T.J. Brennan’s American Hockey League dominance continues.
The Toronto Marlies defenseman led the offense in a 5-3 Marlies win over the St. John’s IceCaps with a goal and three assists. Brennan (67 points) now sits five points back of Chris Bourque for the AHL scoring lead.
“You just try and look for opportunities throughout the game,” Brennan said post game. “We’ve been struggling a little bit on our power-play, but our five-on-five play has been really, really good.”
After allowing the first goal by Brett Lernout, the Marlies poured the offense on in the second half of the first period. Brennan, Colin Smith and Josh Leivo, with a nice bat out of mid-air goal, quickly answered for the home team who dominated the play at five-on-five.
“We’ve really done a great job creating a lot of opportunities and really working hard to create that,” Brennan added. “I try and jump in and sometimes guys find me and I really want to try and take advantage of that opportunity because they’re not too many that come around.”
Leivo scored again with a nice wrap around in the second period with St. John’s closing the gap shortly after with goals by Bud Holloway and Charles Hudon. Brendan Leipsic put the game away with about three minutes left to play in the third period.
“Giving up the first goal, giving them a lead was not ideal but I thought we did well after that,” said head coach Sheldon Keefe. “I think we just played a pretty good and efficient game, we had the puck a lot, the shot clock I think would show that.
“The game was set up for success for us here today based on our schedule in comparison to theirs (St. John’s), so, they had some adversity coming in and we wanted to make sure we didn’t make life easy for them.”
Even though majority of the Marlies key players are spending time with the Maple Leafs at the NHL level. It’s never easy to lose your best players and have others come in and adjust to the system. Yet, the team still manages to find ways to come out on top.
“You got to be able to adapt and change your game and recently we’ve been able to do that. Took us a little bit, but I think we’ve done a good job of pulling through.” – T.J. Brennan
Even though the past few weeks have been tough, Keefe explains that it’s all part of being in this league.
“You expect that to happen,” Keefe said. “You know, every team in the AHL goes through it, it’s come all at once for us.
“We’ve been on the wrong side of games in the last month or so, more so than we were early on in the year. But for the most part, the effort’s been good and guys have come to work every day and keep getting better and just taking advantage of the opportunities that those call ups create.”
“Right now, we have a really different team than we did than probably a month or two ago, said Brennan. “You got to be able to adapt and change your game and recently we’ve been able to do that. Took us a little bit, but I think we’ve done a good job of pulling through.”
The latest call-up to make his Marlie and AHL debut was Shane Conacher, younger brother of Cory Conacher. Conacher was signed to an amateur tryout on Saturday before the game. Overall, the head coach thinks he didn’t look out of place in his first game.
“I thought he was good,” Keefe said. “(Conacher) had some tough matchups, played against most of their best players all night, had some scoring chances. Picked up little details of the system really well for a guy who’s had a couple practices and a couple video sessions.”
A bright spot for this Marlies team is the current crop of guys stepping up and filling the void on offense. With guys like William Nylander and Zack Hyman up with the Leafs, it paves the way for guys like Colin Smith and Tobias Lindberg to make an impact. Which has been the case.
Colin Smith scored a beautiful goal in the first to tie the game at one. Smith made a nice move to get around IceCaps defender Josiah Didier and was able to sneak the puck by goaltender Zach Fucale for his 19th of the season.
“I think guys like that have done well for us,” Keefe explained. “Smith has been great, I think he’s at or over a point per game since he’s been here so he’s filled in some of the offensive loss that we’ve had. He does little things like penalty-kill for us, helps on the power-play.”
Smith is averaging a point per game since coming over in a trade from the San Antonio Rampage. He has six goals and 14 points with the Marlies since the trade. He has 19 goals and 48 points to date.
Lindberg, (came over from the Binghamton Senators in the Dion Phaneuf trade) has shown great patience with the puck while using his size to his advantage. He had an assist Saturday, giving him 11 points in 18 games played in a Marlie uniform.
“Lindberg has had some games where he’s been absolutely dominant,” Keefe said. “(He) has shown the ability to really shoot and be able to score and be great in the offensive zone. Another guy that we are pushing to be more consistent, to use his strength and his size all the time and make an impact every shift.”
Antoine Bibeau made 16 saves out of 19 shots to get his 23rd win of the season.