A loss for the Toronto Maple Leafs has now become the Toronto Marlies’ gain.
It is remarkable that we’re even able to sit here and talk about this. For those of you who have ever felt the urge to comb through my Marlies coverage from October – December (and I don’t blame you if you haven’t), don’t waste your time.
I’ll summarize them all for you right now: Their goaltending was awful.
Strikingly, so. Prior to Michael Hutchinson‘s arrival on December 28th, anyone who had spent more than a single game in the Marlies’ crease held a save percentage below that of .900.
Jeff Glass, who was given the bulk of starts early in the season, had just been dealt to the San Diego Gulls for Future Considerations whilst bearing a mark of .849. Kasimir Kaskisuo‘s hovered in the low-.880’s, and Eamon McAdam – recently called up from ECHL Newfoundland – led the team with a percentage in the low-to-mid-.890’s.
Yeah, it really was that bad.
In fact, this complete lack of goaltending legitimately threatened to snuff out the entire Marlies’ season up to that point. And not merely when it came to their position in the standings, either; it withheld the organization’s top prospects from developing inside a winning environment.
Fast forward five months, and the team looks unrecognizable. The Marlies hit hyperspeed once the calendar switched from 2018 to 2019, going 26-10-6-2 from January 1st to the end of the regular season despite weathering a swath of injuries and call-ups to their top players that would cripple most other rosters. A good chunk of this success is due to Hutchinson’s arrival, yes. But this was a full team effort, with contributions coming from each corner of the lineup.
Then, Hutchinson vanished. Unexpectedly, too. And with the playoffs mere days away, and a series with the higher-seeded Rochester Americans on the horizon, the Marlies went from having one starting-calibre goaltender at their disposal, right down back to zero.
That is, until Kaskisuo arrived. Finally.
In the immediate aftermath of Hutchinson’s departure on April 4th, Kaskisuo took hold of the Marlies’ crease as their once-again-entrenched number one and surged to the tune of a 5-2-0 record and dazzling .943 save percentage. The 25-year-old didn’t stop there, however. With few expecting the Marlies to survive their first-round matchup with Rochester, Kaskisuo proceeded to shoulder the brunt of the load while dragging his team to a three-game series sweep in the process, earning the AHL’s highest postseason save percentage – .960, to be exact – among goaltenders who started three or more games.
This is what makes Hutchinson’s return to the Marlies last week all the more surprising. Fresh off a season defined by the utter absence of net presence, Sheldon Keefe‘s squad now finds themselves with two otherwise capable options who could each be trusted to steal a playoff game when they previously had none.
Forget the additions of Trevor Moore and Calle Rosen to a roster that just embarrassed a Rochester team built for Calder Cup glory, for a moment. The tandem of Hutchinson and Kaskisuo, regardless of which body ultimately fills the crease on Wednesday night, gives the Marlies something they desperately lacked in the months prior; insurance.
The onus is no longer placed on the shoulders of one single player. Were Kaskisuo to falter at any point, Hutchinson can easily jump in and stem the bleeding. And given his scorchingly hot stretch as of late and the results which followed, Kaskisuo has now proven himself capable of doing the same.
The Marlies can score goals; their 6th place finish tells us as much. But what elevates their ceiling immeasurably, and puts them back on the path to defending their title, is that they can now prevent them, too.
Thanks for reading!
Stats courtesy of TheAHL.com