The Toronto Maple Leafs may be thriving in the NHL, but the Toronto Marlies seem to have hit a snag in the AHL.
The AHL affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs, for those who don’t know, is the Toronto Marlies. Last year’s Calder Cup champions, the Marlies came into the season hoping to repeat the success from last year. Unfortunately, the Marlies are off to a sluggish start in their bid to win back-to-back Calder Cups.
The Marlies are currently 7-7-2-2 and coming off a 2-1 overtime loss to the Cleveland Monsters on Sunday. For the record, the Marlies had 14 wins in the first 18 games last year and finished the season with 54 wins. The Marlies are currently seventh in the North Division and 15th in the Eastern Conference.
Yes it’s only 18 games into a 76 game season, but if trends don’t begin to change the Marlies may miss the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2011. It’s always good to look over the multiple facets of the Marlies’ play, although pin pointing the biggest issue this year wasn’t very hard.
Offense Firing on All Cylinders
An understandable worry about the Marlies coming into the season was how the team would respond offensively to the departure of players like Ben Smith, Andreas Johnsson and Miro Aaltonen. Through 18 games, the Marlies have silenced any doubt about their offensive abilities. The team has scored 72 goals (4.00 goals per game) and has seen multiple players step up to fill the holes when it comes to scoring.
Chris Mueller is continuing the momentum of his 52 point campaign last year, scoring 16 points in 16 games. Calle Rosen has been the biggest surprise of the season so far, tied with Mueller for the team lead in scoring and tied for sixth among defensive scoring in the AHL with 16 points. The Marlies have eight other players with 10-plus points, including rookies Carl Grundstrom (15 points) and Pierre Engvall (11 points).
Special Teams Becoming an Issue
Last year, the Marlies were shorthanded 271 times and finished with an 88.9% penalty kill, the best in the AHL. This year the Marlies have been shorthanded 75 times and have a PK percentage of 77.3%, 24th in the league. That is a substantial drop between seasons, and the Marlies are on track to be shorthanded over 300 times if the team’s discipline isn’t addressed soon.
The power play hasn’t seen that much of a drop. The Marlies had 345 power play opportunities last year, the most in the league, and finished with an 18.0% PP (62 power play goals). This season the Marlies have had 88 opportunities on the man advantage (15th in the AHL) and have a 17.0% on the PP (15 power play goals, 20th in the AHL). Sam Gagner still leads the team with four power play goals, but he was called up by the Vancouver Canucks back on November 19th. The only Marlies with five-plus points on the power play are Mueller and Dmytro Timashov, both with six.
If the Marlies want to pick up some of the slack, their special teams are going to need to step up in the next few games. It could be the difference in several contests as we proceed into the season.
Goaltending and Defense Sinking the Marlies
But while the special teams have just been mediocre to below average, the defense and goaltending have been a genuine issue since the start of the season.
Last year the Marlies had Garret Sparks and Calvin Pickard, the best goalie tandem in the AHL. Heading into this season, Sparks was called up to back up Frederik Andersen while Pickard was placed on waivers and claimed by the Philadelphia Flyers. In their place, the Marlies have turned to Eamon McAdam, Kasimir Kaskisuo and Jeff Glass. None of them have been able to mirror the success the Marlies had in net last year.
Glass has appeared in 10 games and sports a 3-4-1-1 record, 4.31 GAA, .849 SV%, faced 219 shots (21.9 shots per game) and hasn’t been up to par. Same goes for Kaskisuo, who in 5 appearances is 1-3-0-0 with a horrendous 4.48 GAA and .871 SV% while facing 115 shots (23 shots per game). McAdam has been the most reliable in net, although he hasn’t been perfect. He’s 3-0-3-1 in seven games and sporting a 2.98 GAA, .896 SV% and has faced 192 shots (27.2 per game).
As someone who saw McAdam play in his senior year at Penn State, I believe he has ability to be a solid AHL starter. He possesses a composure that a lot of young goalies don’t have, but the defense in front of him hasn’t done enough to protect him and the other netminders. The Marlies are not capable in their own defensive zone, leaving McAdam, Glass and Kaskisuo wide open to the cannon fire of the AHL. The team needs to work on puck control in their own end and work on their zone exits, otherwise the rest of the season is going to go about as well as the first 18 games have.
It’s Time Put Up Or Shut Up, Marlies
The hot start of the Toronto Maple Leafs has overshadowed the slow start by the Marlies in the AHL. The high scoring offense is being canceled out by poor special teams play and abysmal defense and goaltending. The Marlies still have time to make up for their slow start, but as we reach December and are now a quarter of way through the season, time is slowly ticking away on the Marlies’ chances to defend the Calder Cup in April.