season with Pontus Aberg and Pierre Engvall. He was dynamic in the offensive zone, he didn’t look overwhelmed in his own zone, and he had a real role on the power play. He lost all three of those things in a big way when Engvall go called up and Korshkov was played mostly with grinders. He never got to touch the puck as much as before and was kicked off the power play because of his injury. All those things killed his confidence.
Now that he’s back for real — and with two forwards who will hopefully be a consistent presence for him — he can start working to rebuild his confidence in the second half. He’s 23, it has to happen now.
Mason Marchment - Adam Brooks - Jeremy Bracco
Egor Korshkov - Nic Petan - Pontus Aberg
Garrett Wilson - Tyler Gaudet - Matt Read
Tanner MacMaster - Hudson Elynuik - Scott Pooley
Teemu Kivihalme - Timothy Liljegren
Ben Harpur - Mac Hollowell
Kristians Rubins - Jordan Schmaltz
I saw a lot of good things from the Marlies in the first period. They were able to control the puck for what seemed to be the majority of the period, but they were hampered by a couple penalty kills and a lack of attention to detail when they had to out-right defend.
Timothy Liljegren was dynamic and looked better than the league he was playing in next to Teemu Kivihalme, who also looks to be on that track. Both are quick, decisive, and strong with the puck on their sticks. I think Kivihalme especially has gotten better without the puck next to Liljegren, who’s had the puck more.
Defensively, I think both are really good, but Liljegren sometimes falls to the penalty side of playing his forechecker hard. An example of this is his holding penalty in the first. He got caught a little too slow but had mostly stayed with his man as they plunged into the corner. Liljegren used too much of his hands and stick to pull his checker back, instead of riding him into the boards like we’ve seen him do before. Definitely a mistake in his decision-making process, but not a trend by any means. Liljegren has taken nine minor penalties in 38 games this season.
Elsewhere in the period, Ben Harpur might be fast enough to keep up with the AHL, but barely. He looked really slow, especially when he got stuck out on the ice on a 6v5 situation and just had no idea what to do with his hands. Someone should’ve told him to just stand in front of the net, to be honest. It all looked really clumsy with Petan and Hollowell trying to navigate the top of the zone with him seemingly in the way.
The Marlies gave up two goals in the period. The first was a power play goal where the Marlies just seemed to get caught being too passive and Oliwer Kaski was able to rip a shot past Woll from the top of the circle. The second goal was a pretty weak one on the short side off a rush where it was pretty clear Hollowell has a ways to go when defending a guy at speed.
I will say I thought Hollowell was pretty good in the offensive zone in the first, he just needs some time to shore up the other side of his game. I think he has flash, which is nice to see on Twitter, but his overall game across multiple periods sees him losing battles pretty consistently all over the ice. I’d be inclined to swap him and Joseph Duszak, to be honest.
The power play stays hot pic.twitter.com/hJ0HL3MHq9— Charlotte Checkers (@CheckersHockey) February 1, 2020
At the start of the second period, we got a bit of a shock as Kaskisuo skated to the home net as Woll took a seat on the bench. Woll had given up two goals on eight shots, and was pulled between periods for Kaskisuo, who had stopped 31 of 33 literally less than 24 hours before. I talked about this controversy at the top, I won’t get into it again.
Joseph Woll in the first period— Hardev Lad (@HardevLad) February 1, 2020
2 goals on 8 shots
Kasimir Kaskisuo in the second period
2 goals on 11 shots
As for the period itself, the Marlies looked stale, slow, and dispassionate. They didn’t have the puck as much as in the first period — they weren’t close. They were somehow gifted three power plays that Liljegren was able to capitalize on, but seemed despondent on the goal against with Hollowell in the box.
Liljegren and Kivihalme still had their legs from the first to the second, and I thought Brooks showed off some hustle later in the period, but after them, I saw a team cling on for dear life for 14 minutes. Mason Marchment looked okay.
Unreal burst of speed from and it's 4-1 thanks to this shorthanded goal! pic.twitter.com/UT8qAIeE8S— Charlotte Checkers (@CheckersHockey) February 1, 2020
The last frame felt like an exercise in false, but maybe real, hope. The Marlies came out of the break with a kick in their pants and scored two goals in the first half of the period. They’ve done this before, starting the game awfully, but finishing strong and making an effort at a comeback. As a fan, I don’t know what could be more infuriating. Seeing a team suck all night, or seeing them look like All-Stars in the third period only to fall short or get an undeserved win. Reading Twitter the last month, I’d say it’s the latter.
Hudson Elynuik scored the first goal that got the Marlies pointed in the right direction. Tanner MacMaster had made goalie Alex Nedeljkovic very mad in front of the net on the previous shift, and it seemed to make Ned erratic. He was playing the puck more than I had noticed before, and it directly came to bite him on the 4-2 goal. I guess that’s an example of the Marlies making their own luck?
The second goal of the period came from Garrett Wilson, who pounded home a rebound in front of the net. The heat map from the first two periods showed the Marlies acting like the front of the net had cooties. But after MacMaster pissed off Ned, that’s all the Marlies wanted to do in the third.
But after that, the Marlies tried to give it a bit of a run down the line, but the Checkers shored up their weak spots and didn’t give the Marlies anything. In fact, the Checkers didn’t allow a single shot in the two minutes Kaskisuo was out of the net for the extra attacker.