The Toronto Maple Leafs’ brain trust of general manager Kyle Dubas and head coach Mike Babcock are busy watching their AHL Toronto Marlies play in the Eastern Conference Championship against the Charlotte Checkers. And, they’re seeing two good young teams go against each other.
The Marlies currently trail the Checkers three games to two, but their play is giving Dubas and Babcock much to evaluate. It’s been both good and bad from the Maple Leafs’ prospects. This post focuses on news about the
Item One: Toronto Marlies One Game Away from Elimination
After a stunning overtime victory in Game 4 of the conference finals, in their back-to-back game on night two, the Marlies played a stinker and now are on the edge of being eliminated. Simply stated, the Marlies’ power play was beyond impotent in Game 5. The Marlies only scored on one of six power-play attempts, but worse yet, the Checkers scored two shorthanded goals. Basically, that was the game. There was no recovery from those mistakes.
Checkers goalie Dustin Tokarski played well and improved his record to 10-0-0. His 40 saves tied his own record for the most saves by a Checkers goalie this season. The Checkers now have a 3-2 lead in the American Hockey League’s Eastern Conference Final.
The Marlies came back from behind to win Game 4 on Thursday night 4-3 to even the series but now must win two straight if they hope to win the Calder Cup in consecutive seasons. Game 6 is on Sunday in Charlotte. If the Marlies win that game, they’ll also play Game 7 in Charlotte on Tuesday.
In an amazing statistic, the Checkers improved to 46-0-0 when leading after two periods this season.
Item Two: Marlies Defenseman Rasmus Sandin Has a Tough Game 5
Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe has given young defenseman Rasmus Sandin lots of minutes this season and during this series. The young Swede has impressed, but the Maple Leafs’ No. 1 pick (29th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft) also had a rough night in the 4-1 loss on Friday night. He’s been minus-three in the team’s three games at home.
But as Keefe reminds Maple Leafs fans, Sandin is “in his 18-year-old season. We played him 30 minutes tonight and that’s a lot to ask. Because of guys like him (contributing all season, along with another young Swede, Timothy Liljegren) that’s why we’re playing this time of year.” _(from ‘Marlies facing elimination after Game 5 loss to Charlotte’, The Toronto Sun – 5/24/19)_
Fortunately, Sandin sees the Eastern Conference Final for what they are: “It’s a good learning experience for me and the young guys on our team. You want to play hockey as far into the season as you can,” he added.
Both Sandin and his young Swedish defenseman teammate Lilijegren are gaining much experience and look to soon contribute on the Maple Leafs roster. Lilijegren, the Maple Leafs’ 17th-overall draft pick in the 2017 Entry Draft, is turning the corner to becoming an NHL defenseman.
Both young defensemen have the potential to make first-pass breakouts, yet remain inexperienced in the face of wilting pressure. Both have made a number of unforced errors during this difficult series. The Checkers are a strong team, with a great forecheck that pressures their opponents. Yet, as tough as these games are, they provide experience for the Maple Leafs’ young prospects.
Item Two: Mason Marchment Has Been Hot and Cold
Last week, I wrote a post about Mason Marchment and why I believed he might have the potential to become a solid bottom-six forward with the Maple Leafs next season. Still, Marchment is young and his game is far from mature. Like all other young hockey players, he makes mistakes. In the Marlies Eastern Conference Final series against the Checkers, both sides of his play have been displayed.
Obviously, in Game 4, the Checkers had enough of Marchment’s play. After he slammed leading scorer Andrew Poturalski through an open gate, Checkers’ enforcers physically worked him over. And, the officials let most of that go.
Marchment noticed, and of his own play, suggested: “I have to find that line, walk around the edge of it. I try my best; sometimes I get caught.” He added, “I take a lot of beating and feel like I bring that on myself a lot. But if you’re giving it out, you have to take it.” _(from ‘Marlies facing elimination after Game 5 loss to Charlotte’, The Toronto Sun – 5/24/19)_
I’m sure Dubas and Babcock are taking notes from the Coliseum press box.
Item Three: Michael Carcone Has a Game Four Hat Trick in Marlies Win
Michael Carcone came to the Maple Leafs in December’s Josh Leivo trade with the Vancouver Canucks. At first, that trade looked like a clear steal for the Canucks, however, the 22-year-old Carcone is shedding new light on what Dubas saw in the young left winger. Carcone has quickly become part of the
Carcone has played well for the Marlies at the end of the team’s regular season. During the team’s overtime victory in Game 4, he was obviously the game’s first star with his first professional hat trick. The overtime goal was Carcone’s second overtime winner of these playoffs. He had a four-point night with three goals and an assist on the goal that forced overtime.
By the way, the Game 4 victory was the eighth straight playoff game the Marlies have won in overtime and their third overtime victory during these 2019 Playoffs. The Marlies’ Adam Brooks also had a hat trick against the Rochester Americans.
The Marlies game on Sunday might be their season. They’ve had a great playoff run, but the Checkers are a really strong team. They had a great 2018-19 regular season (a 51-17-7-1 record in 76 games). Furthermore, after the Carolina Hurricanes’ great playoffs this season, the team assigned defenseman Haydn Fleury, Patrick Brown, and Jake Bean to the Checkers for their playoff run. They’re stacked.
It will be tough, but the Marlies have been resilient all season. Good luck, Marlies.