I was in attendance when the Grand Rapids Griffins visited the Toronto Marlies Sunday afternoon. The Marlies dominated from start to finish, shutting out the Griffins 5-0. Here are five thoughts from the game:
1. Paul Ranger will compete for a spot on the Maple Leafs’ blue line. With Jake Gardiner out due to a concussion, Ranger’s minutes have gone up on both power play and even strength, and he showed he deserves those minutes by having another solid game. Offensively he contributed two assists, both on the power play, and defensively he did a great job of handling the Griffins’ forwards down low. The Whitby, Ontario native is a smooth skater and makes a great first pass out of the zone. It’s plain to see the 28-year-old still has the skill that made him a mainstay with the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2005 to 2009. He will no doubt get a long look from Leafs’ coaching staff whenever training camp opens.
2. Nazem Kadri is a world-class agitator. He’s no Sean Avery, but the 22-year-old has a penchant for making his opponents hate him. He was routinely yapping with Griffins in between whistles and took some hits to show for it. It’s refreshing to see a player play with such emotion, but Kadri can sometimes go overboard and end up costing his team by taking undisciplined penalties. He’ll have to keep his emotions in check and pick his spots better in the NHL, where the players are obviously bigger and faster. But as long as Kadri keeps producing at a point-per-game rate, he’s going to get some leeway with fans and coaches.
3. Jussi Rynnas is playing lights-out. The statistics speak for themselves: 1.55 goals-against-average, 0.950 save percentage, three shutouts and four wins in five games played this season. The 25-year-old Finn looked rock-solid once again turning away all 31 shots he faced on Sunday. Rynnas uses his 6-foot-5 frame well, giving shooters very little net to shoot at. It’s unlikely Rynnas will be able to supplant either Ben Scrivens or James Reimer in the Leafs’ net, but he’ll be waiting in the wings should either goaltender go down with injury or struggle early on.
4. Joe Colborne is struggling. And that’s an understatement. The 22-year-old centre was practically invisible Sunday, except when he was taking one of his three trips to the penalty box. The Calgary native was able to notch an assist, but his seven points in 22 games this season is somewhat alarming. The lack of production is no doubt going to Colborne’s head, as he seems visibly frustrated on the ice. I think most Leafs fans have lowered their expectations of Colborne considerably over the past two seasons, and it’s doubtful he’ll be able to make the jump to the big club this year. Hopefully he can get out of this funk and just play his game.
5. The Marlies have a solid veteran presence. 34-year-old Keith Aucoin scored his 800th and 801stpoints on Sunday, putting him in eleventh spot on the AHL’s all-time scoring list. You can’t be that successful without having a tireless work ethic, and that has to rub off on the young guys on the team, especially Kadri who has played on a line with him most of the season. Ranger, Mike Zigomanis, and Mark Fraser are also contributing veterans on the team with extensive NHL experience. These guys are a big reason why the Marlies have won six of their last seven games and sit in fifth spot in the Western Conference. Winning games gives everybody more confidence, and the young players on this team will continue to follow the example set by the hard-working vets.