It’s been an interesting season for the Toronto Marlies thus far.
After opening the year with a 2-3-0-0 record, they won five of their next six games, including back-to-back statement wins against the high-powered Chicago Wolves.
Positivity was at an all-time high following that weekend series, but it all came crashing down after a humbling 6-5 shootout loss to the rival Laval Rocket. The Marlies were up 5-1 around the halfway mark of the second period, and then blew it in dramatic fashion.
To add insult to injury, their oft-reliable rookie netminder Erik Källgren had to leave the game following a collision with a Rocket forward. He’s currently out indefinitely with a concussion. The score was 5-1 when he left, and his departure seemed to take the proverbial wind out of Toronto’s sails.
Michael Hutchinson entered the game in relief, and has typically been a very solid AHL goaltender throughout his career. Unfortunately, he allowed four goals (seven altogether if you include the shootout).
Three nights later, the Marlies continued their mini-homestand with back-to-back weekend games against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and the Cleveland Monsters. Their game against Lehigh Valley was a must-win, as the Phantoms sit last in the Atlantic Division.
Still, they made it interesting. With 3:34 remaining in the third period, captain Rich Clune deflected a Josh Ho-Sang point shot to even things up at two. Ho-Sang also had the honour of playing overtime hero, scoring a highlight-reel goal to seal the deal.
THIS IS INSANE 🤯
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) November 21, 2021
Although Toronto won, they trailed for the majority of the game and looked sluggish doing it. Mustering up a lowly 19 shots on goal against one of the league’s worst teams is nothing to write home about.
Sunday’s game against Cleveland was of utmost importance, given that the two squads have been neck-and-neck in the North Division for most of the season. Unfortunately, the Marlies weren’t able to grab more than the extra point.
Hutchinson started for the second night in a row, leaving recent Newfoundland Growlers (ECHL) call-up Keith Petruzzelli on the bench again. The six goals against was far from ideal, but Hutch did make 41 saves. Given the team’s effort, the blame was surely spread around the room.
After another 5-1 drubbing against Cleveland on Friday (with Hutchinson once again in goal), the Marlies now sit fourth in the North—four points behind the Monsters and two points behind the Rochester Americans.
What’s Next In The Crease?
Now, one question rises above the rest: How will the Marlies fare without two of their main netminders? Källgren doesn’t yet have a return-to-play timetable, and Joseph Woll is still up with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Ian Scott is also in the picture and may be nearing a return. Unfortunately, many aren’t holding their breath, considering his health woes of the last two seasons.
Hutchinson should be able to shoulder the bulk of the starts, but he still needs a tandem partner. Luckily, the Marlies do have one bullet left in the chamber. It’s just an inexperienced bullet—the aforementioned Petruzzelli.
KEITH PETRUZZELLI WITH HIS FIRST GROWLERS SHUT OUT
— Newfoundland Growlers (@NLGrowlers) November 7, 2021
The 22-year-old goaltender was a third-round pick (88th overall) of the Detroit Red Wings back in 2017, but ended up signing a two-year, two-way contract with the Marlies last May.
He’s only played five games at the professional level in his career—all of which were this season for the Growlers. Luckily, his lack of experience hasn’t been an issue so far, as he’s 4-1-0 with a 1.60 GAA and a .952 SV%. He’s still not truly ready for an AHL promotion, but the Marlies had no choice but to call him up anyways.
All of this disarray truly shows how quickly Källgren became a vital part of the Marlies’ crease. Heading into the game against the Rocket, the young Swede had a 4-2-0 record with a 2.50 GAA and a .923 SV% through seven games. To put it simply, the Marlies would not be third in the North Division without his consistently stellar performances.
Not bad, considering he’s a former seventh-round pick (taken 183rd overall by the Arizona Coyotes in 2015). The Leafs took a gamble when they signed him to a two-year, two-way contract back in May, and it seems to be paying early dividends. Hopefully he won’t be out for too long, but there’s no chance he’s rushed back, either.
How Are Things Up Front?
To put it simply: things are good, but not good enough. The Marlies are 13th in the league in goals for (48), but sit 20th in goals against (51), meaning they’re essentially breaking even.
One of the biggest factors has been their lack of depth scoring. 22 of the team’s 48 goals (46%) have been scored by three players. This lamp-lighting trio consists of Josh Ho-Sang, Alex Steeves, and Brett Seney.
Ho-Sang has made the headlines a couple of times in recent years, but often not for the right reasons. Despite this, the Leafs signed him to a PTO back in July, allowing him to use team facilities and resources in Toronto (his hometown) until training camp began.
After a summer of hard work, the 25-year-old has seemingly re-discovered his game to the tune of eight goals and 12 points in just 13 games. He’s currently on a one-year AHL contract, but the Leafs are happy to have him in their back pocket.
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) November 18, 2021
Steeves also seems to be found money. The Leafs signed the undrafted Notre Dame (Big-10) forward to a three-year, entry-level contract back in March. He was a point-per-game player in his last season with the Fighting Irish, and has continued that trend with the Marlies so far, recording six goals and ten points in ten games.
Seney, like Ho-Sang, is 25 years of age and still trying to establish himself as a full-time NHL player. For now, he’ll have to settle for tearing things up with the Marlies. Last year was uncharacteristically bad for Seney, but the eight goals and 13 points he’s racked up through 15 games this season is certainly a step towards retribution.
The rest of the forwards haven’t necessarily been invisible. Some of the lacking production can be attributed to inexperience, while some is simply inconsistency.
Nick Robertson hasn’t played much hockey at the professional level, but his presence has certainly been missed. Every rookie besides Steeves is sitting on three goals or less, although those such as Semyon Der-Arguchintsev have started to turn a corner as of late.
Another player who’s been making the most out of their opportunity is Bobby McMann. The 25-year-old undrafted centre came to the Marlies after four solid years at Colgate University (ECAC), and a short stint with the Wichita Thunder (ECHL).
Through just eight games with the Marlies, McMann has racked up two goals and five points. Not bad considering he only managed to record two goals and four points in 21 AHL games last season.
Consistent scoring is absolutely achievable, but the forward corps’ ability to help the Marlies string together wins also relies on how well every line can play 200-foot hockey.
Gordie Green and Bobby McMann definitely fought for the intercontinental title and Wrestlemania IV. https://t.co/h75JOBtdKw
— Steve “Dangle” Glynn (@Steve_Dangle) April 2, 2020
But What About The Blue Line?
The Marlies have been just OK when it comes to how they’ve played in their own end. They’ve defended well enough to be in the mix for a lower-end playoff spot. The problem is what that success looks like relative to the depth chart.
For example, Alex Biega and Carl Dahlstrom have a combined 305 games of NHL experience. This season, they have just three assists in a collective 26 games. Neither is necessarily known for their offence, but one would think they’d be able to muster up more tangible production. Especially considering their defensive play has been extremely average.
Brennan Menell, who was arguably the best defenceman in the KHL last season, has also started slow. Through eight games, he has two points and 15 penalty minutes. Not exactly the contribution they were expecting, although naturally it’s still early. The only other thing to consider is that he left last game with an undisclosed injury. His status going forward has not yet been announced.
The only true bright spots have been Joseph Duszak and Kristians Rubins. Duszak still hasn’t scored this season, but his 13 assists in 12 games leads the entire team. Rubins hasn’t found the scoresheet nearly as often, but both have been very steady for most of the season.
Another encouraging sign has been the play of Filip Kral. The 22-year-old Czech Republic native is still fairly raw, but his poise and quick decision-making with the puck are helping to set him apart.
Filip Kral has had a sneaky quiet but good game pic.twitter.com/8movkVUrsW
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) September 30, 2021
Mac Hollowell and Teemu Kivihalme were both expected to take a step this year, but neither has been able to stick in the lineup so far. Hollowell (22) is three years younger and has more upside, so he’ll get the longer leash.
Speaking of 22-year-olds with upside, Leafs and Marlies fans alike have been dying to get a glimpse of the infamous Noel Hoefenmayer. The former OHL defenceman of the year has only gotten into three games so far, recording two assists.
He plays a very high-risk, high-reward game, meaning his development could end up being more of a project than most. Fortunately, that project seems to be worth the wait.
The Marlies’ last game against the Monsters was actually the second of three straight between these divisional rivals.
Toronto hosts game three at Coca-Cola Coliseum on Saturday, November 27 at 4:00pm ET. The game will also be televised on TSN4. From there, the Marlies are off until Saturday December 4 when they’ll welcome the Atlantic Division-leading Springfield Thunderbirds to town.
— Captain Leafsaholic (@steelheadsfan78) November 20, 2021
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