Photo Credit: Christian Bonin/TSGPhoto.com
We knew it was probably coming. The Toronto Marlies, who had suffered through all sorts of weird luck throughout the late fall and early winter, have now won seven of their last nine games and are back in a playoff position in the AHL’s North Division.
This weekend will be a real test of their abilities; a grudge match in Utica tonight and two (TSN broadcasted!) games against the Albany Devils at Ricoh Coliseum on Saturday and Sunday. A table running could put them back in the conversation as a potential division champion, an accolade they’ve carried for four of the past five years and were considered completely out of just a few weeks ago.
But, before the weekend kicks off, let’s see who has been stirring the straw for the Marlies since snapping an 8-of-10 losing streak on January 20th.
Wicked goal by Seth Griffith puts the Marlies up 1-0 after one. He has points in all five games he’s played in so far. Moore+Froese assists. pic.twitter.com/p6IWfbALHL
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 28, 2017
The Maple Leafs reclaimed Griffith off waivers on the day that the Marlies’ run started, meaning he missed out on Game 1 against Hartford. But since then, he’s been lights out, scoring a point in every game he’s played in, to the tune of two goals and ten assists in eight appearances. He’s also taken a little over two shots per game, and added energy to Toronto’s new top line at a time where it’s been desperately needed, with Brendan Leipsic and Kasperi Kapanen still out with injuries.
Griffith’s been a known AHL star for a long time, and it works out well that the Leafs would be able to use in in that regard before making a more significant decision regarding his future.
Kerby Rychel picks up his second goal of the game and puts the Marlies up 3-2 with 7:12 to go in the third period. His nicest in a while. pic.twitter.com/ji244B4yRk
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) February 8, 2017
When Leipsic and Kapanen went down, Toronto also lost their two representatives at the AHL All-Star Game. Thankfully, Rychel got hot at just the right time, making him a worthy nominee to participate, along with being a huge help to the team. Lethal in front of the net and unafraid to use his body, Rychel has added a new element to Toronto’s powerplay unit and has three goals and eight assists in his past nine games, to go with an obscene 35 shots (3.89 a game).
In just a few short weeks, he’s gone from the forgotten prospect from that trade to being on the casual radar, which is pretty fantastic.
Really nice feed from Trevor Moore to Andrew Neilsen and the Marlies go up 4-3. pic.twitter.com/8OajiYoXqN
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 28, 2017
I had a lot of nice things to say about Moore when the Leafs signed him to an ELC in July. The University of Denver product, who outscored fellow Alumni Tyler Bozak at the same age, had some skeptics due to his size and lack of physicality, but has picked it up with the Marlies as the season’s progressed. Since teaming up with some better offensive talent, though, he’s been money. He played in all nine games of the run and picked up three goals and seven assists, along with 18 shots and a +4 rating. That’s a marked improvement from the six points he scored in his first 21 games; hopefully, that’s a sign of things to come and not just a riding of Griffith’s coattails.
Here’s Froese’s goal, his 19th of the season. The Marlies finish the second period up 2-0, a marked improvement on yesterday. pic.twitter.com/zvz1Yok5g2
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) February 5, 2017
Centreing the Griffith and Moore line, who have really been the key offensive catalysts for this team of late, is the often-dependable Byron Froese. While most Leafs fans know him as Mike Babcock’s defensive zone crutch from last year, Froese is dynamic at the AHL level, particularly when it comes to getting shots off in the blink of an eye. He’s done that a few times lately, scoring five goals and adding four assists in the past nine games while taking 26 shots on goal and completely avoiding the penalty box.
I’d still be curious to see what he could do in Ben Smith’s spot if told to take a more offensive role, but for now, he gives the Marlies a much needed top centre.
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 26, 2017
While a lot of the hype this season has been on Andrew Nielsen, Dermott seems to be making a case to be the Marlies’ best all-around rookie defenceman. He’s very positionally aware, he’s mobile, he moves the puck well, and now that he’s recovered from an injury suffered earlier in the year, you’re starting to see his aggressive side a bit. These past few weeks, he’s finally started to contribute significantly on the scoresheet, picking up his first AHL goal on one of his 23 shots and adding five assists. Dermott still isn’t quite ready for prime-time, but he’s certainly starting to show signs of his potential.
Garret Sparks channels his inner Domnik Hasek pic.twitter.com/mDYhKDMLCa
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) January 7, 2017
Lastly, the Marlies have shaken off an ever complicated goaltending fiasco and found stability between the pipes. A lot of that comes from Garret Sparks, who was injured and suspended for much of the early stages of the season but has taken the bull by the horns in the new calendar year. While his run of stellar play actually started a couple of weeks before, and the first game of the streak was actually his worst performance statistically in months, Sparks still managed to put up a shutout and a 0.926 save percentage in the 7 of 9 games that he started in, to go with a 6-1-0 record.
It remains to be seen what’s next for the team, both in the positive and negative sense. They should be getting some star talent back soon, but teams will begin to start taking them seriously again now that the wins are coming. Either way, it’s a good sign for the organization’s future to see the group gelling again, and the hope will be that this week ends up being a continuation of that.