Toronto Marlies 2023-24 playoff preview: A first round date with the Belleville Senators

Photo credit:Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
Bennett Jull
2 days ago
Most of our eyes will be on the Toronto Maple Leafs returning home tonight for Game 3 with Boston. The Leafs have stolen back home ice advantage, and have firmly put themselves right back into the series. But, they aren’t the only Toronto team with a big playoff match tonight. The Toronto Marlies begin their playoff campaign on the road in a best-of-three with the Belleville Senators. The winner of this mini-series will be in tough against the division-winning Cleveland Monsters. On Friday, the Marlies will host the baby Sens, and if the series heads to a third decisive game, it will be back in Belleville.
Season Series
These two teams know each other quite well. The AHL schedule pits teams within the same division against each other quite frequently with Belleville and Toronto squaring off 10 times this year, and seven of those games decided by just one goal. Belleville won six of those games, three of which were in overtime. This should be a very tight series, to say the least.
Team Numbers
Belleville’s record on the year was 38-28-3-3. They finished with 82 points, finishing 4th in the North Division.
PK: 79.3%, 25th in the AHL
PP: 18.2%, 16th in the AHL
Toronto’s record this season was 34-26-10-2. They finished with 80 points, finishing 5th in the North Division.
PK: 84.2%, 5th in the AHL
PP: 19.3%, 11th in the AHL
By the numbers, the Marlies hold an edge in the special teams department.
Key Players
Belleville was led in scoring by Garrett Pilon. His 47 points would only be good enough for 6th place in points on the Marlies, but he does bring plenty of AHL playoff experience having won the Calder Cup last year with Hershey. Egor Sokolov and Zack Ostapchuk are two big strong power forwards with skillsets that are probably more conducive to playoff success, and Ostapchuk in particular caught my eye this year. I’m confident that he will make his mark with Ottawa in years to come. Tyler Kleven was another young player whose game I liked, laying some major hits in his rookie campaign on Belleville’s blueline.
I shouldn’t leave out Mads Sogaard. The 6-foot-7 Danish goaltender had a solid campaign for Belleville and has flirted with Ottawa ever since being drafted. His 2.45 GAA and .916 save percentage will be relied upon against the Marlies firepower.
The Marlies certainly have their fair share of firepower. Joseph Blandisi led the way with 59 points including 25 goals in 70 games, good for top-15 in AHL scoring. Logan Shaw and Alex Steeves were just behind him, finishing top 20 in points, with 58 and 57 points, respectively. The Marlies boast four 25-goal scorers in Shaw (30), Steeves (27), Bellows (27), and Blandisi (25). While Logan Shaw wears the C, Joseph Blandisi has been the heartbeat of this team. Kiefer Bellows has proven to be a weapon at the AHL level, and Alex Steeves set a franchise record point streak earlier this season. All four players have plenty of experience and will be leaned upon.
The Marlies are anchored by Dennis Hildeby. The ‘Hildebeast’ earned AHL All-Star honours in his impressive rookie campaign, and the Marlies can be very confident with him in net.
Predicted Lineup
Kieffer Bellows – Logan Shaw – Nick Abruzzese
Alex Steeves – Dylan Gambrell – Kyle Clifford
Joseph Blandisi – Jacob Quillan – Roni Hirvonen
Robert Mastrosimone – Josiah Slavin – Zach Solow
Max Lajoie – Mikko Kokkonen
Marshall Rifai – Cameron Gaunce
Matteo Pietroniro – Topi Niemela
Dennis Hildeby
Other players to factor: Ryan Tverberg (injured), William Villeneuve, Max Ellis, Tommy Miller (injured), Tate Singleton, Isaac Johnson, Matthew Barbolini.
Final Thoughts
If the Marlies can turn these games into any sort of track meet, they have a serious advantage. A tightly checked low-scoring game favours the Senators, and the Marlies will be relying on their veterans. In addition to the aforementioned scorers, Kyle Clifford, Dylan Gambrell, and Max Lajoie have logged plenty of important minutes this season. Perhaps this is a biased opinion, but I have the Marlies winning this series in the first two games. Best of luck to both the NHL and AHL Leafs as they continue and begin their respective series’!

Check out these posts...