MGD: Let the Games Begin

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Photo Credit: Christian Bonin/TSGPhoto.com

Winning 54 games is great and all, but you know what would be really nice? Winning 69 games. The Toronto Marlies will begin their push towards the Calder Cup tonight when they take on the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in Game 1 of their first-round series. Here’s what you need to know.

The Marlies

Lines projected from practice lines on April 19th, subject to change

Left Wing  Centre Right Wing
Zach Hyman (23) William Nylander (19) Colin Smith (22)
Josh Leivo (22) Mark Arcobello (27) Connor Brown (22)
Brendan Leipsic (21) Sam Carrick (24) Matt Frattin (28)
Rich Clune (28) Frederik Gauthier (20) Nikita Soshnikov (22)

Left Defence Right Defence
Stuart Percy (22) Connor Carrick (22)
TJ Brennan (27) Justin Holl (24)
Andrew Campbell (28) Rinat Valiev (20)

There’s likely to be a bit of adjustment from the above roster before puck drop but short of somebody coming out for Tobias Lindberg or Kasperi Kapanen, I can’t see much change happening. With Kapanen’s productivity down of late and Lindberg’s specialty being shutting down the opposition, however, I wouldn’t expect much.

By and large, this is a sound lineup in which any of the lines and pairings can take any precedent. All four forward lines have some element of offensive skill, with the top six focused more on their ability to move the puck around while the bottom group excels on the forecheck. The fourth line, in particular, has been a mainstay so long as the three have all been healthy and on the team.

On defence, there are no real shockers. Brennan and Holl have spent most of the season together, as have Campbell and Valiev. Both pairs have had tremendous success in pushing the puck up to the offensive zone and neutralizing counter attacks. Carrick and Percy haven’t played a ton together just yet but are both intelligent positional players who move around the ice with relative ease.

The Sound Tigers

Lines via Paul Hendrick

LW C RW
Michael Dal Colle (19) Bracken Kearns (34) James Wright (26)
Mike Halmo (24) Connor Jones (25) Tanner Fritz (24)
Justin Florek (25) Ben Holmstrom (29) Sebastian Collberg (22)
Jared Gomes (27) Marc-Andre Cliché (29) Colin Marikson (23)

LD RD
Kevin Czuczman (25) Scott Mayfield (23)
Matt Finn (22) Patrick Cullity (29)
Kane Lafranchise (27) Parker Wotherspoon (18)

As mentioned before, the Sound Tigers are a vet-laden roster without a ton of room for developing prospects. With that said, we’ll get to see Michael Dal Colle play on the first line and possibly get his first shot on goal (he has none in his first three pro games), and 2015 4th rounder Parker Wotherspoon will draw in as well. Matt Finn appears to be the only player from the Michael Grabner trade who will draw in tonight, and Alan Quine (Bridgeport’s #2 scorer) is up with the Islanders scoring dramatic double-overtime goals.

Starting Goaltenders

Antoine Bibeau will draw in between the pipes for the Marlies. Some were expecting Garret Sparks, but Bibeau has given the team all the reason to allow him a chance. While Bibeau was at the bottom of the league in save percentage at the end of November, he’s clawed back to a respectable 0.909 since, including an 8-2-1 record with a 0.929 save percentage since March 11th. Sparks will likely play tomorrow night.

Across the ice, Bridgeport will start Stephon Williams, who has been their backup goalie for much of the season. In 29 games, he has a 15-13-1 record and a 0.899 save percentage;  a stat line that doesn’t really leave much to be scared of. March was likely his best month, as he went 5-1-1, but even then did so with a good but not world-beating 0.910 save percentage. In his last five starts, he’s a 0.872 and has a 2-3-0 record to show for it.

What To Watch For

  • Bridgeport were the league’s most penalized team this year, and four of their five most penalized players are playing tonight. There’s no doubt that they’ll try to “set the tone” with the Marlies and get aggressive. With that said, that’s what Rich Clune (who represents 3.2% of Toronto’s games played and 15.6% of their penalty minutes) is there for, along with being a half-point per game forechecker. Sam Carrick, Andrew Campbell, and TJ Brennan have all been known to step up when needed to. Enforcers aren’t a necessity, but it is nice to have good players who can protect the others on the side.
  • Carrick and noted super pest Brendan Leipsic will likely attempt to turn that collective short fuse into something the Marlies can take advantage of. If you can get the aggression to become a product of distraction rather than strategy, you can soak up a lot of powerplays against a weaker team.
  • Lots of pucks to the net. Toronto needs to take advantage of the goaltending mismatch and really flex their offensive muscles here. Bridgeport is an above-average defensive team (with little to no offensive counter), but Toronto are the juggernauts in that regard and need to show it.

Puck drop is at 7:00 PM. You can listen to it on TSN 1050 or watch it on LeafsTV. If that isn’t an option, AHL Live will have audio (free) and video ($9.99 US) feeds.