Photo Credit: Christian Bonin/TSGPhoto.com
Having two teenagers on your AHL roster is a rare occurrence. Having them both be core players is rarer, having one become the best player in the league while staying there is even rarer, and losing them both to the World Juniors? Well, that’s not typically a thing that happens. Then again, most of the Toronto Marlies’ season is out-of-the-ordinary, and while William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen hang out in Helsinki, the rest of the roster has five games to play before their tournament is done. From the looks of it, though, the remaining group is more than capable of handling the pressure, as shown by a 5-2 win over the St. John’s IceCaps tonight.
While Toronto’s top-line have had their praises sung throughout the past few months, there are a few players whose numbers aren’t quite up to expectation. One of those is Brendan Leipsic, who went from the top five in rookie points-per-game last year (0.812) to a slightly lower clip of 18 points in his first 29 games (0.620) to start the year. A lot of that comes down to opportunity; Toronto gives ample ice time to all its players, but ultimately, some lines get further stacked than others, and certainly, the top forwards find themselves getting more powerplay minutes.
Today, Leipsic got to have a bigger role on the man-advantage, much like he did in his last game before Christmas. It certainly played to his into the second period, he took a heavy wrister from just above the hashmarks to beat Zach Fucale and open the scoring. This isn’t Leispic first swing at taking advantage of increased opportunity; he also picked up a goal and assist against Hershey in Toronto’s last game before Christmas.
— Toronto Marlies (@TorontoMarlies) December 26, 2015
To make up for Nylander’s absence from the top line, Mark Arcobello was slotted into the top line. He didn’t show up on the scoreboard until the last minute of the game, but Richard Panik, his right winger, proved that he didn’t need Nylander to rack up points, banging home a gimme of a one-timer to widen the gap for Toronto. Fans at the Air Canda Centre held their breath a bit when Lucas Lessio struck back for the IceCaps at the start of the third period, but Scott Harrington restored the two-goal lead a few minutes later with his first goal as a member of the team; a wrist shot from the point that cleared a wide array of traffic.
It’s a good thing Harrington did so, too, because just seven seconds later, Darren Dietz responded with a near-identical goal on the other side. Looking for some permanent insurance, Sam Carrick crashed towards the net with six minutes to go. Carrick has been in a similar situation to Leipsic, in the sense that he hasn’t taken the numbers leap people were hoping for, but made the most of his opportunities tonight, picking up an unassisted goal that set his team apart. Nikita Soshnikov, who was originally credited for Harrington’s goal, potted the empty netter need to secure the game at the very end.
Overall, it was a game that didn’t require the team’s big-name talent to shine. Quality players who have settled into secondary roles blossomed with increased opportunity; even in positions where they weren’t stepping in the roles of high-end youth. Take Rich Clune and Rinat Valiev, for example; both were in the same roles as they typically were, but thrived on the physical but not out-of-hand nature of the game and each picked up a pair of assists. Or Antoine Bibeau, continued to claw his way back to respectability with a 24-save performance.
The Marlies move to an absurd 0.806 points percentage on the year; still good for first in the AHL. They’ll have to work hard to maintain it, though, as the IceCaps have typically been a tough opponent for them, and they’ll be facing them again tomorrow afternoon; this time at Ricoh Coliseum.