The Toronto Marlies / Hamilton Bulldogs rivalry may be the most repetitive in professional hockey. Partially due to proximity, and partially due to the AHL’s concept of scheduling, the two teams face each other twice every preseason, and a whopping dozen times over the course of the regular season. On one hand, having 18% of guaranteed games against the same team can be stale to some, but makes the games very heated. Not only are you developing these players to become NHLers, you’re developing them go have pre-existing hatred once they get there. This plays out well for the Leafs and Habs; just look at how Nazem Kadri lines up against, well, anybody under 23 in Montreal. In that sense, the repetition yeilds entertainment rewards.
Neither team is thinking about that on the ice, though. They’re focusing on two points, and today was Game 1 of those dozen matchups. The Marlies made the best of it,, and walked out with a 2-1 win.
Control was tilted in Toronto’s favour from the start, with Trevor Smith getting a breakaway opportunity just a minute and a half in. He lost control of the puck before he could make a move, however. Andew MacWilliam was the next to have a close call, only topped by Robert Mayer’s quick glove hand on the next shift. Just a few minutes later, Carter Ashton was awarded a penalty shot, but his five hole attempt was easily stopped. Despite not capitalizing on these early chances, it wasn’t long until it turned into something tangible. Just before the midway point of the period, TJ Brennan scored his eighth goal of the season. Like many of the others, it was a powerplay point shot that beat Robert Mayer. The Marlies had a 5 on 3 opportunity just a minute later, but couldn’t turn it into a goal.
Ashton had another breakaway opportunity early in the second period, and repeated the same move, still not fooling Mayer. He eventually got the last laugh, however, finally getting one through Mayer’s pads, this time from a standing position off a feed from Spencer Abbott. That was it for scoring in the middle frame, but not for control; Toronto took 11 consecutive shots, not giving one up for the first fifteen minutes.
The game was far from over, however, as Mike Blunden displayed with a snapshot that beat MacIntyre early in the third period, and Sven Andrighetto almost cemented just seconds later. This time, MacIntyre flashed the leather to maintain the lead, and the Marlies recollected themselves.
Drew MacIntyre didn’t see a ton of action, but made a couple of big saves, and was ready when the team needed him to be. His performance this year is going to be key in keeping a team that struggles to generate scoring chances in check, and while he hasn’t dominated to the extent of last year, he’s giving the team the stability they need.
Carter Ashton was the most noticeable of today’s Leafs assignments, getting himself in good offensive position early and often. A few better choices in shot location and he could have easily had a couple more goals.
Trevor Smith and David Broll also came down from the Leafs. Neither had particulaly dynamic games, but neither made any pressing errors either. Smith was a post away from a powerplay goal in the first period.
T.J. Brennan has seven more goals than the entirety of the Toronto Maple Leafs defensive core. I’d like to think he can contribute a thing or two to their powerplay. He’s now at eight goals (two hat tricks), and four assists in five games.
Andrew MacWilliam probably had the best shift of the game tonight, blocking three shots during a first period penalty kill. The willingness to get in front of the puck by the entire PK unit has been impressive.
The Marlies play their next game at home on Wednesday night against the Rockford IceHogs, affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks.