This weekend will see the Toronto Marlies hit and then pass the quarter poll of their season.
With three games in as many days, anything less than four points will be seen as a failure if Toronto harbour ambitions to keep up with the divisional pace-setters.
It may seem like hyperbole to even be talking about a playoff race at this stage of the season but the Marlies have hit a road-block in recent weeks.
Winners of just two of their last seven games, Toronto have been out-scored 22-15 during that time and have slipped to third in the North Division..
With a hectic schedule for all teams heading into Christmas, its time to iron out the flaws and find some consistency to their play which has been sorely lacking through 18 games.
This isn’t the most demanding 3-in-3 Toronto will face this season, either logistically or in terms of opposition.
A trip to Rochester to face an Amerks team currently three games under .500, before returning to Toronto to face a struggling Hartford outfit looking to hoist themselves from the foot of the Atlantic Division.
The Rochester Americans have already tasted home success against the Marlies this seasons.
A 5-2 victory in which the Amerks capitalised on their chances during an encounter that Toronto largely controlled during even strength. It was errors that cost the visitors dear on that occasion and they’ll need to be wary of a team looking to bounce back after a run of poor results themselves.
Buffalo’s affiliate defeated Utica on Wednesday night, breaking a streak of six consecutive defeats including a shootout loss in a game where they had led 2-0 and 3-1.
Rochester’s home form has not been strong (3-5-0-1) and their three victories have been gained when scoring five times.
Keeping the puck out of their net has been the Americans problem, with a goals against average approaching four at the Blue Cross Arena.
Cal O’Reilly and Cole Schneider have led the Amerks in scoring, third and fourth in the league respectively.
O’Reilly leads the way with twenty points of which 16 are assists and he’s in good form with six points in his last five outings.
Schneider is just a single point behind but has a more balanced production with eight goals to his name.
He’s not the leading goal scorer as Nick Baptiste has a team leading nine, scored in just twelve games.
Other forwards chipping in are Justin Bailey and rookie Alexander Nylander, both with 13 points to their name.
Taylor Fedun is the teams leading points producer from the blue line. He’s already had a four point game this year and one other multi-point game. That came against Toronto with a goal and an assist.
Left winger William Carrier, would have undoubtedly been a threat to the Marlies but he’s been recalled once more to Buffalo.
Linus Ullmark has carried the load between the pipes for Rochester, starting 75% of their games.
Considering the teams issues on defense, his .913 save percentage is very respectable and he was excellent during a 34 save performance against Toronto in October.
Called up Thursday night to back-up for Buffalo, whether Ullmark returns for Friday night’s game is in doubt. If the Swedish net minder is unavailable the Amerks will either turn to veteran John Muse, a recent re-call from the ECHL, or rookie Jason Kasdorf.
It’s evident that many of Rochester’s issues lay during even strength play when you take a look at some impressive special team statistics.
The fourth best power play and third most effective penalty kill at 23.2 and 85.1% effectively, should hopefully focus the minds of Toronto’s player.
The first encounter of the season should serve as a warning, with Rochester striking three times with the extra man and killing four Toronto power play’s.
With so much emphasis placed on divisional match-ups through the regular season, Toronto can ill-afford to drop two points to a rival looking to make up ground on them.
Having rested up Friday night, the Hartford Wolf Pack will be fresh and waiting in Toronto for the return of the Marlies.
It’s been a tough go so far this season for the New York Rangers affiliate.
Only the Binghamton Senators have a worse record in the Eastern Conference than Hartford, who have won just six of 19 games this season.
The Wolf Pack own a 2-4-1 record on their travels and have allowed 31 goals.
Toronto would do well not to underestimate a team who pulled off somewhat of an upset in their last outing on the road. A 3-1 win over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, a team who have dismantled Toronto twice already this season, will ensure Hartford have a little more confidence heading into the pair of weekend games.
Only four players have hit double figures in terms of points production for the Wolf Pack.
Centreman Marek Hrivik leads the way with 15 points in his fourth season with the team.
Next best is left winger Nicklas Jensen but after him it’s two defenseman who have caught the eye recently.
Ryan Graves has twelve points of which seven have been accrued during his last four games.
Matt Bodie has a point less than Graves but is riding a five game point streak including three goals and as many assists. It should also be noted that three of his four goals have been scored on the power play.
Magnus Hellberg is Hartford’s clear number one goaltender and has somehow managed to muster a winning record (5-4-3) despite his team’s struggles. His 0.892 save percentage is not pretty but is a huge upgrade on those below him in the pecking order.
Rookie Brandon Halverson and Mackenzie Slapski have a combined .830 and just one victory between them this year.
If Rochester has one of the best combined special team units this season then a case could be made for Hartford owning the worst.
Their power play is registering at 15.4% and a struggling penalty kill under 75%, ranked 29th in the league.
Toronto’s previous 3-in-3 weekend saw them lose on the road in Rochester before retuning home to defeat Manitoba twice.
Travis Dermott and Frederik Gauthier are doubtful to make more than single appearance this weekend though Daniel Maggio and Mason Marchment could find themselves in the line-up, as both impressed in a short spell with Orlando.
There is no change in the goaltending situation and I would expect Antoine Bibeau to take two starts with Jeff Glass given another opportunity.
Friday, December 2, 2016
Toronto Marlies @ Rochester Americans 7:05 pm EST
Saturday, December 3, 2016
Hartford Wolf Pack @ Toronto Marlies 5:00 pm EST
Sunday, December 2, 2016
Hartford Wolf Pack @ Toronto Marlies 3:00 pm EST