AHL Western Conference Semi-Finals 2015

May 4, 2015

It’s back to a best of seven for the semi-finals and both encounters feature a team that swept and the other who were taken all the way to five games.

1-Utica Comets vs. 6-Oklahoma City Barons

Top seeds Utica were never behind in their first round series but had to win two in overtime to put out Chicago, who failed to progress for the first time in eight years.

Showing the qualities from the regular season, the Comets only allowed two goals on average per game, as once again Jacob Markstrom gave his team a chance to win.

They will face 6th seeds Oklahoma City Barons, who caused the first upset by sweeping San Antonio.

Scoring nine goals in their first two games, OKC mounted a terrific comeback in game two before clinching in overtime. Game three would also be decided in extra hockey, although in a far tighter game which saw just three goals.

The Barons relied on some familiar names to in the first round as Ryan Hamilton scored three goals, Matthew Ford registered four points and Andrew Miller three. Rookie centre man Connor Jones also chipped in with two goals.

Utica’s assist king Cal O’Reilly was back in business with seven helpers while Sven Baertschi has flourished since the trade and put up five points in just three games. His rookie partner Hunter Shinkaruk had three points and offensive defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti had a pair of goals and assists.

Brendan Gaunce could be a man to watch as after being dropped for games three and four, he put home the series winner in game five and most likely has a fire in his belly to prove the coach wrong.

Both teams had success with the man advantage, especially Oklahoma who were firing like they had done back before Christmas, tallying at 35%. Utica’s PP running at over 20% is not to be sniffed at but surprising their penalty kill gave up four goals on 25 attempts.

The two teams met just twice during the regular season. OKC claiming a 1-0 OT win at home in December and losing the reverse fixture 4-2 in March, but at a time when the Barons roster was still severely depleted.

In what will be a real clash of styles, the series will be decided by the clash between the Barons offensive power and Utica’s excellent blue line and goaltending.

I slightly favour the firepower and the experience of OKC, who will be looking to split the initial series in Utica this coming Thursday.

Prediction: OKC Barons in six

Game 1 – Thu., May 7 – Oklahoma City at Utica, 7:00

Game 2 – Fri., May 8 – Oklahoma City at Utica, 7:00

Game 3 – Mon., May 11 – Utica at Oklahoma City, 8:00

Game 4 – Wed., May 13 – Utica at Oklahoma City, 8:00

*Game 5 – Thu., May 14 – Utica at Oklahoma City, 8:00

*Game 6 – Mon., May 18 – Oklahoma City at Utica, 7:00

*Game 7 – Wed., May 20 – Oklahoma City at Utica, 7:00

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2-Grand Rapids Griffins vs. 4-Rockford IceHogs

The 2013 champions and second seeds will be looking to harness home advantage in what looks an incredibly tight match-up on paper. Grand Rapids lost the two opening games to Toronto in the first round before roaring back to win every game at the Van Andel Arena to take the series in five.

In a high scoring series, it was Grand Rapids special teams that turned the balance more often than not.

In somewhat of a surprise, Rockford swept the defending Calder Cup Champions, twice scoring four goals in Texas to take the opening two games before returning home to clinch the series in overtime.

These Midwest divisional rivals finished just a point apart during the regular season (100 and 99 respectively) and in meeting eight times, split the series. The lowest scoring encounter between them during the regular season saw three goals so I think we can expect some exciting games.

Grand Rapids were bolstered with the addition of Teemu Pulkkinen and he found the twine six times as his dominance in the AHL continued. Andy Miele also put up six points while impressive rookies Andreas Athanasiou (4G/1A) and Mark Zengerle (5) both put up five points. Secondary goal scoring came in the form of Nosek, Bertuzzi and Aubry tallying two goals each.

Centreman Phillip Danault led the way for Rockford with a pair of goals and assists, while new addition Spencer Abbott put up three points, with his two goals both powerplay markers. Secondary scoring came from Brandon Mashinter, Peter Regin and two rookie defenseman in the shape of Stephen Johns and Ville Pokka, with all garnering three points in the opening round.

These two teams match-up so well in every category that it’s almost impossible to pick a winner and despite Grand Rapids impressive home record, Rockford know how to win in that building. The difference could be in goaltending, where I still don’t particularly rate Grand Rapids duo and is probably their weakest aspect. Michael Leighton was stellar in the first round for Rockford and if he keeps up a similar vein of form then that could swing this in favour of the fourth seeds.

Prediction: Rockford in six

Game 1 – Wed., May 6 – Rockford at Grand Rapids, 7:00

Game 2 – Fri., May 8 – Rockford at Grand Rapids, 7:00

Game 3 – Wed., May 13 – Grand Rapids at Rockford, 8:00

Game 4 – Thu., May 14 – Grand Rapids at Rockford, 8:00

*Game 5 – Sun., May 17 – Grand Rapids at Rockford, 5:00

*Game 6 – Tue., May 19 – Rockford at Grand Rapids, 7:00

*Game 7 – Wed., May 20 – Rockford at Grand Rapids, 7:00

 


Calder Cup Western Conference Quarterfinal Previews 2015

April 22, 2015

The 2015 Calder Cup playoffs are here and there is no better time of the year.

The Western Conference Quarterfinal’s will be contested by five of the teams that fought it out last year, including the current holders, Texas Stars.

The first round is a best of five, with the higher seed choosing which way they would like to have their home advantage.

Interestingly on this occasion, each lower seed will begin with two home games before the series switches to the arena of the higher seed for a possible three games. I wonder how many higher seeds may regret that decision if they trail 2-0 heading back home.

1-Utica Comets vs. 8-Chicago Wolves

This is the match-up of the young upstarts against the old hands, with Utica’s first shot at the playoffs in their second season of existence, while

Chicago are looking to repeat their 2008 Calder Cup victory.

The two sides faced four times during the regular season and although Utica won convincingly in the last encounter, it’s Chicago who held sway with three victories(one in OT).

Utica led the North Division from the get-go but only reached the pinnacle of the Western Conference with a terrific late run of form which saw them finish 13-1-1-1.

Chicago never reached the heights of last season when they finished second in the league and only really cemented a playoff berth with a seven game win streak at the end of march into early April.

Both teams are equally matched as regards special teams and perhaps the biggest key to this series is who get’s their nose in front.

Through the regular season, both teams records winning leading after the first and second period were extremely impressive and frankly frightening.

If Utica do hold an edge, it’s probably in net where they can call on the services of Jacob Markstrom, who is back from Vancouver with Ryan Miller now fit.

The Comets hold the second best defensive record in the West and it’s likely to be crucial to any success they are likely to have. Chicago’s road record this season is actually better than form at home and being the 8th seed, this may actually help them.

A tough series to weigh up, as they all are, I’m slightly favouring Utica.

Prediction: Utica to win in five

Game 1 – Wed., Apr. 22 – Utica at Chicago, 8:00

Game 2 – Fri., Apr. 24 – Utica at Chicago, 8:00

Game 3 – Wed., Apr. 29 – Chicago at Utica, 7:00

*Game 4 – Fri., May 1 – Chicago at Utica, 7:00

*Game 5 – Sat., May 2 – Chicago at Utica, 7:00

2-Grand Rapids Griffins vs. 7-Toronto Marlies

Grand Rapids catapulted themselves to the Midwest Division title with a quite incredible 19 game point streak. Up until that point, they were a team on the fringes of the playoffs, as call-ups and injuries had taken their toll.

The Griffins were the highest scorers in the entire league during regulation play but will be missing leading goalscorer Teemu Pulkkinen in this opening round. Also missing will be Landon Ferraro and netminder Petr Mrazek, both were mainstays during the Griffins Calder Cup victory in 2013.

Grand Rapids held sway with Toronto during the four encounters in the regular season and blasted 19 goals in winning three games.

They weren’t all one sided affairs as the scoreline may suggest and Toronto are the team on the up. The Marlies were rock bottom of the Western Conference on December 1, but clawed their way back with some excellent even strength play, clinching a playoff berth with two games to spare.

The special teams battle will be a critical one as far as the seventh seeds are concerned, as they struggled with both aspects throughout the entire season.

Toronto have now reached the playoffs for four straight seasons and in each of the last three campaigns they’ve only lost to the eventual champions, including Grand Rapids in 2013. The Griffins fell short of defending their championship by losing to champions elect Texas last year and will be hungry to regain the title.

This series will ultimately come down to how well Toronto defend and if they can rely on the excellent goaltending they’ve had this season.

My loyalties are obviously towards Toronto but I have a feeling that the Marlies may well pull this out the bag, with confidence high after a seven game win streak to end the season.

Prediction: Toronto in four

Game 1 – Sat., Apr. 25 – Grand Rapids at Toronto, 3:00

Game 2 – Sun., Apr. 26 – Grand Rapids at Toronto, 3:00

Game 3 – Wed., Apr. 29 – Toronto at Grand Rapids, 7:00

*Game 4 – Sat., May 2 – Toronto at Grand Rapids, 7:00

*Game 5 – Sun., May 3 – Toronto at Grand Rapids, 5:00

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3-San Antonio Rampage vs. 6-Oklahoma City Barons

San Antonio are back in the playoffs after two barren seasons, where they played well below .500 hockey. The second highest scorers in the conference may well have been the number one seeds had they not finished with a 0-2-2-0 record but I don’t think they’ll be too upset at facing OKC in the first round.

The two teams have met twelve times already this season and despite half of those games being decided in overtime or the shootout, the Rampage hold a 9-1-0-2 record against their opponents.

The last time San Antonio made the post season, they faced OKC in the second round but fell by four games to one, and that’s the furthest they’ve ever been in the quest for the Calder Cup.

This is the farewell tour for Oklahoma City Barons, as they will cease to be no more after this post season. In their four years of existence they’ve made the playoffs on every occasion and reached the conference finals twice. OKC rather fell into a playoff spot, no doubt thankful for an impressive start to the season which saw them leading the standards for a long time.

Injuries and call-ups left them with a bare a roster as you can imagine, even at one point having to sign Brampton Beast (CHL) players on PTO’s to play a game in Toronto. For the playoffs they will have some reinforcements back and some of their injury worries have been lessened.

OKC have excellent special teams which should give them a chance to compete but I imagine this to be a very high scoring series between two side that have lots of goals in them.

My heart says OKC, my head goes for San Antonio.

Prediction: San Antonio in five

Game 1 – Thu., Apr. 23 – San Antonio at Oklahoma City, 8:00

Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 25 – San Antonio at Oklahoma City, 8:00

Game 3 – Wed., Apr. 29 – Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 8:00

*Game 4 – Fri., May 1 – Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 8:30

*Game 5 – Sat., May 2 – Oklahoma City at San Antonio, 8:00

4-Rockford IceHogs vs. 5-Texas Stars

Rockford are back in the playoffs after four barren seasons. Before that they had made the playoffs for three straights year but never progressed beyond the second round, where ironically is the last time they played Texas, losing the series 4-0.

The IceHogs hold the best defensive record in the Western Conference, which will doubtless be tested by a potent Texas offense.

Rockford held sway during regular season meetings between the two teams, winning all four games, though three were decided by a solitary goal. With Chicago looking good in the NHL playoffs, there will be no goaltending help in the form of Scott Darling, while Texas will have a full roster to choose from with Dallas eliminated. Rockford score by committee and will doubtless hope recent addition Spencer Abbott keeps up his incredible scoring rate since his arrival late in the season.

Texas Stars are the reigning Calder Cup Champions and will be looking to made their third finals appearance in just six years of existence.

they still have players from last seasons successful campaign, including Maxime Fortunus and that experience will be their biggest asset. Texas will rely on Travis Morin to lead the offense and it’s likely that Jussi Rynnas will start between the pipes. Texas had to push relatively hard to make the post season towards the backend of the season, but an 11-3 stretch for four weeks from mid March

saw them clinch fifth spot.

I believe that holding sway through the regular season and home advantage(24-9-4-1 during reg season) will favour Rockford as they eliminate the champs.

Prediction: Rockford in four

Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 24 – Rockford at Texas, 8:30

Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 25 – Rockford at Texas, 8:00

Game 3 – Wed., Apr. 29 – Texas at Rockford, 8:00

*Game 4 – Fri., May 1 – Texas at Rockford, 8:00

*Game 5 – Sat., May 2 – Texas at Rockford, 8:00

 


Team GB’s Olympic Ice Hockey Dream

March 29, 2015

During the Ice Hockey qualification tournament for the 2014 Winter Olympics, GB Men’s team came as close as they have done in recent history by making the last phase.

Facing Latvia (11), France (14) and Kazakhstan (17) was never going to be an easy task however and despite some promising moments, GB lost all three games and hosts Latvia won the group.

I’m sure we can remember how they fared in the Winter Olympics, winning a host of fans and admirers along the way.

All teams, bar the hosts and eight top seeds, will learn later this year which qualifying group they will placed in for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, Korea.

This makes the upcoming 2015 IIHF World Championship’s even more important, as the rankings for this year will decide all seeds for the Olympics.

GB will be contesting Division I Group B in Eindhoven, Netherlands, facing the 25th ranked hosts along with Korea(23), Croatia(28), Lithuania(26) and Estonia(29).

Great Britain will be the highest raked team, currently 22nd in the world and there should be high hopes for a medal of some colour at the very least.

Even a Gold medal and promotion would be unlikely to see them jump high enough to avoid Pre-Qualification but the ambition to host the group as the top seed for PQ should be motivation enough to do well.

Olympic qualifying

GB will have a new coach in the shape of Peter Russell, his first time taking charge of the Men’s national team. Russell is Great Britain’s most successful junior coach and has won four gold’s, one silver and two bronze medals in 11 tournaments in charge of GB U20s and GB U18s.

His experience in these tournaments will doubtless hold him in good stead, while his determined and no nonsense coaching style will hold all players responsible for their actions. That’s something we’ve not seen from recent GB Men’s teams, who despite competing well at times, have lacked discipline when it really mattered and it‘s cost them dearly.

After being relegated in 2013 from Div. I Group A, having lost all five games and scoring just five times, GB finished fourth in this division last year, winning three and losing.

Russell has named a squad of 31 heading into two friendly international fixtures against Poland, 9-10 April, with the final 23 being announced shortly afterwards

The new coach tends to do things his way, not listening to calls from media or fans, for this player or that, and there are some interesting selections.

Back in come Russell Cowley and Craig Peacock, the latter had to miss the last World Championships through injury, while Matty Davies and David Clarke both miss out this time due to that reason.

The influx of younger players is perhaps the most controversy but most encouraging in my opinion.

Former GB U20 players in Josh Batch, James Griffin, Matt Haywood, Tom Murdy, Sam Oakford, Jack Prince, Joey Lewis and Liam Stewart are in the 31, as in Jonathan Boxill who was an U18 representative.

Hopefully in the run-up to the Olympic qualification in 2016, some more young talent can come through as GB start to showcase more promising young players and have success with their junior teams.

The U18’s have been contesting Div II Group A in recent times and after recording just four victories in the previous three years, finishing fourth on each occasion, just this weekend they took a step forward by winning bronze.

The U20 side is also on the rise having been relegated in 2012 from Div. I Group A.

The following year saw them win just one game but survive relegation before hosting their group in 2014 and making great strides forward.

They would have to beat Japan in the last game to make sure of survival but in earlier games had only lost to eventual Gold medallists Italy in overtime and beaten Bronze medallists France in a shootout.

Despite being relegated due to fielding an eligible player, 2015 saw them gain promotion immediately, winning every game, taken to overtime on just one occasion.

Great Britain haven’t looked as strong in depth of Men’s hockey for a long while and there should be some real optimism moving forward into these world championships and then the Olympic qualification phase.

World Championship (Division 1B) Eindhoven, 13th to 19th April 2015

13 Apr Great Britain v Croatia

14 Apr, Estonia v Great Britain

16 Apr, Korea v Great Britain

18 Apr, Great Britain v Netherlands

19 Apr, Lithuania v Great Britain

GB INITIAL 31-MAN SQUAD

Josh Batch – Cardiff Devils

Chris Blight – Dundee Stars

Jonathan Boxill – Nottingham Panthers

Ben Bowns – Cardiff Devils

Russell Cowley – Coventry Blaze

Ben Davies – Braehead Clan

Robert Dowd – Sheffield Steelers

Robert Farmer – Nottingham Panthers

Mark Garside – Belfast Giants

James Griffin – Coventry Blaze

Matt Haywood – Braehead Clan

Robert Lachowicz – Nottingham Panthers

Stephen Lee – Nottingham Panthers

Joey Lewis- EC Bad Tolz

Stevie Lyle – Swindon Wildcats

Sam McCluskey – Dundee Stars

Tom Murdy- Telford Tigers

Stephen Murphy – Belfast Giants

Matthew Myers – Cardiff Devils

Sam Oakford – Nottingham Panthers

Ben O’Connor – Sheffield Steelers

Craig Peacock – Belfast Giants

David Phillips – Belfast Giants

Jonathan Phillips – Sheffield Steelers

Jack Prince – University of Alabama-Huntsville

Mark Richardson – Cardiff Devils

Colin Shields – Belfast Giants

Liam Stewart – Spokane Chiefs

Paul Swindlehurst – Dundee Stars

Ashley Tait – Coventry Blaze

Jonathan Weaver – Telford Tigers

 


Murray mastering the professional game

March 13, 2015

It’s an incredible story but one that has somehow crept under the hockey radar for the most part.

Pittsburgh Penguins goaltending prospect, Matt Murray, set an American Hockey League record by extending his shutout streak to 304 minutes and 11 seconds, taking him past Barry Brust, who had only just beaten Johnny Bower’s record in recent years.

He’s made an incredible beginning to his professional career in his rookie season, a start that must be unexpected in most quarters after a fluctuating spell in the junior game.

Murray was drafted by Sault. Ste. Marie in the second round (35th overall) of the 2008 OHL Priority Draft and made just 22 starts in the 2010/11 season as his Greyhound team finished last in the West Division.

He would begin the following year as the starter but lost his place to Dallas prospect Jack Campbell, who had come in via a trade in November.

After winning nine of his first 13 starts, Murray did not win a game in four November starts would only win four more games that season, with his confidence shaken. The irony of that now is that Campbell himself has had his struggles with the Dallas organisation and is currently trying to find his game in the ECHL after being usurped by Jussi Rynnas.

Murray was Pittsburgh’s third-round pick (83rd) in the 2012 NHL draft and really came into his own in his last two years of junior. Sault. Ste. Marie finished second and first in the West Division during that time, although there wasn’t much success in the playoffs that followed. After the second of those playoff exits, Murray joined Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pittsburgh AHL affiliate) and garnered his first action in the professional game.

Almost exactly eleven months ago now, Murray made his AHL debut for WBS against Utica, making 23 saves in a 2-0 loss. He then went on to make a third period relief appearance in the Eastern Conference Final, with Peter Manino pulled after allowing five goals. He would shut the door, stopping all eight shots though WBS still lost game three of the series 5-0.

Roll forward to this season and Murray began by recording a shutout in just his second game and followed that up by blanking St. Johns IceCaps in his tenth outing.

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His play was up and down as you might expect from a rookie, until the new year however, when he began 2015 with a shutout on January 2.

January would see a second duck egg, a 5-2 record and 1.55GAA despite being pulled at the months end, after allowing three goals in twelve shots.

As if that wasn’t enough, what followed was a remarkable run of form which eventually lead to his breaking the shutout record. Allowing one goal in two starts at the beginning of February before recording four straight shutouts, only seeing his streak broken with a heart breaking 1:11 to play in the third period against the Falcons in Springfield. His four consecutive shutouts were recorded against Portland Pirates, Providence Bruins, Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Manchester Monarchs respectively.

Murray’s nine shutouts this season ties the AHL’s mark by a rookie and it would have been ten for a new record barring the late goal in Springfield.

Blazing a trail, the rookie net minder leads the AHL in GAA, SV%, and unsurprisingly, shutouts.

His record of 19-8-2-1 is a big reason why WBS sit fourth in the Eastern Conference, pretty much nailed on for a post-season berth.

Murray has formed a good tandem with 27 year Jeff Zatkoff, who appears to be a good mentor for the young man, despite having the look of a career AHL’er about him.

With Thomas Griese currently occupying the number two slot in the Penguins organisation, if Murray continues to improve he could be a regular NHL player sooner than later if the start to his career stay’s on an upward curve.

A big and tall (6”4) netminder, the Thunder Bay native has an athletic style that isn’t always pretty to watch but he’s definitely showing a level of maturity and composure of a player beyond his tender years.

He has lots to work on, as does any young goaltender but he’s made an impressive start to his professional career and left his mark on the AHL already.

 


Marlies rookies lead way in School Day Win

February 25, 2015

The Toronto Marlies marked their second school day game of the season with their second victory, which left everyone at Ricoh Coliseum very happy bar the Charlotte Checkers.

Toronto only really played one very good period but it was enough to build a lead large enough for the victory.

Dominating the opening 90 seconds of play, the home team were for once able to make their dominance count shortly afterwards. Rupert and then Brown throwing the puck on net before Nylander showed a ton of determination in front to jab the puck home past a Charlotte defenseman and John Muse in net.

Leivo came within inches of making it 2-0 but his effort during an odd man rush produced a fantastic toe save from Muse who was going the wrong way.

A Toronto power play would be negated by Frattin but the home team owned the puck during four on four play and doubled their lead. Marshall throwing a floaty shot toward the net which Rupert deflected in.

Leivo yet again almost tallied but Muse had his number through the opening period. Despite various power plays, including a two man advantage, the Marlies couldn’t force home a third goal in an opening frame where they out-shot the visitors 13-4.

It was almost downhill the rest of the way for Toronto as Charlotte came out with fire in their belly and the home side were unable to match that intensity for the most part the rest of the way.

A wayward pass from Leipsic was intercepted by Woods and Gibson had to be sharp to turn aside the effort, just his sixth save of the game, two minutes into the middle frame.

The Checkers dominance continued as they owned zone time in Toronto’s end and were racking up the shots.

The turning point of the game for the visiting Checkers came with 6:41 to play in the second, as they had a perfectly good goal waived off as the official had already whistled the play down despite Gibson not having full control of the loose puck.

The shot clock at that point was tied at 14 and it must have been a dagger to Charlotte’s hearts when the Marlies extended their lead a minute later. McKegg sending Leivo away and he had Frattin for company and just one trailing defenseman to beat. Leivo showed confidence to ignore his team mate and rip a wrist shot past Muse in a flash.

Up 3-0 and twenty minutes to play this game was surely over right? Wrong. Charlotte came close to making a dent into their deficit eleven seconds, in as Trevor Carrick set-up Shugg who was denied by a combination of Gibson and the post.

Gibson then had to be equally brilliant to turn aside Charlotte on a power play that followed.

William Nylander almost closed the deal with a breakaway but he was hauled down while shooting and drew a penalty shot. The resulting effort was turned away by Muse who did well to stay with the forehand to backhand move that Nylander tried to pull off.

A double minor high sticking penalty by Marshall gave Charlotte one last chance with eleven minutes remaining but a combination of brave shot blocking and yet more solid play from Gibson kept them off the board.

It was then a real shame for the Toronto net minder that his shutout would be broken with just over four minutes left on the clock. With seconds left on another power play, Boychuck was the beneficiary of deflection in front to pot home from in close.

Any illusions of a comeback were extinguished by the hardworking Connor Brown who finally put this game to bed with an empty netter inside the last minute, after chasing down the loose puck.

Post Game Notes:

Two straight victories have kept the slim playoff hopes alive. Five points shy of eight place at the time of writing.

Rookie points scoring in this encounter came from Brown (3), Rupert (2) and Nylander (1).

Connor Brown has 44 points in 53 games, just one shy of the rookie lead held by Charles Hudon.

Ryan Rupert took his goals and assist tallies to ten, for 20 points in 35 games.

Christopher Gibson was once again a solid rock and stopped 30 shots. His 13th win on the season and was unlucky not to record his second shut-out on the year.

 


Marlies strike six in big comeback

February 23, 2015

Facing another goaltending alumni in Drew MacIntyre Sunday afternoon, the Toronto Marlies were desperate for a win to save an otherwise unproductive weekend.

Having played twice already, they faced a Charlotte Checkers team coming into Ricoh fresh, without any action since Thursday.

Troy Bodie had been officially announced as the new Marlies Captain for the rest of this season and his troops made a terrific start to the opening period.

Carrick with an effort just 19 seconds in that MacIntyre got enough of to send it high into the netting.

Carrick was proving a handful, no doubt looking to put one over his brother Trevor who plays for Charlotte, and his second effort seemed to handcuff MacIntyre who did well to recover.

The road team then struck to open the scoring against the run of play. Creating a rush from a turnover in their own zone, Aleardi beat the back-checking Ryan Rupert to a cross ice feed and his backhand five-hole finish was very nicely done.

That set-back with five minutes on the clock did nothing to quell the Marlies good play and they continued to dominate the first period.

Killing a penalty, Toronto drew a power play of their own and only MacIntyre denied them a tying goal as Leivo, Nylander and Rupert twice all wondered how they hadn’t tallied.

A nasty hit from Trevor Carrick on Froese, sent Toronto back on the power play but they were once again turned aside, no more so than on a highlight reel save.

Brown and Leivo went close before a huge rebound presented Leipsic with an open net and even the goal judge thought the new Marlies forward had scored but Drew MacIntyre threw out his glove hand behind and to his left to grab the puck. A quite remarkable save.

Bibeau wasn’t seeing much action but he had to be on his metal to deny McGinn with 12 seconds left on the clock during a penalty kill.

That save looked even better 42 seconds into the middle frame as Carrick finally struck.

Stripping the puck from his Trevor, he moved inside the last Charlotte defenseman and finished with as sweet a backhand effort as you’re likely to see.

Seconds after, Nylander then dispossessed Lowe of the puck and he would only be denied by MacIntyre as the wily old pro out waited the rookie, sliding across to make the stop.

Once again however, Charlotte responded with a sucker punch.

With the Marlies defense AWOL, Brody Sutter found himself in space in front of Bibeau and he gave the Toronto goalie no chance of making the save.

Josh Leivo has struggled to put the puck in the net this season compared to last but his individual effort tied up the game just four minutes later. Moving left to right behind the net, he came out the other side and spun around before firing home top shelf, short side, picking his spot perfectly.

The second half of the middle frame would bring see the home team’s performance drop a level and Charlotte started to take a hold.

It would garner them a power play goal with 1:12 left in the period but in truth it was far too easy for them.

McGinn left all alone and he deftly chipped the puck past Bibeau who once again had little chance to make any sort of stop.

Trailing 3-2 with twenty minutes to play, a big effort was needed and to their credit the Marlies responded. The legs didn’t look tired, or the minds jaded as they struck 37 seconds into the third from an unlikely source.

Carrick dropped a pass back to Froese, whose one timer produced a huge rebound that fell to Marshall in the high slot and the defenseman wasted no time in slapping home the loose puck for his first of the season.

Greg McKegg then took it upon himself almost single-handedly to take Toronto into the lead for the first time in the game. He drove across the blue paint but MacIntyre stayed with the puck to make a fine stop and shortly afterwards he couldn’t quite finish from an acute angle after more stellar work, this time down the left side.

The third period was one way traffic for a desperate Marlies team and they finally got their just rewards from another unlikely source.

Nylander with the puck down low on the left wing, looked up and saw MacWilliam jumping into the play and from halfway between the blue line and top of the left circle. With the puck in his wheelhouse MacWilliam absolutely hammered a one time effort past MacIntyre for just his second goal on the year. With the go-ahead goal timed at 8:30, Toronto could ill-afford to take their foot off the gas and on another nice set-up from Carrick, Leipsic was once again foiled by MacIntyre.

Sam Carrick was driving this Marlies ship like a man possessed and despite having defensemen draped over him, he powered his way to the net and despite two attempts he couldn’t force home the insurance marker.

To Antoine Bibeau’s credit he kept his concentration with the one-way traffic in front of him to make a pair of solid save with four minutes to play to ensure the lead stayed intact.

Thirty seconds later and Toronto made certain of the two points. A scramble in front as Leivo went close but credit to Greg McKegg who stayed with the play and was on hand to tap home to make it 5-3.

I don’t normally give many post game words to empty netters but it was a heads up play from Leipsic to ensure the win. He had a chance to shoot from just inside the blue line but he could have missed or been cut off by the trailing defenseman, so instead he showed team responsibility and maturity to instead look for Froese who had a far simpler chance to pot home into the vacant cage.

Post Game Notes:

First win in seven for Antoine Bibeau who had been on a 0-3-3 run.

I argued after Friday that Leipsic should be kept with Carrick and they teamed up well again today, along with Froese. Leipsic’s assist on empty netter means he has a point in each of his three games so far.

Matt Frattin hasn’t tallied a goal in five games now but he’s still an influence. Two assists for him in this one and 24 points in 35 Games.

Special teams continue to be an issue. PP was 0/4 while PK allowed 1/5. In fairness the power play looked much better today but MacIntyre was on fire.

Marlies fired 39 shots which I believe ties a season high. Through their last five games, though results haven’t gone their way, the average shots on net is up around 34, which is a huge improvement.

Spencer Abbott was absent with an upper body injury sustained Saturday.

 


Marlies tamed by Texas

February 22, 2015

Saturday’s have not been kind to the Toronto Marlies and they suffered yet another loss in a matinee game at Ricoh Coliseum.

To be frank they got exactly what the deserved as Texas out-played the home team and thoroughly deserved the two points.

Texas began like a team desperate to make the playoffs, recording the first five shots of the game and then hit the post. All that came in the opening five minutes as Toronto were lucky to come unscathed.

Well the Marlies were able to finally produce some offense, an odd-man rush came to nothing as Nylander should have done better to either shoot or find Brown despite a terrific play from the trailing defenseman. Leipsic was making an impression in his home debut and he went close with two efforts along with his new linemate Froese.

Toronto’s total of seven shots were produced during that spell of play and then a following power play.

Mikkelson with some pounding shots from the point was followed up by Nylander making some fancy moves around defenseman which look good on the highlight reel but again he looked for the pass rather than the shot.

Texas would take the lead in the 12th minute, which would see them end the period ahead. It wasn’t without controversy however as the marker would be credited to a tip in front from Henderson. It looked a debateable high stick but the officials chose not to use the video review in a baffling decision.

It was no more than the road side deserved however and they looked to continue their dominant play in the middle frame. Within 90 seconds they hit the iron again as Rallo saw his effort ring off the post and Texas domination of the first four minutes was only ended by a Marlies power play. Toronto failed to muster a single shot and it took Matt Frattin solo effort to produce anything of note as he beat two players before running out of real estate to put home his backhand effort.

The last eight minutes of the second were the Marlies best of the game and despite getting the shot clock close to parity they created very little in the way of clear cut chances or force Rynnas into making a save of any note.

The game was done as a contest inside the first five minutes of the third period with the Stars tallying twice in the space of 35 seconds. Like Friday night, another weak effort on the penalty kill allowed an easy chance in tight and Glennie made no mistake.

A slip from Knodel in his own zone presented Faille with the puck and he proceeded to take advantage by cruising by a flatfooted Stuart Percy and around the back of Gibson to score a beauty for his first ever AHL goal.

A real shame for Gibson however, who had been brilliant to keep his team in the game for such a long time despite Texas running riot.

Despite firing twelve shots in the final frame, Toronto never looked like mounting a comeback and only prevented Rynnas gaining the shutout inside the last two minutes.

With an extra attacker on, Frattin found Mikkelson from the slot and his first time effort gave the Texas netminder little chance.

A 3-1 reverse that makes the playoffs almost a forlorn hope for the Marlies who require some sort of miracle run to even give themselves a sniff with 25 games remaining.

Post Game Notes:

Toronto have many areas of concern after this game but especially slow starts to periods. Texas domination in the opening five minutes of each frame was not good enough from the Marlies point of view.

Leipsic has made an encouraging start to his Toronto career and picked up an assist to go with a goal on Friday. He does make things happen offensively though why his line was changed after a promising start Friday seems a strange decision to me.

Toronto’s special teams were terrible in this game and although it probably didn’t cost them the game it’s been a deciding factor in many more.

Sam Carrick was relegated to the fourth line and proceeded to lead the team in shots (6).

Christopher Gibson did everything in his power to keep the Marlies in this game. He recorded 29 saves but pertinently 24 of those were during the opening forty minutes.

A Sunday matinee against Charlotte Checkers and Drew MacIntyre awaits and I would expect some sort of response from this group.

 


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