The Toronto Marlies will head stateside this weekend, to face Atlantic Division opponents for the first occasion this season.
It’ll be no easy task for the Marlies, who have struggled to string together consistent performances on their travels and will be up against two of league’s in-form teams.
Friday evening will see Toronto do battle with the AHL’s first placed Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
The teams did battle only twice last year but the game in Wilkes-Barre was certainly memorable.
Toronto recovered from a 0-3 score line to tie the game up with three shorthanded goals, before prevailing in overtime.
The majority of WBS Pens success this season has been built on a strong defense and excellent penalty killing.
The Mohegan Sun Arena has not been a happy hunting ground for visiting teams, with the Pens 5-1-0-0 on home ice and have allowed just seven goals against.
They are currently the form team in the league with a 7-1-0-0 record
A strong offensive team in previous seasons, WBS are not having many issues hitting the twine either.
Worryingly for opponents, the production has been spread around with eleven players having scored 2+ goals.
Rookie centreman Jake Guentzel is the leading points producer and goalscorer with five goals and twelve points respectively.
Carter Rowney is next best with nine points, and two of his three goals have come on the power play.
Kevin Porter, Oskar Sundqvist and veteran Tom Kostopoulos all have four goals to their name, while a familiar name is the leading points producer from the blue line.
Former Amerks defenseman Chad Ruhwedel is enjoying his new surroundings, recording seven points through his first ten games. A recent call-up to Pittsburgh, it’s not unfeasible that Ruhwedel could be returned to WBS before Friday’s game having not dressed for the Penguins Thursday night.
Former Leafs first round selection Stuart Percy is currently with WBS Pens, but has only played twice and is considered an injury doubt with a lower back ailment.
Pittsburgh’s affiliate continue to go with young goaltending and it’s paying dividends.
Tristan Jarry is in his sophomore season and has taken the majority of starts thus far.
A 5-1-1 record and 0.936 save percentage for the BC native.
The alternative is rookie Casey DeSmith, who has won all three starts, averaging one goal against per game and owns a 0.962 save percentage.
The aforementioned penalty kill is performing at a league leading 92.7%, having allowed just three goals on 41 power play opportunities for opponents. With a league leading three shorthanded goals to boot, Toronto will have to be on their mettle with the extra man.
The Pens power play has been less successful but is still middle of the pack, producing at 18.2% and should not be underestimated with the amount of talent on their roster.
Toronto will be travelling straight to Allentown after Friday’s game, for a Saturday night tilt with Lehigh.
The Marlies won’t be at too much of a disadvantage however, as the Phantoms also have to take the bus but from Utica, almost double the journey time Toronto face.
Lehigh are packed with offensive talent but unlike WBS, are having trouble keeping the puck out of their own net.
Though winners of three straight heading into the weekend, Lehigh have a allowed an average of four goals against per game on home ice
A 2-1-1-0 record at the PPL Center is built on the fact they’ve also scored 16 goals, having required six tallies in their last outing to see them past Springfield.
The Marlies will come up against a familiar face in T.J Brennan.
Unsurprisingly he’s second in Phantoms scoring with ten points including two power play goals.
2015 Calder Cup winner Jordan Weal is the teams leading points producer with twelve points in nine outings.
Greg Carey scored 26 time last season at his first real crack at the AHL level and the 26 year old is Lehigh’s leading scorer so far this year. Six goals for the Hamilton, Ontario native, with five of those coming on the man advantage.
Captain Colin McDonald has five goals to his name and alongside other veteran forwards Mark Zengerle and Andy Miele, has added depth to the scoring ranks.
Other players to note from the backend withstanding Brennan, are Will O’Neill and rookie Travis Sanheim, who have 13 assists between them.
The other forward to watch out for is 22 year old Scott Laughton, who was sent down this past week.
In 47 AHL outings the former Oshawa General has accrued 16 goals and as many assists.
Laughton will be a nice add to a Phantoms power play that has tallied twelve goals at a strike rate of 24.5%, but has allowed three short handed markers.
His skills may also be required on a penalty kill that’s currently ranked 21st but has been better of late in only giving up one goal in the last three games.
Anthony Stolarz is the clear number one goaltender for Lehigh, having taken seven of the nine starts available. A 5-2 record, one shutout and a 0.928 save percentage for the 22 year old, who’s being backed up by rookie Alex Lyon, who is actually older than him.
An NCAA graduate, Lyon is yet to record a victory in two starts and has particularly horrible statistics early in his professional career.
The Toronto Marlies will have to play some of their most complete hockey of the season thus far to have any success against these two in-form Atlantic opponents.
Special teams have already proven the difference in a handful of games this season and undoubtedly Toronto’s penalty kill has to improve on it’s current 76.8% efficiency.
Friday November, 11 2016
Toronto Marlies @ Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 7:05pm ET
Saturday November, 12 2016
Toronto Marlies @ Lehigh Valley Phantoms 7: 05pm ET