Last time we spoke about the Toronto Marlies they were playing incredible hockey. Guess what? They still are.
Even after losing their final game before the AHL All-Star break to Binghamton (6-5 in OT) the Marlies continue to lead the American Hockey League standings with a sizable 14 point cushion over the next closest team. To say this is incredible, would an understatement of sizable proportions.
On Saturday evening, the Marlies started Garret Sparks between the pipes in an attempt to keep the winning streak alive. Making only 23 saves in the losing effort, it would be safe to say it was not the best effort we have seen from the young goaltender this season. Any team heading into a long break (such as the All-Star weekend) is in danger of letting their foot off the gas pedal and the Marlies did just that.
On the upside, Connor Brown continues to play well since his return from injury. The young Marlies forward scored a goal and added an assist increasing his point total to six in the four games he has played since his broken ankle.
All-Star nominated defenseman, TJ Brennan now has points in eight straight games (2 assists on Saturday) and extended his LEAGUE leading point total to 47 in the 2015-16 season thus far. While it would be great to keep TJ around for the Calder Cup run, another shot at the NHL would be an excellent reward for a loyal foot soldier in this organization. After a game last week, Brennan dressed up in a Batman costume (SuperHero Day at Ricoh) in order to surprise his young nephew who was at the game. And subsequently, after the AHL Skills contest he held the video camera so that Bob McGill and Todd Crocker could do their segment. When Mike Babcock talks about good people in the organization, you dont have to look any further than Mr. Brennan #AllClass
Another All-Star nominee, Josh Leivo had a four point night while recording 2 goals and 2 assists. This was the third time of the current season that Leivo has produced that many points during a single game. It is amazing to watch the level of contributions that Leivo brings to the AHL Marlies but cannot seem to get over the hump to produce during his stints in the NHL. Love to see him get more minutes in the NHL, during the remainder of the season.
On the day before, Friday evening in Grand Rapids it marked the return of the man with the beautiful locks, William of the Clan Nylander. The young Swede was welcomed back to the lineup after missing 16 games with an injury (Upper Body) sustained at the World Junior Championships in Finland and a subsequent (Middle Body Injury) once he returned to working out. While Nylander looked like he hadn’t lost any speed during his lengthy time off ice, it did take him just over a period to record his first point with an assist in the 2nd period of play.
As we discussed last time, the continued solid play of Zach Hyman is somewhat of a bonus to this Marlies team. Hyman his 9th of the season versus the Griffins (10th goal the next day) and the Marlies are 18-1-1 when Zach contributes a point in the game. Hyman is producing most of his points during 5 on 5 play which is outstanding considering his lack of powerplay minutes for Coach Keefe’s Marlies team.
Brendan Leipsic, scored his 14th goal of the season to seal the victory for the Marlies before they headed back to Toronto for the second game of the weekend series with the Griffins.
I would be remiss if I were not to mention the much improved play of goaltender Antoine Bibeau. After a bit of a slow start for the Marlies (and a call up to the NHL), Bibeau didn’t appear to be the same goalie, I had watched and gushed over last season. While I am sure it was disappointing to Bibeau, think of me, the guy who backed him!
While Sparks was out, Bibeau had an opportunity to get comfortable in the Marlies net and get back into a rhythm. Easy enough to say, and much more difficult to do, I believe that Bibeau has reclaimed the starters spot for the Marlies. I do realize that there isnt one person who will agree with this statement but I believe the Marlies net is in TWO sets of very capable hands with he and Sparks. What I have noticed about Bibeau is confidence. Last season, his rebound control and positioning reminded me of how Bernier plays net BUT with the added bonus of height and size. Bibeau has won his last six starts for the Marlies while posting a .941 save percentage and a 2.28 save percentage. Outstanding numbers based on him challenging the shooters in a much more aggressive manner (beyond blue paint at times), great anticipation to where the shot is coming from while squaring up, and finally, inhaling shots with very few rebounds. Love what I am seeing from Bibeau and while some along press row won’t agree that Antoine can carry the mail for this season, I am a Bib-liever!!!
So there ya have it sports fans. Another weekend wrap up from the Ricoh and beyond. Get your Marlies tickets and watch the best product in the AHL. Let me know if you have any other questions that I can answer….I shall do my best.
Next Game: February 4th, 2016 @Manitoba Moose.