Marlies’ Playoff Push: Aiming for the Top

It has been a while since my last update on the Toronto Marlies. Back then the Marlies were 41 games into the season and were struggling due to injuries and poor goaltending from Antoine Bibeau. They were on the outside of a playoff spot in a weak North Division and looked like they might miss the playoffs. Now 27 games later, the Marlies lead the North Division in the AHL standings with 79 points.

Sparks Shines

The Marlies have really upped their game for the last half of the season. In the last 27 games, the Marlies are 19-6-2, which is due in no small part to the spectacular play of goalie Garret Sparks. In 26 games Sparks has a record of 18-7-0 and is third in the AHL in both goals-against average (2.08) and save percentage with (.927).

Antoine Bibeau, Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Marlies, NHL, AHL
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The Marlies would undoubtedly have pulled away from the rest of the division if Sparks was able to play more games this season, but he was restricted by an injury and a team suspension. Bibeau hasn’t done the team any favors by being incredibly inconsistent. Going from a stellar stretch of games to start the season to being unreliable in net, Bibeau has been in net for most of the Marlies’ losses with a record of 13-14-5 in 32 games. His poor play this season really shows in his numbers, as he has a 3.08 goals-against average and a .894 save percentage.

The Marlies could be in trouble as both Sparks and Kasperi Kapanen are up with the Toronto Maple Leafs due to injuries. It’s unclear when they will be back with the Marlies, but luckily their next game isn’t until Friday.

Kapanen & Leipsic Leading the Way

Kapanen and Brendan Leipsic haven’t missed a beat since returning from their injuries that left them sidelined for a chunk of the season. Aside from Sparks, the Marlies’ offense has been the biggest reason for their rise in the standings. Both Kapanen and Leipsic remain point-per-game players, with 43 points in 43 games for Kapanen and 43 points in 41 games for Leipsic. That has really shown against the rest of the league, with the Marlies having the sixth-most goals in the AHL.

That is also due to other players stepping up to the scoring responsibility while Kapanen and Leipsic were injured. Andreas Johnsson has been the biggest surprise, as he only recently turned up his point production with 44 points in 67 games. Part of that rise is because of his seven-game point streak in which he has accumulated two goals and nine points. Seth Griffith has also helped the Marlies’ offense since coming back to the Leafs organization after being claimed off waivers for the second time with 37 points in 30 games.

The Last Eight Games

The Marlies have just eight games remaining in their regular season schedule. Seven of their eight games are against divisional rivals. Two are against the Syracuse Crunch, and those might decide who wins the division as Syracuse is just two points behind the Marlies. Then the Marlies have three games against the St. John’s Icecaps, who are trying to stay in the last divisional playoff spot.

(Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

In regards to the playoff picture, the Marlies are likely to play either the Icecaps or the Albany Devils in the first round. Follow the link for a breakdown of the AHL standings and playoff matchups as they change game-to-game.

After watching the Marlies play in February and then again on Saturday against the Springfield Falcons, I can say that the Marlies have really turned things around. Johnsson came away with two goals in that game and his play has drastically improved from the last game I attended. Griffith and Leipsic stood out the most to me as they both show tremendous skill and are great at driving the Marlies’ offense.

With the way the Marlies are playing it’s easy to say that they are now a lock for the playoffs.