Once left for dead, the Marlies have dug themselves out of a giant hole in the standings and are now focused on the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Not long ago, talk of the playoffs would have been laughable. The Marlies were inconsistent from goaltending to forward and Coach Keefe was doing everything he could to find some cohesion.
With regulars Brendan Leipsic, Kasperi Kapanen, Rinat Valiev, and Tobias Lindberg all out of the line, it would have been easy to just roll over and play dead.
The Toronto Marlies did the opposite of that, in fact they are starting to play their best hockey of the season, and at the right time.
Inspired play has come from a variety of sources, and some of them unlikely to be quite frank.
Kerby Rychel now has 32 points in 47 games played with the Marlies. Early in the season he was ineffective at best. He had very little jump in his game, looked slow and at disinterested. I recall watching his Dad and him post game after one horrible loss. They looked as if the end of the road was near. Neither happy with the performance on the ice, and quite possibly the role within the organization.
Pretty sure the Rychel family isn’t in to a ‘pity party’. Hard work, and a penchant for going to the net has created a myriad of goal scoring opportunities and the 22 year old, 210 pounder has taken advantage.
Not everything is perfect in his game, but the Leafs could use a kid with size and an ability to go to the net. Could Rychel provide an answer?
When consistency is brought up, one has to look no further than goaltending. The combination of Antoine Bibeau and Garret Sparks seem to be a revolving door of ups and downs.
While it was clear early in the season that the Marlies would be pushing Bibeau as the starter of the future for the AHL club, it is now Sparks that has taken over the reigns of the twine teepee.
Sparks is still only 23 years old, and is now posting some incredible numbers on a defensively suspect team. After this weekend, Sparks now has a 13-6 record and 3 shutouts on the season. A large, athletic goalie can at times amaze you and then make you shake your head in disbelief wondering WHY he would overplay a puck when all he had to do was square up to the shooter and look big. With a 2.17 GAA and a .924 save percentage, clearly he is doing something right. Could this be a season in which he turns the corner and stakes claim as a future piece of the Leafs organization?
I have discussed several times my love for Travis Dermott and where I see him heading in the future for this organization. Nothing but praise from myself and those within the Marlies team itself.
However, I should also point out the much improved play of Justin Holl. The 10 pts that he has tallied thus far in the 2016-17 season will never jump off the page at you. However, with an extremely underwhelming start, it is clear that Holl has also turned the corner with his play. Unsure where he will land when it comes to future involvement at the next level, the Marlies will just hope that his continued solid play will assist them in making the Calder Cup Playoffs.
The blueline of the this team is a huge question mark when it comes to defensive play, and if the Marlies want to succeed it will most definitely have to be based on the Holl, Andrew Campbell, Dermott, Andrew Nielsen and a healthy Rinat Valiev.
So where does all of this improved play get the Marlies?
Thru 49 games this season the Marlies have a 24-21-3 record for a .531 winning percentage, which puts them 3rd Place in the North Division (the top 4 teams from each division make the playoffs).
The Toronto Marlies are far from in the clear when it comes to the playoffs but the recent inspired play should make for an interesting spring at the Ricoh Coliseum.