Tonight, the Toronto Marlies will play their tenth game of the 2018/19 regular season, as they take on the Cleveland Monsters at Quicken Loans Arena. Not only does that put them into double-digit territory, but it also kicks off one of their two traditional multi-week road trips of the season.
Why exactly do the Marlies evacuate their rink at the end of October, only to re-appear in the final days of the following month? As it turns out, Coca-Cola Coliseum is still City of Toronto property and part of the CNE. This means that when the Royal Winter Fair comes around, they get to use the rink for the multi-week event – usually replacing the ice with dirt and the Marlies with horses. As such, the Marlies use the time to knock a bunch of games off their road schedule.
This year, the break is easier than its ever been; tomorrow’s game in Cleveland, three games in Belleville, and one in Laval before returning home on the 17th. The chain of bus rides has been cut down severely, the total games have dropped from 8-9 to just five, and the team will most likely be able to spend most of their next 17 days in their own homes.
All the same, it’s still traditionally a bookmarking point in the season, so it’s worth looking at where they stand up to this point.
Heading into tonight, Toronto carries a 4-4-0-1 record, good for fourth in the North Division by points and a tie for third in points percentage. The great thing about this trip is that it’ll allow them to pick up some ground; three games against Belleville give them the chance to leapfrog them, and a four-point gap between themselves and Cleveland can be shrunk before the weekend hits.
Toronto achieved its record in a way it likely could have preferred to avoid; after a 7-3 season opener against Utica on October 5th, the team dropped the next five games against Binghamton, Cleveland, Rochester, and two more against the Comets. Since then, though, the team has caught a grip, winning their last three games by a combined score of 9-4.
Part of that comes from a steadying of goaltending, which as you can see above, has been a concern. Their full-season save percentage of 0.882 was even worse two and a half weeks ago and is still way below what they’d like it to be (by comparison, last year’s team got a historical 0.929 effort out of Garret Sparks and Calvin Pickard). Jeff Glass has started to settle in, and the team has in front of him as well. Limiting volume against is likely a goal, but I doubt they’ll want to change much on the other side of the ice; the team is near the top of the league in goal and shot generation, even as the Leafs have taken away quite a few of the team’s top ice-tilters both up front (Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, Frederik Gauthier), and on the Blue Line (Travis Dermott, Martin Marincin and Justin Holl).
Speaking of tilting the ice, Toronto has done that in a way that you’d expect a progressively-run, modern AHL team to do. Through the nine games, the Marlies have posted a 54.8% Corsi-For Percentage, attempting 401 shots in 5-on-5 situations while conceding 331. Unfortunately, I don’t have a reference point for where that stands with the rest of the league, as I’m tracking that data myself, but from a general standpoint, 55% is a very good mark for a team to be standing at. Notably, it’s not just a matter of score effects; the team took 60.2% of the shot attempts over their three-game winning streak over Hartford, Laval, and Syracuse.
Toronto’s efforts stretch beyond just the total package, though. There are a bevvy of players, all simultaneously working towards many goals. Not only are they trying to win hockey games, but they’re also trying to improve themselves and win the eyes of the league above, as they chase dreams of making to, or returning to, the National Hockey League. Some pathways are different than others, involve more stops on the journey, or more elements to to be taught. Here is an update on where everyone stands in the early goings of this season: Continue Reading…