Something about the Toronto Maple Leafs to please the SEO lords.
Alright, with that out of the way, let’s get to it.
This Marlies Notebook is going to be a tad different than most. Whereas I normally touch upon a myriad of different topics from the Marlies’ past week, recent circumstances have dictated my focus be centred on just one.
You’ll see what I mean.
What’s Wrong With the Marlies?
Things haven’t exactly been coming up Millhouse for the Toronto Marlies.
Off to the worst start in franchise history, they enter into a current weekend set of games with a record of 1-4, allowing a league-worst 27 goals against in only a 5-game span, and, two days ago, received news that Kasimir Kaskisuo, they’re starting goaltender, will be shelved for the foreseeable future.
So, how can they move forward?
For one, losing their starter might not end up being the crippling blow it seems, depth issues aside.
When Kaskisuo went down during the second period of Sunday’s contest with the Utica Comets, leaving the ice incapable of standing on his own power, he did so holding a save percentage of .860. To put this gaudy number in a team perspective, it’s still good enough for tops among all Marlies’ goaltenders in that category, slightly ahead of Jeff Glass‘ downright putrid .844.
Sure, the Marlies have kicked the year off looking out of sync, prone to turnovers, and seemingly allergic to sustaining even a modicum of possession in the offensive zone, but rest assured, this is not the bottom-feeding unit it appears to be. For all their early systemic blemishes – of which there are many – the Marlies have nevertheless found the back of the net at a rapid pace, looking somewhat like their former selves and sitting 4th in league-wide goals for.
Few AHL rosters can claim to harbour the requisite offensive depth needed to counterbalance such defensive struggles. The Marlies are a rare example of one that can, albeit only if given workable circumstances, which they have not.
The Marlies’ blueline, unquestionably the AHL’s deepest only a year ago, has since undergone a massive overhaul thanks to some heavy personnel loss to the level above, more or less gutting the team of their most precious resource. Of course, losing key contributors is a routine and expected occurrence in the American League, although still impactful to the roster nonetheless.
A wealth of backend depth allowed the 2017-18 Marlies to pair a defensive project, think Andrew Neilsen or Timothy Liljegren, alongside a steadying presence, think Martin Marincin or Justin Holl, as a means of nurturing their development forward without heaping undue responsibility upon them too soon.
That, as I’m sure you’re all aware, is no longer the case.
Losing Holl and Marincin has consequently thrust both Liljegren and Neilsen into increased roles right out of the gate. And while the former manages to tread water and occasionally even thrive in these unchartered waters, the latter only continues to appear completely lost.
In all fairness, Neilsen’s struggles are somewhat exacerbated by Sheldon Keefe‘s decision to staple him with fellow project Jordan Subban, but even the pair’s symbiotic relationship of blown coverage isn’t enough to erase writing of which has been on the wall for quite some time.
Simply put, Neilsen is not an AHL calibre defenceman at this moment, at least not one worthy of every-game usage, and such a reality has been glaringly obvious to all who watch this team with regularity.
And yet, saddled with a depleted backend, the Marlies are forced to use him as such for no reason other than a lack of choice.
Which brings us back to their forward depth.
Playing With Numbers
On the basis of goals scored-per-game, the Marlies actually pace the entire AHL at a rate of 4.4, the highest among teams with 4 games played or more. This offensive success is matched only by one other opponent, the Milwaukee Admirals, who’ve managed to rack up goals at an identical per-game clip themselves while sitting atop the league standings with 9 points.
But, how can that be? If both teams have played the exact same number of games and scored just as frequently, why is Miluwakee riding high in 1st while the Marlies gaze up at them from 25 spots below?
It really all boils down to the fact that the Admirals have what I believe is called “goaltending” and the Marlies, well, don’t. Like, at all.
Let’s play with some numbers, shall we?
Your run of the mill, middle of the pack AHL team currently allows, on average, roughly 3.5 goals-against-per-game. Now, imagine, just for a second, a world in which the Marlies are afforded goaltending in some way resembling that of league average. Crazy, right? Just bear with me.
In our current, depressing reality, the Marlies have somehow surrendered a total of 27 goals to their opponents. That, as those in hockey circles like to say, is decidedly ungood. In this alternate, thoroughly average reality, however, their new 3.5 GAPG pace drops that 27 down to 17.5, practically a 10-goal difference.
And considering how the Marlies are dropping games this year by an average margin of 2.5 goals, giving them 10 back significantly alters their record.
Extrapolating this difference across the various outcomes of all 5 games played thus far, removing opposing empty net markers, and it reveals the new-reality Marlies to open their season with 2 extra wins.
Needless to say, a 3-2 record is markedly different than 1-4, and, suddenly, we’re instead applauding this team for maintaining an impressive offensive output despite missing the services of Adam Brooks and Mason Marchment entirely, not to mention both Carl Grundstrom and Chris Mueller for the past 2 games as well.
A disclaimer, included only to prevent the analytics community from roasting me into oblivion, forces me to point out the important fact that this is all hypothetical. Extrapolating these new averages is a worthwhile endeavour, albeit one that fails to account for a number of key influential variables such as score effects, which could otherwise alter the results.
And yet, the initial point here stands.
If given what literally amounts to a middling, doesn’t-move-the-needle-in-either-direction presence in net, the Marlies have otherwise proven to house the level of forward depth capable of keeping their season afloat while they iron out some deficiencies on the other side of the puck.
Where this team goes from here, however, rests solely in the hands of Laurence Gilman.
Barring a dramatic and unforeseen surge in production, Jeff Glass is simply not suited to carry the Marlies to the height of their potential, a notion equally applicable to newly-appointed backup, Eamon McAdam. An alternate net option, of which there are unfortunately few readily available, just might.
All they need to do now is find one. And fast.
Thanks for reading!
All stats courtesy of theahl.com