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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:

[embedded content]

Friday, January 29, 2016

You know who’s back. You know.

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

[embedded content]

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

Leafs have hit bottom plenty of times in last 50 years

From The Star

For a team that is tied for last in the NHL, with one win in its last 10 games and likely to miss the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 seasons, things sure are quiet around the Toronto Maple Leafs.

There will be no bloodletting this year as there was last when general manager Dave Nonis, head coach Peter Horachek, the assistant coaches and a bevy of scouts lost their jobs.

The off-season hirings of head coach Mike Babcock and GM Lou Lamoriello have changed the conversation from: “How bad are the Leafs?” to “How good will they be in a year or two?”

Tyler Bozak, who has lived through the tumultuous times in an entire NHL career spent with the Leafs, has noticed.

“There’s a lot of excitement with Mike and Lou here,” Bozak said. “They’ve done a lot of good things with teams before. There’s a lot of trust for them to turn the ship around here. Hopefully, we’re on the right track.”

That may not be reflected in the standings, where the Leafs (17-22-9) find themselves tied for last in points with Columbus and Edmonton.

But there’s a plan that goes beyond this season, building on recent drafts that netted them such prospects as William Nylander and Mitch Marner, and trades that brought them others like Kasperi Kapanen and Zach Hyman.

The Leafs have had terrible seasons before, each with its own set of ramifications. The franchise has been in seeming disarray for almost 50 years.

Source: Leafs have hit bottom plenty of times in last 50 years

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

Fighting in the AHL and Drouin watch: Marlies host the Crunch

From Pension Puppets

This was a heck of a night to recap the Marlies game.

Fighting in the AHL

There’s a video many people have watched of AHL player Brian McGrattan getting knocked out in a fight. It’s a tough view for many, and the fans’ behaviour is troubling.

McGrattan has played for a laundry list of teams and last had something like a full season in the NHL in 2013-2014. He signed on to the Anaheim Ducks this year as a free agent and has played 36 games for their AHL team. He has 8 points, a decently legitimate number of shots on goal, and 94 penalty minutes.

There is a perception, partly based in reality, that the AHL has a fight every game. That’s not really true, but it depends on which teams you watch as to how many you see.

This chart is the work of @NHLtoSeatle and you should give a follow if you have any interest at all in NHL expansion or western hockey.

There are, of course fights in the NHL too. There was one last night where Dion Phaneuf took on Brayden Schenn, perhaps confusing him with his brother who is more known for engaging in that sort of thing. Mike Babcock had this to say after:

“I thought the Phaneuf fight was a big deal for us. We got competing and controlling a lot of the game from that point,” said Babcock. “If you have people in your lineup that are capable of looking after themselves, it’s a real positive.

“It just keeps the flies off a little bit. It’s nice to have guys who are capable of looking after your teammates.”

Is it worth it? And who gets to decide? And if we’re worried about the concussion protocols and attitudes in the NHL, then what is happening in the AHL where they are supposed to be following NHL rules?

McGrattan said this after (It has been reported that coach Dallas Eakins sent him home from the road trip.):

Rich Clune is the man known for fighting on the Marlies, and he does; he was involved in the most recent Marlies fight on January 9. Other guys on the team have had fights too. But Clune makes a valid point here. Even he walks away sometimes.

Justin Johnson had the one before Clune’s on January 3, and he’s much more a pure enforcer than Clune. Clune’s usually busy playing with serious, offensively-minded guys. Johnson has 8 games so far with 1 point (anyone can get an assist on the Marlies) and 36 penalty minutes. Johnson was literally signed to be good in the room, it should be remembered.

But if even the low, low fighting Marlies have more than one guy to take on the role of tough guy or adrenaline booster or fly shooer, when will it ever go away on it’s own? Or do we expect guys like McGrattan and John Scott and Johnson to just move down to the ECHL like Eric Neilson did when Scott bounced off the IceCaps roster.

And then we ask what the concussion protocol is there, I suppose.

When discussing the incident with Elliott Friedman, McGrattan talked about the fan reaction.

…as McGrattan said, it looked brutal. There was the injury, and there was the cheering.

“The fans here, they don’t know any better,” was all he said about that.

Maybe it’s time we all did.

Syracuse at Marlies – January 20, 2016

Drouin Watch

Last weekend we played Where in the World is John Scott. This time, it’s Jonathon Drouin’s turn.

Unless you’ve been really out of the loop, you’ve likely heard that the Tampa Bay Lightning sent their talented young forward, Jonathan Drouin to the Syracuse Crunch amidst statements from his agent that he’s unhappy with his usage and wants a trade.

A trade seems almost certain, but Steve Yzerman was not hurrying. As a result, the crunch games are buzzing with scouts, more so than usual. Drouin has 2 goals and 1 assist in 7 games so far and 16 SOG. That’s not Nylander or Arcobello territory for shooting, but it’s not bad.

And then before the game started, the bomb dropped:

And then the countering statement:

So no Drouin for the scouts to watch. I don’t think the Marlies will be unhappy with the scrutiny of all those bored scouts. Watch for our own take on the Marlies UFA players and their trade prospects coming soon.

Lineup Changes

There are some new faces in town!

Defenceman Eric Baier and forward Rylan Schwartz were called up from the Orlando Solar Bears and signed to PTO contracts so they can play. Both have some AHL experience, but if they draw into the lineup, they’ll be making their Marlies debut. Baier is the captain of the Solar Bears, and they are a small squad spread very thin right now without these two and Éric Faille who is already with the Marlies.

Defencemen Stuart Percy and Justin Holl were both injured on the weekend and are unlikely to play.

The Game

The game opened to some furious action. Both of these teams are fast, hard-playing sides that play to win. Kristers Gudlevskis, in net for Syracuse, had to work, making some key saves right away.

Both of the new callups were in the game for the Marlies, and along with Faille and Brett Findlay, that made four Solar Bears in the lineup. None of them looked terribly out of place, but the drop from Marc Arcobello at 1C to Ryan Rupert on the second line was pretty steep.

The up and down action continued for 10 minutes, with the Marlies leading 9-4 in shots on goal. The Marlies took a classic, fairly foolish, holding penalty on a Syracuse rush. Antoine Bibeau dumped a Crunch player in his crease on the delayed call and got away with it, but on the power play itself, he let in a dribbler that did not make him look good at all.

Viktor Loov, on the ice with T.J. Brennan and the Arcobello line, got an opportunity to take a beautiful pass and put it right past Gudlevskis. They looked like they were on the power play.

The goal was Loov’s first of the year, and the pass from Brennan put him on top of the AHL scoring list. It might not last, but he’s a defenceman and he’s leading the league in points. Amazing.

At the end of the period the shots were 14-11 for the Marlies, with a tie game.

The Crunch came out and took over the first half of the second, evened up the shot clock and hemmed the Marlies in. But they took a penalty for roughing.

The Marlies played a great power play with lots of chances, and as it ended, Faille had a very good scoring chance when the penalty killers got stuck on the ice. The Marlies had found their feet again.

The play stayed dead even in the second, and Kasperi Kapanen got all out hearts pumping when he turned on the turbocharger and outskated a Crunch D and made Gudlevskis come out to play the puck. It’s obvious in hindsight–like most things are–that he was really not well at the start of the year.

The Crunch got the go-ahead goal in the last minute of play on a rush by Cameron Darcy, when Bibeau seemed to be expecting a pass.

In the third, the Marlies were getting a little sloppy, and three goals came in a minute an a half. Arcobello got the first on an excellent shot, but two for the Crunch put them up 4-2.

Nikita Soshnikov and Zach Hyman, who were playing with Arcobello and were fantastic all night, got it to 4-3 with a great move by Soshnikov to keep control of the puck and shoot it in for Hyman to get a goal off the rebound.

This top line started to get a lot of icetime in the last few minutes of the game. They had a frantic flurry with Brennan working as the fourth forward, and Gudlevskis was under seige, but he weathered it.

The Marlies were not having a good time of it near the end of the game, and I was resigned to seeing them drop this one, when the Marlies interrupted a Crunch pass, and then Arco! Bello! came over the boards, outskated the D (not quite as fast as Kapanen), took the puck in and no doubt, that was going in. Beautiful game tying goal.

Bibeau made a sort of lazy play on the puck into the corner a few seconds later which the Marlies didn’t clear, and he had to make a couple of very good saves when the Crunch picked it up and got off two good shots. To OT.

OT was short and very sweet, with Brendan Leipsic coming out on the first change obviously ready to dish and dance with the puck. He tried one move, was denied, and then Rupert without a stick behind the net kicked the puck out and Leipsic spun once, shot the puck and in. Game over. Marlies win 5-4. Don’t they always? It seems like they do.

The next games are a weekend afternoon series against Utica. Hopefully, nothing other than hockey occurs, but you never know. Maybe Vancouver will send down a Sedin or something.

Source: Fighting in the AHL and Drouin watch: Marlies host the Crunch

Five reasons why Toronto Marlies are leading the AHL

From The Star

The numbers add up to something very impressive for the Toronto Marlies.

Entering their Wednesday-night home game against Syracuse — which also happens to be the mid-point of their season — the Marlies (31-8-2) are first overall by a wide margin in the American Hockey League, with 64 points in 41 games. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (28-9-1) is seven points back.

The Marlies own the league’s best goals-per-game average (3.85) and fifth-best goals-against average (2.44).

They have a strong candidate for the mid-season MVP in defenceman T.J. Brennan, as well as rookie coach Sheldon Keefe being acknowledged as an early candidate for coach of the year. Five of the players rank in the top 20 in plus-minus while five are in the top 35 in scoring.

And Toronto has accomplished this despite injuries and callups over the past month to some of its best players.

Here’s a look at five reasons why the team is in first place:

Top sniper

T.J. Brennan was perched as the league’s leading scorer over the weekend, but has since dropped to second overall. The NHL.com, and other critics, mentioned him as a strong candidate for the first-half MVP. With one of the best shots in the AHL, he anchors the power play and is recognized as one of the league’s best puck movers.

Coaching

Sheldon Keefe insists the team’s success is based on talent, work ethic, leadership, and other details; but he’s turned heads in his rookie season in the AHL by bringing a talented group, led by a veteran defence, together for the league’s current best record. His roster has recently been struck with callups, and injuries to his top two goalies, penalty-killing forward Sam Carrick and key defencemen Stuart Percy and Justin Holl.

That’s forced the team to call upon four players from Orlando in the ECHL and sign two AHL veterans to PTO contracts this week. Expectations, though, remain very high.

High flyer

William Nylander was well out in front of AHL scoring at Christmas, before he suffered a devastating injury on a hit to the head during the opening game of the world junior championships for his native Sweden, Dec. 26. Nylander also had a shot at history — a chance to become the first 19-year-old in league history to reach 100 points; he has since dropped to sixth in league scoring, but recently returned to skating. Toronto has weathered his absence, along with that of Connor Brown, the AHL’s top rookie scorer a year ago, who has been injured (foot) since November.

Leadership

Andrew Campbell flies under the radar as one of the top leaders in the AHL. Coaches and teammates say the captain set the tone for work ethic way back in the summer, when most of the roster and the coaching staff was set, and adopted a belief that they could be the best team in the league. Campbell leads the league with a plus-26 (rookies Rinat Valiev, Zach Hyman, Holl and Nikita Soshnikov join him in the top 20). He’s also the driving force behind a league-leading penalty kill.

Penalty kill prowess

That penalty kill owns a top rating on the road and fourth overall in the league. Frederik Gauthier has teamed with Campbell, Percy, Carrick, Brennan, Hyman and others, to form a reliable PK unit, directed by Gord Dineen, who coached last year’s team and has returned this year as an assistant. Gauthier’s specialty on the penalty kill also reflects a dedication to two-way hockey useful at the NHL level with the Leafs under coach Mike Babcock.

Source: Five reasons why Toronto Marlies are leading the AHL