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Trade Him or Keep Him: James Reimer

From Pension Puppets

Optimus Reim is up for free agency this summer. Should the Maple Leafs re-sign him, or trade him?

James Reimer, Maple Leafs goaltender for the past six seasons is now eligible for unrestricted free agency.

Pre-Leafs

James Reimer was drafted out of the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels in the 4th round, 99th overall at the 2006 NHL entry draft. in the following two seasons in the WHL Reimer played 90 games, with a 34-38-11 record. He had a .914 save% and a 2.70 GAA.

Post-Junior he headed to the ECHL, and the Maple Leafs then affiliate the Reading Royals. The Royals were not very good so the Leafs arranged a trade to the South Carolina Stingrays, who were heading o the Kelly cup playoffs. Reimer would only play 6 regular season games for the Stingrays but won all 6 with a .961 sv% and 1.32 GAA. in the playoffs Reimer would play 8 games, post a 4-3 record and help the Stingrays win the Kelly Cup.

Reimer would split the next two seasons between the Leafs and the Marlies, before sticking around for mid way through the 10/11 campaign, making his first career NHL start on January 1st, 2011.

Maple Leafs History

James Reimer’s time with the Leafs hasn’t been a story book, though one on “dealing with a terrible boss” should be made about it, and it can be based on his play in the Maple Leafs only 7 playoff games since 2005, then seeing a brand new starter brought to town that summer…..

Reimer’s full time gig with the Maple Leafs came as he was the starter for the 2011/12 season. He kicked things off with a 2-0 shutout of the Canadiens, and the team would go 4-1-1 before meeting up with the Canadiens again on October 22nd, 2011 when this would happen:

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The Leafs would be adamant it wasn’t a concussion, calling it whiplash instead. The Leafs would hand over the crease to Jonas Gustavsson and Ben Scrivens for the time Reimer was off. He would return early, after missing 19 games, but wasn’t him self until the season was essentially lost.

The lockout shortened season would see the Leafs make the playoffs, and the Leafs would be out coached the entire series. Reimer played well in the playoffs, but the Bruins would score 3 goals in the final 10 minutes to force overtime, and score shortly into OT to overcome a 4-1 deficit.

That summer the management would bring in LA Kings backup Jonathan Bernier, who, despite having the same amount of experience as Reimer, was held up as a model of a “winning pedigree”, whatever that means.

Both goalies would split the crease over the next few seasons, the Maple Leafs failing to make the playoffs since 2013.

Reimer would post respectable numbers over his season with the Maple Leafs:

Trade Him!

The Maple Leafs have two goalies who could be their starters. Neither is making more than $5m+ so they are a good price, however James Reimer is only making $2.3m to Berniers $4.15m. If you want to re-sign James Reimer he will most likely ask for money near Berniers level. At that point you’ll have two goalies with good, not great, numbers, taking about just over $8m of your salary cap.

That is assuming, of course, that Reimer wants to stay. After making Bernier the defacto starter, despite what the GM’s have told the press, you could get the indication that Reimer may feel under appreciated, especially after being replaced when you took the team to their first playoffs in 8 years, and lost to the eventual Cup finalists in over time of game 7.

If you don’t trade Reimer you risk losing him for nothing. If you can’t get a reasonable extension signed, and rumours currently say 5-7 years at $4.5-$5.5m per, you need to deal him. That’s too much term for a goalie who’s never played 40 games. The best risk here is to trade him and tell him you’ll try to re-sign him on July 1st. If he really does love this team, he’d understand.

Keep Him!

Bernier isn’t the future. He’s putting up average numbers, and isn’t living up to the hype he had coming out of LA. He’s the least consistent goalie in the Leafs system and Garret Sparks has shown a lot of promise with the Leafs and Marlies this year to rival him for Reimer’s partner.

Bernier is the best option to trade, though with 1 more year of a $4.15 cap hit that could be tough. $2m of that is a signing bonus, so you could keep both this year and try to trade Bernier after July 1st when his actual Salary is just over $2m.

Reimer is a swell guy, always smiling, and truly loves playing here. He’s said he wants to be a Maple Leaf for life, and he’s one of the few who I believe mean it. He’ll do a good job of tending goal for the young Maple Leafs. his calm on ice demeanor is a positive influence for the amount of rookies that will be filling the locker room at the ACC.

What would you do?

Me, I’d push him to sign an extension before the deadline. Get some solid numbers. If it’s too far from where you want them to be, let him know you need to do whats best for the franchise and not risk losing him for nothing. You’ll reopen talks on July 1st if you can, but right now you need to keep moving.

If it’s close, keep him, keep working on the deal. The goalie market isn’t too hot with teams in need. If you let Reimer walk, you either run Bernier/Sparks or could somehow end up with Cam Ward/Bernier.

The real question here that needs to be asked is:

Will Reimer still be at the top of his game when this team is ready to win?

Source: Trade Him or Keep Him: James Reimer

Amid season's struggles, Solar Bears still trying to do it all

From Pension Puppets

After their fifth loss in a row, the Solar Bears bring on veterans to help mentor prospects and win games.

Last week, I watched a tense, hopeful Solar Bears game at Amway Center. It had everything — the Solar Bears falling behind, only to surge ahead, driven by the scrappy, physical efforts of F Zach Bell. Ahead by a seemingly impossible-to-defeat margin, the Solar Bears suffered defensive breakdowns that gave up goal after goal to the Swamp Rabbits in the third, until they finally lost in the last three seconds of the game.

The game revealed tendencies that the team has been showing all season — the ability to play excellent hockey when fully engaged, and mental lapses when the team plays with a lead. The Swamp Rabbits won, 6-5, handing Orlando their fifth loss in a row.

“We’re upset, all of us,” Coach Anthony Noreen said about the game, “It’s a little bit of a surreal thing when something like that happens. You feel like you’ve got everything going, you’re OK, you calm the mood on the bench when they fight back to make it 5-5. I thought at the point it was 5-5, did we give some chances up? Yeah, but we generated some too. We were pretty even keeled on the bench, you give one up late like that in a game you knew you needed pretty badly, I think it’s human nature to feel down about it.”

Bell, whose fight off the opening face-off of the second period helped to spur the Solar Bears offense, found the game a tough one to swallow. “I noticed that we came out a little flat there in the first,” Bell said. “So I thought I’d give the guys a little buzz. It worked out. Unfortunately we got a bad bounce there right at the last shift of the game. I’m proud of the boys the way we battle back, though, but we’ve got to cut out the one or two shifts that we take off, and just seal down the two points.”

The home crowd of loyal hockey fans left looking reasonably satisfied. The Solar Bears mustered up a sound offensive night — many goals were scored by both teams, and the game, while not a winning one, was entertaining hockey.

But the game also highlighted some issues that rest at the heart of a continued affiliation with Toronto, and revealed the hard decisions that a first-year pro coach has to make to play in a league that values wins above all. The affiliation is up for negotiation at the end of this season.

Striking the Balance

The Orlando sports market, once relatively free from competition for fans (the Orlando Magic use the same arena as the Solar Bears, alternating nights), is now home to the Orlando City Soccer Team, and will soon also have a women’s soccer team, the Orlando Pride. It is a long-understood fact in hockey, and maybe all professional sports, that the best antidote to an emptying arena is to win games.

What does an ECHL team get for a losing season? There are 30 games remaining for the Solar Bears to right the ship. If they end up not making the playoffs, unlike their parent club, the Toronto Maple Leafs, there is no prize of a draft pick awaiting them in July. They get nothing but the summer off to rehash the season and plan anew. In order to be relevant to the Orlando hockey market, the team has to start winning now, drawing from the benefits of an affiliation with Toronto, and overcoming the drawbacks.

The benefits are obvious. The Solar Bears gain a nurturing mentor in the Leafs organization, which is more dedicated than most to every part of the minors system, and give hope to prospects in the ECHL that they can rise.

From the players’ perspective, this dedication to development is a never a bad thing. Players thrive on their aspirations of climbing the ranks of the minors and getting a shot at the NHL, and a development league is dedicated to keeping this hope alive — Byron Froese is this year’s best example, as is Solar Bears’ alumnus Garret Sparks.

What is the correct balance of young prospects from Toronto to veteran players? One of the drawbacks of the affiliation is a constantly changing lineup, from the loss of high-scoring players as they rise to the next rung up, to shifting in goal to account for injuries. But an ever-revolving lineup of young prospects probably makes it hard to win hockey games.

Lately, the Solar Bears have let go of youth (Lindsay Sparks was recently traded to the Rapid City Rush for futures), and brought on veterans. One, Niklas Lindberg, 35, is already making a difference in the ten games he’s played for the Bears, with 2G/6A, and a calming presence behind the bench. Another, Rory Rawlyk, 32, just arrived, but the team hopes he will contribute a solid on-ice work ethic and mentoring to the younger members of the team.

I asked Coach Anthony Noreen about this move toward signing veterans, and he was frank about their worth to the team, as players who can win games as well as help mentor the players in the Leafs system.

“I mean, the bottom line is that it’s a move because we have to win,” Noreen said. “You just take a look and I see what a guy like Eric Baier, or Denver Manderson, or Carl Nielsen, guys that have been around a little bit, how important they are to the younger guys, but the fact is they’re in the minority in our room. Most of the guys are younger guys.

“We feel like any time we can bring in the right older guy who’s got the right character, who wants to teach, who wants to help the younger guys get better to kind of balance that out in our room a little bit, it helps.”

At this point in the season, the Solar Bears are still trying to do it all — they’re a hard-fighting club still dedicated to finding a way to win hockey games, while keeping the dream alive for Toronto prospects.

Source: Amid season's struggles, Solar Bears still trying to do it all

Wheeler's mid-season Top 25 Under 25 ranking update

From Pension Puppets

Christian Bonin | TSGphoto.com

The top-10 is… unchanged.

At the end of August, when our staff’s collective Top 25 Under 25 ranking began to wrap up, I chose to release my individual ranking and explain my reasoning.

With the All-Star Game come to a close, and February starting, I thought it would be prudent to update that ranking and justify the movement that has occurred.

In order to get a better understanding of how I ranked the players, here’s an updated version of the criteria I included in my August ranking:

My Criteria

There were several ways in which I approached the ranking, but due to the age and established nature of some of the players, it was a decidedly different approach than the one I take when evaluating a draft class or pool of non-NHL prospects.

Not all voters used the organization’s status as a criterion. I did. The Leafs rebuild factors into the value each player has to the organization moving forward. The present isn’t nearly as important as the future, and that gives huge value to a Mitch Marner or a William Nylander over an established Nazem Kadri. Future star power will make or break the end result of this Leafs rebuild, and Kadri may well factor into it as a key player (he already is), but he’s not a piece that changes a franchise.

I didn’t approach the ranking as one that was strictly a meritocracy. As evidenced through my non-ranking of Byron Froese, a player’s NHL status doesn’t guarantee him value. Byron Froese is replaceable. The Marlies roster this season includes several players who could play a fourth line role in the NHL.

The lottery tickets that the players I ranked near the bottom of the T25U25 represent hold more value than a Byron Froese does. The chance that Martins Dzierkals can be more than a replacement level NHLer holds considerable value to a team like the Leafs. Nothing plagues NHL franchises more than the idea that picks are expendable. If you draft for upside, you will find real value, not Byron Froese value.

Dzierkals’ footwork and skating ability, as well as the low kick to his release and his knack for getting it off in stride is a real, identifiable stylistic trait that translates well at the next level. And there’s a very good chance he never becomes an NHL player, but the value in acquiring players like him is worth more than any value Byron Froese holds to the Leafs, at least for a rebuilding team.

The top 11 players remain unchanged. The prospects within the group have progressed as expected, Jake Gardiner has blossomed (yes, he’s 26 but for continuity’s sake I re-included him in the ranking), and after faltering out of the gate Peter Holland and Nazem Kadri have returned to form. I nearly moved Jeremy Bracco back a spot in favour of Dmytro Timashov (who has risen more than anyone except Garret Sparks) but Bracco elevated his play after being snubbed by Team USA and he’s really beginning to find his game after leaving the NCAA for the OHL.

Sparks wasn’t ranked in August in part because I regarded Chris Gibson as the Marlies starter, which would have limited Sparks’ ability to get the starter’s load he needs to really progress. Both were narrowly left off of my August list, though Gibson was ranked 25th on the overall PPP ranking.

Travis Dermott also rose substantially thanks to some impressive play as one of the OHL’s best defensemen this year, though I still worry about his skating limiting his upside when he becomes a pro.

Rinat Valiyev also moves into the top 25 — his skating has held up more than I expected it too as an AHL rookie — and is joined by two players who weren’t available to be ranked in August in AHL scorer Jeremy Morin and Frank Corrado (who should play more than he does).

Stuart Percy and Frederik Gauthier have fallen the furthest, but not because they haven’t had good seasons. Gauthier has played really well defensively — as expected — and his results are the dividends. For Percy, it’s just a matter of timing. The clock is ticking and despite up-ticks in his offensive production, Percy’s window for establishing himself in the Leafs organization will come to a close before we know it. Mostly, for both Gauthier and Percy, the dip in their ranking speaks to some strong seasons and new faces.

Despite an excellent (surprisingly so) season from Andrew Nielsen, he remained unranked. Like with Dermott, I worry about how Nielsen’s skating will translate as a pro (his shot and physicality aren’t a problem). Still, his season has been extremely impressive and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down as the WHL’s highest-scoring defensemen. There’s a good chance, if he keeps it up, that he climbs into next summer’s ranking (though the Leafs could have 5+ picks in the first three rounds this summer that will factor into that discussion).

My February Ranking

Just missed: Andrew Nielsen, Zach Hyman, Jesper Lindgren, Nikita Korostelev.

Remember: Neither of these rankings are the overall, conglomerated PPP ranking but simply my personal list. Morgan Rielly finished first on the overall list.

Source: Wheeler's mid-season Top 25 Under 25 ranking update

The Marlies kept trying to lose and finally succeeded

From Pension Puppets

The Marlies scored one less goal than the Binghamton Senators in their last game before the All-Star break, the kind of lazy good-team problems the Maple Leafs are striving to acquire.

For the Marlies, it’s tough at the top, where the challenge for the rest of the regular season is to stay there.

I feel like I’ve said that before.

A tale of two teams

The Marlies are the top team in the AHL. I could enumerate the ways they are the best: the goals for, the goal differential, this percentage, that measure, this stat, that calculation, but they all come out the same. The Marlies are an elite team that’s had a lot of luck and have won the overwhelming majority of their games so far.

So far.

They have two and a half more months to play.

Frölunda, Andreas Johnson‘s team, is also atop their league and has an amazing goal differential; they shoot the puck like crazy and have four real lines that can all play at a high level. They are elite, lucky, and they’ve won the overwhelming majority of their games. And among that elite team, Johnson, at 21, and Artturi Lehkonen at 20 are the young stars that are working every day to get to the NHL.

The rest of the team may have once dreamed of it, some of them have tried and found their home in Sweden instead, and for them the league they play in is their league; the games are a point unto themselves; the championship is the reward at the end of the season, and leaving is not the mark of success.

Frölunda are showing the signs of a sluggish desire to just get on with it, get to the playoffs, get this year over, win the cup and turn the calendar to next year so they can do it again. They’ve dropped a couple of stinkers lately—big losses, a couple of shutouts where they just skated around bored for 60 minutes. They’ve won a couple like that too.

For Johnson, this is his last year there. He is proving himself, and wants to win, but he has his eyes on a higher goal.

They have a month and a half to go before the playoffs.

The Marlies have a lot more than two guys who are yearning to escape. They have nearly a roster full. They are more than just William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen, two guys who hope they will see the NHL this year and every year after.

There is Mark Arcobello, patiently scoring more and more and winning awards.

There is Nikita Soshnikov working on the bottom six and trying to prove what he can do, taking every chance to get on a better line and making the most of it.

There’s Connor Brown, doing a very good job of reminding everyone who he is with points in every game since he’s been back.

There is T.J. Brennan, ripping up the record books and rewriting them anew on this his fourth AHL team. On none of those has he been as dominate over three seasons as he has on the Marlies. He’s tasted the coffee in the NHL, but he’s never stuck, and it’s easy to just decide that’s it, he hasn’t got it, but if the 26-year-old defenceman leading the league in scoring isn’t up to it, are you sure all those kids are a lock?

There’s also Zach Hyman, who didn’t stick with the team that drafted him, nor did Brendan Leipsic or Scott Harrington. There’s a handful of Toronto draft picks in Josh Leivo, Viktor Loov, and Rinat Valiev. And all of them want out. They don’t want to ever again ride five hours home from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

And they’re collectively playing pretty bad hockey lately.

The Marlies roared along for the last few games, winning while being outshot and putting on a terrible power play and giving up a league-leading number of shorthanded goals. They have been winning by betting big, risking big, and outscoring their opponents with contemptuous ease.

Lately, the defence has been falling to ruins, the goalies have been working like single mothers with two jobs, and still they win.

Or they did.

An afternoon at the Ricoh Coliseum

Saturday afternoon in Toronto, on the afternoon after that ride home from Grand Rapids, they didn’t outscore their problems. Not quite.

They played the division basement-dweller Binghamton Senators, and they were each as bad as the other. They took 8 penalties each, scored five regulation goals each. They each had a short-handed goal, and the Senators won it on a goal on a breakaway in overtime after one of the Marlies blew a skate on the play in his own end and fell down. A fitting end to a game that cast no glory on anyone.

The Marlies outshot the Senators—they aren’t so far gone, they couldn’t do that—37-29, giving Garret Sparks a save percentage of .793.

They gave up so many odd man rushes, turnovers, easy giveaways, and I guess it was buy one get one free day at Ricoh?

This isn’t a one off aberration. They’ve been drifting in this direction for weeks, and some of that is injuries pulling the better guys out of the lineup, and some of it is just the difficulty you have when the team is so good they score more goals than even the good teams most of the time.

Bob McGill the Marlies colour commentator was wondering how you tell these guys to tighten it up, when they usually win even when they play so loose? A good question. Ask Alain Vigneault. Maybe he knows. Not that the Marlies are the hollow-cored New York Rangers. They usually do outshoot their opposition not just out-goal them.

Getting the Marlies back on track may be a harder task than Frölunda has with their team of slightly bored overachievers, however.

It’s not a terrible problem to have, being so good you’re struggling to execute your system well night after night, but it is a problem. And it’s a hell of a skill to bring to a team that’s never had this dilemma before if you learn the trick of it.

A cautionary tale

This is what Nate MacKinnon said about Jonathan Drouin recently:

“Our junior team, we lost five games all year, we had the puck the whole game,” MacKinnon said. “We were playing offense for two years, we didn’t really play any ‘D.’ So that’s tough. I don’t know you can really expect lockdown ‘D’ when you first come into the league. You can always work on your ‘D’ but you can’t just become an offensive force.”

And he’s not wrong. But where do you start to learn that more complete game? Something you can use when you don’t have a team of above average players every night. Something you can use to get yourself into a position to succeed when your coach hasn’t got the means to put you there. Something that will carry you when your cap-strapped team downgrades your linemates or your rebuilding team hasn’t got the horses to win much.

It’s not junior hockey, he’s right about that too.

For MacKinnon it was the NHL. He very much did it the hard way. But the New Toronto Maple Leafs don’t do things that way, they tell us. Not unless they have to, like they will with Mitch Marner.

So it had better be the AHL, the league most guys are trying to leave. And it better be now before they start leaving one way and another.

Nice problems to have

Sheldon Keefe has some things to accomplish. He’s got to bring Nylander back into the lineup; he’s got Connor Brown chomping at the bit to play—and he was as guilty as any guy out there of sloppy defensive errors. He might have Josh Leivo—who had as many shots on goal on Saturday as he had shots of any kind in 4 games for the Leafs—and who made a lot of sloppy definsive errors.

Keefe’s also got Mark Arcobello and T.J. Brennan, who need to see a carrot on the end of the stick or they might stop carrying the goal-scoring burden for the team most nights. (Between the pair of them they have 19% of the Marlies goals. Add in Nylander and Leivo, and you get to 34%. The offence isn’t quite so spread out on this team as we tell ourselves.)

Keefe’s got to get them all to tighten up and play better than they need to. And he has to convince them it’s for their own good. Because it is.

So far, he’s been very good at doing that. Let’s see if he can keep doing it once the All-Star Break is over.

Source: The Marlies kept trying to lose and finally succeeded

William Nylander hits the ice in Grand Rapids for the Marlies

From Pension Puppets

After a month off due to his concussion and an illness, William Nylander was back and almost looked ready for action.

The Marlies went on a two game road trip to Grand Rapids Michigan this week to face the Griffins. The first game was a school-day game on Wednesday morning with the second going Friday night.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

For the first game there were the now-usual roster adjustments:

Defenceman Justin Holl was back in off of a minor injury, which meant the Marlies have both their right-shooting D back!

The bad news is Kasperi Kapanen isn’t on the trip to Grand Rapids, and has some kind of injury. My impression is it’s not a big concern.

The Griffins came out fully awake at 11:00 am, but the Marlies took a little time to catch up. Once they got going, they just didn’t stop during the first period.

Mark Arcobello opened the scoring by stepping around the D, and casually flipping the puck in on the backhand. Easy peasy. He’s played the least number of games of any guy in the top ten in scoring, by the way.

Arcobello’s a guy who shares though; he won an offensive-zone faceoff and sent it over to Frattin and in the net it went. Arcobello was still in fifth place in scoring after this game, but he’s breathing down the neck of the guy in fourth.

Zach Hyman has been looking good as his winger. He’s fast, works the full game, knows what he’s doing offensively and is in the right place. The same can be said of Frattin; they’ve really stepped up in the absence of higher rated prospects.

The shots were 13-7 Marlies, and they had essentially won the game with a 2-0 lead, they just needed to play out 40 minutes.

In the second period, Connor Brown made it 3-0 after a good stretch of Griffins play. That took the life right out of the Griffins, and the rest of the second was a very chippy period, with two teams who don’t like each other much and officials who couldn’t control the game well.

Shots were flipped 14-7 for the Griffins, and Sparks had a work out.

The third period was all the Garret Sparks show, and he got his third shutout of the season. Good thing he was the man in the net for this one. Antoine Bibeau has been good lately, but this game needed that extra level of flash for some of the saves.

The Marlies have a very bad habit of riding the goalie once they put up a few goals. They took a too much man penalty, a delay of game penalty for flubbing faceoffs on purpose, and while that made a change from the roughing penalties of the second, it was sloppy play.

It took too long for them to figure out how to effectively fill up the neutral zone and stop the Griffins offensive push. But Frattin got one during the very, very early goalie pull by the desperate Griffins, who were working on their second straight scoreless game and just wanted a goal. They didn’t get one.

Shots at the end of the game were 39-23 for the Griffins And the final score was 4-0. You can see all the Marlies goals at the start of this highlight video, and stay around for some Griffins interviews if you like:

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Friday, January 29, 2016

You know who’s back. You know.

Sheldon Keefe and William Nylander talk about his first game back:

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The roster was shuffled some more prior to this game, as teams all over the NHL sent guys down to the AHL over the All-Star break to pinch pennies on two-way contracts. Josh Leivo arrived, mostly so he could play in the All-Star game on the weekend, and to make way for him and Nylander, Éric Faille and Rylan Schwartz were sent back south to the Orlando Solar Bears.

The lineups for this game were the subject of much anticipation. Sheldon Keefe had some decisions to make, and it was one of those nice problems to have, remaking the lineup to hold as many as three of his top players—Nylander, Brown and Leivo.

So far, he’s experimenting with Nylander and Brown together with Nikita Soshnikov on the other wing. With Kasperi Kapanen out for a few days, this was expected to be the top line for Nylander’s first game back.

The final answer for the last away game in January was:

Forwards

Bailey – Arcobello – Hyman
Findlay – Nylander – Brown
Soshnikov – Gauthier – Morin
Leipsic – Rupert – Frattin

Defence

Campbell – Valiev
Loov – Percy
Brennan – Holl

And Antoine Bibeau was in net.

This was an interesting choice for Nylander’s first game. These two teams have a history from last year’s playoffs, and it showed in the first game of the series.

The first period featured a lot of back and forth action, and on one of the earliest plays, Brown stopped to put a bow on the puck and hand it to Nylander so he could get his first shot—bit of a weak flick of the puck toward the net, but the seal was broken, as they say.

The Marlies gave up a couple of turnovers that led to rushes the other way, and their offence was slower paced than it often is. The shots were even for the first half, the Marlies killed one penalty, and were staying in the game courtesy of Bibeau.

In the Marlies first power play of the game, Andy Miele picked the puck off a bad pass in the Griffins zone, and off he went, and in it went for the Griffins—first goal in over two games.

By the end of the period, shots were 16 – 7 for the Griffins and the game looked more like the end of the previous one than the start of it.

The second was largely a repeat of the first, with one big difference. The shots were even for the first half, the game started to slip more and more into the Griffins control, and then Nylander got the puck in the offensive zone, handed it off to Brennan, and the Toronto Marlies defenceman was leading the league in points. Tie game.

Nylander had a shift shortly after where he finally looked like himself, with his very distinctive skating style on full display.

Shots were 29 – 17 Griffins after two.

Five minutes in, Nylander lost the handle on the puck in the neutral zone, and Anthony Mantha took it and whipped behind the net and made it 2-0 Grand Rapids on a neat wrap around.

Toronto was playing just barely well enough to keep up with a team whose top scorers are barely in the top 30 in the league. The Griffins don’t have much up front, and the fact they do as well as they do is a testament to their tighter system.

By this time Seth Griffith (I don’t think this name is a co-incidence) had had a four point night for Providence and taken the AHL points lead again.

The Marlies not very good power play—13th in the league—was not very good, and they were at risk of giving up short handed chances more than once. This is an area they could tighten up on, and they would be in a much better position heading into the playoffs. They’ve given up the most shorthanded goals in the league.

But when you can just keep scoring, maybe you don’t tighten up where you should. Justin Holl made it a tie game again shortly after a nice cycle got started by Arcobello.

And when you can just keep scoring, maybe Bibeau doesn’t need to be quite as good as Sparks. Zach Hyman made it 3-2 on a nice play from Arcobello with less than 2 minutes to play. Bendan Leipsic got the empty net this night, to make it 4-2.

Final shots were 40-28 Griffins. Two straight games of giving up more than 35 shots is not sustainable hockey, but it’s two straight wins.

Nylander was not all the way on his game, but he’ll get there in good time. The Marlies next game is tomorrow at 5pm at home against Binghamton, and Nylander is not expected to play.

Source: William Nylander hits the ice in Grand Rapids for the Marlies

Mark Arcobello named AHL player of the week

From Pension Puppets

4 goals, 3 assists in three games nabs Marky Arc the honour.

Mark Arcobello was named the CCM / AHL player of the week today. Arcobello had a strong week, scoring four goals, nabbing three assists for seven points in three games, all wins at home. (5-4 vs Syracuse, 4-2 & 7-1 vs Utica).

Arcobello is having a strong season, he is second in Marlies scoring with 16 goals, 21 assists, for 37 points in 30 games, second to T.J. Brennan who has 42 points, but is the top scoring forward. Arcobello ranks 5th in AHL scoring.

Arcobello is the second Marlie to be given the honour, Garret Sparks was named CCM/AHL player of the week in November.

Source: Mark Arcobello named AHL player of the week

Connor Brown, David Kolomatis, and the Marlies welcomed the Utica Comets

From Pension Puppets

Guess who’s back? Brown, in action after missing most of the season with a broken foot. He showed the visiting Comets a real good time. Read about that, and meet the newest Marlie, Kolomatis.

Roster News

Before the game on Saturday, the Marlies made some roster moves. They’d sent Eric Baier, Éric Faille and Jack Rodewald back to the Orlando Solar Bears a few days before, and they called Faille back up on Saturday. There’s no word how much progress he made through a snow storm that rerouted flights and cancelled games in both the AHL and the NHL, but Faille is somewhere in transit.

The Marlies also announced that they had signed David Kolomatis to an AHL contract. Kolomatis is a 26-year-old American, right-shooting defenceman who has had a strong AHL career that’s taken some unusual turns. Twenty-five seems to be the year of great changes in a hockey career. You’re either going up or you move laterally.

Kolomatis, a former member of the Owen Sound Attack in the OHL, was drafted by the Kings and played for their AHL team, the Manchester Monarchs, along with Rich Clune and Andrew Campbell. He had extremely consistent results there for years, and maybe that’s the problem.

In his rookie year he put up similar points to the Monarch’s other top defencemen, Vyacheslav Voynov and Alec Martinez. The next year, Martinez was with the Kings, Voynov had shot up to almost double the points, and Kolomatis was just the same.

We all know how that turned out, Voynov is in the KHL, Martinez scored a storied goal that won a cup and Kolomatis, well, he’s much more interesting.

He signed on to the Washington Capitals organization for a year as a free agent, maybe looking for a better opportunity, and he was just as he always was with 7 goals and 30 points in the AHL. So he went to Finland last year. It’s not an uncommon thing for guys to do, particularly guys gifted with a listed height of 5’11”. But it’s not something that always works out.

Kolomatis struggled to score much in Finland, and he came back to America and took a job with the Manchester Monarchs again. Coming home in a way, but the Monarchs are not the King’s AHL club anymore, they are the ECHL club, and the level of play has been obviously below his ability; he’s scoring at twice his old AHL rate.

He will be, for the Marlies, insurance. Justin Holl, their only right-shot D, is out with an injury, so Kolomatis provides cover there, and fills a role that they are light on. He is a veteran AHL-level player who knows the game and has succeeded on one of the best teams in the league. The Leafs organization may be contemplating trading some of their defencemen, some prospects or both, and having a guy like Kolomatis, makes it all easier. Now, the Solar Bears may get to keep their captain, Baier, where they need him too.

Kolomatis is not going to excite anyone like the potential of Nikita Zaitsev has, but the team can’t function without guys like him.

The Games

Saturday, January 23

The Marlies with their amazing record of 32-8-2 are now the team every other team wants to knock off like David did Goliath:

Utica came, they saw, and they…got pretty easily beat even though they controlled the play more than most Marlies’ opponents.

The Marlies had chosen a lineup that put Kasperi Kapanen with Mark Arcobello and Zach Hyman as the top line, and they were very good. There’s been a lot of talk lately about Kapanen and how many points he has since the WJC, but to my eye, he’s been cooking since early December, and the WJC was of a piece with that, there is no cause and effect, no gold-medal bump, only a guy feeling good and showing it on the ice.

Rylan Schwartz, still up from the Solar Bears and playing on the fourth line, opened the scoring with his first AHL goal.

Arcobello added one on the power play, and Kapanen made it 3-1 before the second intermission.

Scoring effects had everyone in an iron grip in the third, and luckily for the Marlies, Garret Sparks was more on his game than he had been in the first two periods, where he’d got away with some sloppy puck handling.

The Comets made it 3-2, but Nikita Soshnikov got an empty net goal to seal the deal at 4-2, and that was the win. Not very pretty, but good enough.

Arcobello’s two point night moved him to fifth in the AHL in scoring and ahead of William Nylander. T.J. Brennan was still in contention for the lead, one point out of first place. Kapanen’s two points moved him up about 50 places in the points standings, and I will not be surprised if he finishes the year at least in the top 20.

The best news of the day, though, was that Connor Brown was expected to start on Sunday.

Sunday, January 24

Let’s just get the important part out of the way first:

So that’s Connor Brown with his first goal of the year on his second shift, and then David Kolomatis with his first goal in the AHL this year and as a Marlie and then Brown with another, and deep breath, and that was all before the first period was more than half over.

Next up T.J. Brennan got one and then made it two, which made him the AHL points leader, but wait there’s more!

Leipsic got a shorthanded goal that was lovely.

And with under two minutes to play and on their fifth try at the power play because face it, the Marlies were bored, Utica busted the shutout and after two periods the score was 6-1.

In less fun news, Stuart Percy was boarded hard in the first period and did not come out for the rest of the game. The perpetrator got five and a game, which is the best way to punish that kind of crap. No fines or suspensions, take them out of the game they’re in.

In between goal three and four, Utica pulled Richard Bachman for Joe Cannata, and that obviously did them no good.

Brown spent the afternoon with Findlay and Soshnikov and they were obviously delightful together. The top line of Arcobello, Kapanen and Hyman were very good too, but they just didn’t need to try much after Brown and the defencemen took care of racking up all those goals.

After two, Jeremy Morin was leading the team in shots on goal, as he did in the Saturday game, but again had no points to show for it. It will come. Keep shooting, and it will come.

Utica handed Arcobello a turnover in the third, and while he might have preferred a cherry one, he skated it up the ice and made it 7-1. The rest of the game was a lot calmer with fewer penalties, and the Comets went home with an empty slingshot and Goliath alive to fight another day.

The next game is Wednesday, January 27 at 11:00am in Grand Rapids. We know who we want to play guess who’s back with next, but patience is in order. Not before he’s ready.

Source: Connor Brown, David Kolomatis, and the Marlies welcomed the Utica Comets

PPP Midseason Roundtable, Part 2: The Players

From Pension Puppets

Yesterday, we looked at what to expect of the team on the rest of the schedule. Today: we look at the players.

See Part 1 here.

Today: we look at individual performance of the Leafs at the halfway point of the 2014-15 season.

(5) What player has been the biggest surprise so far this season?

KATYA: Parenteau.

SCOTT: We all knew Parenteau was still talented, but after the year he had last year I don’t think any of us expected Babcock to take such a liking to him or him to score like he has.

FIDDY: Leo Komarov.

ELSELDO: Komarov has legitimately played like a top 6 forward when given the chance, and fully deserves to be the Leafs All-Star rep.

FIDDY: I know some of it is high percentages and playing on the top line with Nazem Kadri, but raise your hand if you expected a guy with 12 career goals before this year to be on a 30-goal pace this season.

ACHA: Phil Kessel. I’m sad he’s not having the amazing season all the Leafs fans hoped for him, and that he was unable to stick on Crosby’s wing.

JP NIKOTA: Brad Boyes has probably been the most under-appreciated of the Leafs so far this season, but I’ve been quite impressed with what he’s contributed for the money the team is paying him. Komarov is probably a bigger surprise however, in that I don’t think even his most ardent supporters would have guessed he’d pot 20 goals this year, which he almost certainly will. He’s been a great fit alongside Kadri too, and I’m not sure anyone expected that.

SCOTT: I’ve liked Shawn Matthias’ game as well, but I wouldn’t say it’s surprising.

(6) What player has been the biggest disappointment so far this season?

KATYA: Bernier.

JP NIKOTA: Grabner has been something of a letdown, but no one tops Bernier’s unfortunate season. Bernier can probably bounce back to an extent next season, and the Leafs had better hope so, because no one is trading for him now.

SCOTT: No question. He’s been given every chance to succeed, and hasn’t.

ACHA: I always took him off the hook because I figured there was no good system playing in front of him, but when he was unable to turn around even with Babcock’s defensive system, I realized it was due to his own lapses in concentration.

SCOTT: Others who have struggled haven’t been given that kind of opportunity consistently.

ELSELDO: Hopefully this is a blip, not a trend.

FIDDY: Hes starting to turn a corner now, but a sub-.900 SV% at this point in the season is, any way you slice it, pretty bad.

ACHA: Maybe being a new dad is making him tired (it’s genuinely exhausting to have a newborn), but he definitely needed the rehabilitation with the Marlies.

(7) What returning player on this season’s roster has made the most promising improvement under Babcock?

ELSELDO: Komarov, again. I liked him, but now I love him.

KATYA: James van Riemsdyk, you know, until he broke.

SCOTT: I think Jake Gardiner’s game has developed beautifully.

FIDDY: I think you were starting to see Gardiner turn it around a bit under Horachek last year; for him, its not so much Babcock as getting away from Carlyle. Carlyles brand of play not to make mistakes really stifled his talents.

SCOTT: He’s not taking as many risks as he did on Carlyle, but he’s playing more sound defensively and has really blossomed into a wonderful two-way defensemen.

ACHA: Kadri. I adore his increased rattiness. Babcock is excellent at special teams, so he needs someone to draw penalties to make those come into play, and Kadri has become the perfect Marchand-lite.

JP NIKOTA: It’s been a pretty fantastic year for Kadri in that he has succeeded in a new role as a shutdown player while continuing to produce a few points – and his shooting percentage is still coming around. He’s been great to watch.

FIDDY: Bozak or Phaneuf, simply for being used properly. Tyler Bozak is not a 1C. Dion Phaneuf is not Duncan Keith or Zdeno Chara. Babcock has realized this, is using them in more suitable roles.

(8) The Leafs have three goalies appear for them this year, and some tough choices ahead. James Reimer is a UFA, while Jonathan Bernier has a year remaining but, despite looking much better recently, has had consistency issues. Garret Sparks, impressive on both the Marlies and Leafs, also needs a new contract as he’s in his RFA year.

With that in mind, fill in the blanks: based on their performances this year and beyond, I want the 2016-17 Leafs goaltending tandem to be ____________, and I would achieve that by __________________.

ELSELDO: Bernier/Reimer, by staying put.

KATYA: only one of Bernier/Reimer, by trading the other one.

SCOTT: Bernier and Sparks, by trading James Reimer.

FIDDY: Reimer and Sparks, by extending Reimer and trading Bernier.

ACHA: Sparks and Madore, by trading Reimer and Bernier.

JP NIKOTA: Reimer/Bernier, by begging Reimer like crazy to stay.

FIDDY: Huh. Some difference of opinion here.

ELSELDO: I don’t think anyone would trade for Bernier, and Reimers play has been great. Bernier would be easier to move as a pending UFA so give them until the first half of next year to prove they’re your guy. Sparks is young, more time with the Marlies as #1 can’t hurt.

FIDDY: Some teams need goaltending enough to take on Bernier, like Calgary. Bernier and Reimer have been about the same statistically in their career, but I think you can sign Reimer for cheaper.

ACHA: I love the way Rob Madore plays in goal. He’s small, but athletic and smart, and has amazing hockey vision. There is no way on earth he’d make the Leafs lineup, but if he did, I think everyone would be happily surprised. I also want to see Sparks play more for the Leafs, and not in a backup capacity.

(9) You’ve uncovered a genie in a bottle that looks auspiciously like Lou Lamoriello. This genie has said he will grant you one wish in the form of an unconditional request: you are allowed to make one (and only one) change to the Leafs roster. Mike Babcock will be unconditionally bound to do whatever you ask him to do (for the purposes of this exercise, demoting someone and calling up a replacement will be considered one move; otherwise, one actual move only).

What do you do, and why?

SCOTT: Demote Froese and bring up Arcobello permanently. Even if Arcobello doesn’t have enough time left to up his trade value, he’s still a useful and gifted forward who deserves more of a look in the NHL.

FIDDY: Trade Polak.

JP NIKOTA: I would love to see Corrado play more through the end of the year, and if that has to come at the expense of Polak, that’d be great. If this can only happen after Polak is traded, that’s cool too. Wouldn’t want to entirely destroy Polak’s trade value.

SCOTT: Babcock’s usage of Roman Polak and over-use of Byron Froese has burned the team a few times.

FIDDY: It gives Frank Corrado and Scott Harrington a better opportunity at being the 6D.

KATYA: Put Joffrey Lupul on LW where he belongs and play him with a decent offensive centre who shoots at a high rate, so not Holland.

************

Coming up Wednesday: Part 3, The Future

Source: PPP Midseason Roundtable, Part 2: The Players

Toronto Marlies: weekend in St. John's

From Pension Puppets

The Marlies went off to St. John’s to face the strange IceCaps, the team that has a very good record against them: 3-1-2 going into this weekend’s games.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

The way Montréal has been bouncing guys up and down to the IceCaps lately, it’s good the team is so conveniently close. They’ve done a lot more than just make the trade which got everyone’s dander up since the last time the Marlies played them.

First they got forward Max Friberg in a deal for their surplus goalie Dustin Tokarski. They sent Jacob de la Rose up to the Habs, and got Daniel Carr and Sven Andrighetto back. Stefan Fournier was traded to Arizona, and they sent one guy down to their ECHL team and released Eric Neilson from a PTO–Neilson was a big penalty minute, non-scoring guy.

The plus/minus on all of that adds up to -1 goalie, -1 forward, and then you add in John Scott and it’s all back to how it was. Neilson barely played, so Scott is very fit for that role. If he ever reports to the team. He did not for Saturday, so instead the IceCaps welcomed Nikita Sherbak, a top draft pick from 2014 who’s been out with an injury. I know who’d I rather have in my lineup.

Meanwhile, Rich Clune is with the Leafs on their road trip, so the Marlies recalled good Orlando Solar Bear’s forward Eric Faille. He had one game with the Marlies so far this year, where his goal led the comeback against the Utica Comets who were up 3-1. The Marlies took that one to OT and ultimately lost.

The rest of the Marlies changes happened before this set of games, but to refresh memories, Connor Brown is still out with and injury, Scott Harrington has been scratched lately and may be injured, Kasperi Kapanen is back, and checking the status of the Marco Yo-Yo: currently with the Marlies.

Toronto Marlies at St. John’s Ice Caps

Saturday, January 16

This game was about one thing: Goals, goals, goals.

Some were gorgeous.

Some were frustrating, like when IceCap’s Charles Hudon, who has a way with the Marlies, ripped the puck right off of Jeremy Morin’s stick while he was fiddling around trying to decide what to do with it, and roared off and tied the game.

Brandon Leipsic’s second goal of the night chased Eddie Pasquale, a goalie the Marlies have a way with, and Zach Fucale took over. Trouble is, the Marlies have a way with him too.

The wheels came off completely for the IceCaps in the second. They started taking penalties by the tonne, and the ref wasn’t interested in playing any even up games. The ref in question is Terry Koharski who the IceCaps play-by-play man Brian Rogers does not care for at all.

The Marlies are not a team that sits quietly on a lead, however. They ended up with a 5-on-3, and just as the IceCaps killed the first penalty and it switched to a 5-on-4, they had a serious short-handed attempt. Antoine Bibeau was up to it, but he wasn’t a brick wall, since he’d already been done for 2 goals.

Leipsic quieted everyone down with the only goal in the second period, it gave him the hat trick, the team a 5-2 lead, and the crowd, evenly split as always between Marlies and IceCap fans, had nothing left to cheer for on either side.

The IceCaps continued to press hard in the third as they had all game, and the final score was 6-3.

At the end of the third, Hudon took a boarding penalty plus an unsportsmanlike like misconduct, and he was frustrated at the game, the officiating, and likely just being on the team when he’d like a chance at the NHL. I think we can all relate to that. He’s 5’10” and around 200 pounds. And I couldn’t help thinking what would have happened if John Scott were out there. He’s the biggest guy in the AHL right now at 260 pounds, and is never on the ice to handle the puck.

Rogers was also frustrated, and he went off a rant about how the IceCaps couldn’t by a frigging thing out there, and that was virtually a Canadian Heritage Moment and a reason why AHL games are so much fun.

T.J. Brennan’s three assists put him ahead of William Nylander for the team scoring lead and within one point of the league lead. Maybe he’s more than just the best defenceman in the AHL?

See Maple Leafs Hot Stove for a more indepth recap.

Toronto Marlies as St. John’s Ice Caps

Sunday, January 17

The day dawned with the news that the meme had landed.

There were rumours he was on the roster or in the lineup, and it was a big buzz or anticipation, but in the end, the IceCaps iced a hockey team. No John Scott today.

More, importantly, Garret Sparks was back in net! It started out as a tight game, with no goals coming in the first period, and the Marlies just barely outshooting the IceCaps. (In the AHL, that always means shots on goal, as that’s all that’s tracked.)

In the second, the troubling trend from Saturday continued with the IceCaps outshooting the Marlies. They had better control of the puck today and the Marlies didn’t.

But the IceCaps have some real defensive failures from time to time, and early in the second they left Soshnikov totally alone in the slot, and you can’t do that. 1-0 Marlies.

The Marlies took a penalty shortly after and chased their tails for most of the PK and paid for it. Tie game.

Less than a minute later and an easy tic-tac-toe goal for Casey Bailey from Brett Findlay who made the play with Faille in the right spot to be the tac. 2-1 Marlies.

The IceCaps got another power play goal, the Marlies PK unable to do anything to prevent it. Tie game again.

The third period was where the heroes got separated from the goats. Problem is, sometimes they’re the same guy!

Lucas Lessio took a penalty for the IceCaps, which is bad, but then Markus Eisenschmid outplayed T.J. Brennan to get his first pro goal. And it was a shorty.

A bit later it was Morgan Ellis from out in the weeds, and it was 4-2 IceCaps and they seemed like they could roll home on that lead.

But the Marlies don’t quit. An excellent rush by Rinat Valiev who made the play possible, led to Arcobello and Morin combining to get it in the net by rushing in and winning the battle for the slot. 4-3 IceCaps.

The hero turned into the goat when Valiev, just trying to move the puck up in front of Sparks, got done by Lessio who snuck up and shoved it off of Valiev’s stick and right past a startled Sparks. 5-3 IceCaps.

The Marlies pulled the goalie really early, and there were two goals: one from T.J. Brennan from a shot from the blueline, and one a few seconds later where the IceCaps put the game away. 6-4 was the final score, and the Marlies got beat by the team that played better.

Too many penalties, too much defensive slack, too much lack of speed against a tough team that had found their cohesion, and the lazy Sunday game went against them.

T.J. Brennan is now tied with the AHL points leaders with 38 points, pending the results of later games.

The Marlies next game is Wednesday against Syracuse. Will Jonathan Drouin appear?

Nylander won’t, but it’s getting closer:

Source: Toronto Marlies: weekend in St. John's

The Toronto Marlies are lucky and good, and beat the Comets in a shootout

From Pension Puppets

Antoine Bibeau in action with the Leafs. – John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Marlies are good enough to win without their star William Nylander, or Josh Leivo. But some other familiar faces are back and helped the team stay perfect in the shootout.

Look Who’s Back!

Also back on the Marlies is the now healthy Garret Sparks, who sat in backup to Antoine Bibeau. This left Ray Emery a healthy scratch, and it will be interesting to watch the Leafs and see how long they keep him on his PTO as insurance against more goalie injuries. And of course, no lineup shuffle would be complete without Mark Arcobello switching teams. With Byron Froese healthy, he’s back on the farm.

The Marlies are a very good team, there is no question of that, and the way they’ve played without a bunch of their top guys has proven it. But if Andrew Campbell having a career year in scoring isn’t enough of a clue that there’s some luck at play, this PDO chart of the AHL should prove it. The Marlies have had very good goaltending, but they also have the highest shooting percentage in the AHL.

This is the creation of Sean Tierney and he’s worth a follow if you’re interested in AHL, NHL or NWHL stats.

Toronto Marlies 3-2 over Utica Comets in a thrilling shootout

The Marlies played a rare low shooting game–for them. The Comets had 37 shots to the Marlies’ 22. They started out well with Arcobello back as the top centre, Kasperi Kapanen back as his winger, and Jeremy Morin filling out the other side. Morin knows Arcobello from the bronze medal winning USA team at the 2015 IIHF World Championships. Arcobello impressed in that event, but Morin, playing down the lineup, did not.

Nikita Soshnikov opened the scoring for the Marlies with an unassisted beauty of a goal where he plucked the puck out of the air and took off with it. The Comets tied it up at the last minute on a power play goal after the Marlies had taken two somewhat foolish penalties in a row.

Ryan Rupert got the lead in the second. He was promoted up to second line centre with Brendan Leipsic and Matt Frattin, and he really stepped up. His 3 shots on goal were second only to Morin’s 4.

Utica tied it up again midway through the third, and the Marlies finally poured on the high-octane offence they are known for. When they are going all out to score, the result is fast and furious and results in the occasional heart in the throat moment as the other team grabs a breakaway or an odd-man rush.

Antoine Bibeau saw more of those than he likely wanted to in his first game since January 3, but he’s been looking at NHL players coming at him in practice while he was sitting in backup for the Leafs; he was very up to this task and was the player of the game for the Marlies.

Overtime didn’t decide it, and the Marlies weren’t fantastic at 3-on-3, but they were flawless in the shootout again. The Utica broadcasters mentioned that the Marlies have not given up a single goal on the shootout all year. The Comets nearly broke that streak on their last try–Bibeau was beat and out of position, but Curtis Valk managed only to put himself in the net, the puck went wide.

Soshnikov had the goal for the Marlies as the first shooter, and he was very good all game as was his centre, Frederik Gautier. The depth is showing itself very well on this team as they move up to fill the void left by the injury to William Nylander and the loss of Josh Leivo to the Leafs.

Kapanen looked fast and full of energy for his first game back, and his line funnelled all their shooting through Jeremy Morin. That’s not a terrible thing to have happen, but if they stick together as a line, I would hope to see more shots from Kapanen and Arcobello. They have a lot of potential as complimentary parts.

Check out Soshnikov’s goal in regulation. It doesn’t quite show him plucking the puck out of the air in the neutral zone, but the goal is lovely on it’s own. Sorry for the quality of the footage.

Source: The Toronto Marlies are lucky and good, and beat the Comets in a shootout