Well, other than grabbing a one-game lead in their first round Calder Cup playoff match-up, the Toronto Marlies and San Antonio Rampage didn’t settle a whole lot in Game 1.
Expect a bit more in the rematch, Friday at 7:30 p.m. (Leafs TV, AM640) at Ricoh Coliseum.
The Marlies certainly didn’t exert the dominance that you would expect from a team that accrued 15 more regular season points and outperformed the Rampage in most every statistical category. And for a team that had never won a playoff game in its history, the Rampage gave the Marlies everything they wanted with two power play goals and a shorthanded marker.
It would be tempting to look at Jiri Tlusty’s winner and five goals in as many games as an indicator that the Czech kid is dominating the competition but the truth is, Tlusty is prospering on a line buoyed by veteran Ben Ondrus and 23-year-old John Mitchell.
Mitchell was the best Marlie of the night in Game 1 and that line was by far the Marlies’ best. No member of the current roster has played more games than Mitchell who to me seems more NHL- ready than some of the players who have hopscotched past him up to the parent club: Robbie Earl and Jeremy Williams.
Neither one of those two seems destined to play in this series. Williams can’t be sent back down, he is out of options and thus ineligible. The speedy Earl has been fighting a groin problem and was re-examined in Montreal this week. The Marlies have a couple of other injuries. Derrick Walser who tallied 16 goals from the Marlies blue line is out with an undisclosed injury and rearguard Jay Harrison is out with a head injury. No word on Harrison, but the Marlies expect Walser back.
Goalie Scott Clemmensen has a point when he says “you can look at it as a positive that we didn’t play our best game and still won.”
The Marlies committed some unpardonable sins, notably blowing a two-goal lead and allowing a short-handed, last-minute goal in the second period goal. They got a substantial break in the game’s last few minutes when San Antonio ran into penalty trouble and had to finish the last four minutes of the game shorthanded. The visitors outshot the locals and the Marlies advantage in territorial play was tenable but not exactly overwhelming.
Where do you go from here?
Well, that’s why it’s always best to win the game. The Marlies don’t have to change a thing. There is no second-guessing of coach Greg Gilbert’s decision as he stared the veteran Clemmensen over hot-shot sophomore Justin Pogge.
The club merely has to keep shoving minutes in the direction of a veteran NHLer such as Bates Battaglia and the NHL-ready Staffan Kronwall.
Andy Wozniewski has rediscovered his game at the American League level and the Marlies have a ton of veterans, David Ling, Kris Newbury, Ondrus, Walser, who you can hand the puck to with little risk.
If you aren’t going to shine, at least get the win. Everything else is window dressing and the visitors now feel additional pressure to steal a victory in the Marlies backyard.
It will be interesting for Maple Leafs brass to see what they have. Several players, Mitchell comes to mind here, could significantly bolster their chances with the parent club with strong performances.