Alright kids, its the time you have all been waiting for it is time for the Toronto Marlies Season opener…..wait what?
Its only the start of the Calder Cup Playoffs? Yup, after most hockey leagues have been playing their playoff games for weeks now, the AHL is about to get started !!!
The Toronto Marlies will open up on the road for the first two games in Bridgeport. Why on the road to start? Well, the team with the best record gets to pick where the five game series begins. After last year’s defeat on the road, the Marlies felt they lost home ice momentum by starting at home, and finishing in the away building. First two in Bridgeport, last three (if necessary) at the Ricoh.
So what do we know about the Bridgeport Sound Tigers? Not much. The Marlies didn’t play them at all this year and all we can really go by is a stats package. Bridgeport finished the season with a 40-29-4 record (a full 14 wins fewer than their opposition in the opening round) for a .572 winning percentage. The most notable different between the two teams is in the PIMs category where the Sound Tigers led the AHL with 1412 PIMs to just 936 for the visitors in the first two games.
There could have been a familiar face in net for the Sound Tigers but Christopher Gibson is up with the Islanders and will have to rely on baby-faced 22 year old goalie, Stephon Williams. The Marlies will be countering with Garret Sparks who Coach Sheldon Keefe is in love with as the backstopper for the team but if any indication of trouble arises, he has just as much confidence to start Antoine Bibeau.
As most know by now the Marlies, compiled the best record in the entire AHL this season and had 85 more goals during the year than Bridgeport did. Toronto also gave up fewer goals than the Sound Tigers but this will NOT be a cakewalk in the first round.
Why not Phook?
As exhibited versus Albany a few games ago the Sound Tigers play the EXACT game that gives the Marlies the most trouble, and that is a very physical/punishing style. Heavy forechecking and finishing every check is the blueprint in Bridgeport and what the Marlies hope they can negate with speed, passing and converting on a great percentage of powerplay opportunities granted by the on-ice officials for the series.
The Toronto Marlies, and Coach Keefe, have not announced what lines they will be rolling when the series kicks off on Saturday night. The Marlies have a myriad of options when it comes to forwards with the potential of dressing six solid lines up front. Suffice it to say, the Marlies will rely on the talent of William Nylander, Connor Brown, Marc Arcobello, Brendan Leipsic, Colin Smith, and a host of others.
However, I believe this series will be won in the trenches. In order for the Marlies to win this matchup with the Sound Tigers, it will be players like Zach Hyman, Nikita Soshnikov, and Fredrik Gauthier who will all have to play an important role for this club. While, some will mock this statement, it will also be Rich Clune having to step up when required and ensure liberties aren’t taken by this rough and tumble team from Bridgeport. Team toughness, team skill will be essential if the Marlies hope to advance to the second round. ( http://www.marlies.ca/team/index.asp )
Not many changes will come on the blueline, familiar faces such as T.J. Brennan, Captain Andrew Campbell, Rinat Valiev, Viktor Loov, Justin Holl, Stuart Percy and Connor Carrick all looking to be regular contributors in keeping this Bridgeport team in check for a short opening series of the playoffs.
If the Bridgeport Sound Tigers can play within the rules, but lean on the Marlies at every turn it could be a very long 5 games for the young team from Toronto. We are about to find out if Coach Keefe and his squad are ready for the rigours of playoffs hockey, and I cannot wait for it all to get started.