After winning the Western Conference Championship last year, but losing to the Norfolk Admirals in the Calder Cup final, the Marlies came into this season ready with high expectations. And after five games, it is still unclear if they can make a long run again. After five games, Toronto is 2-2-1 and have not done anything special so far. Their five points are good for seventh place in the conference, but there are lots of games to be played. Still, there are some questions about the team that have risen early on and will need to be answered if they are to get back to the Calder Cup this spring.
1. Who is going to play goal?
This is a problem they had last year, when Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas battled most of the year for the starting role. Coming into this season, Scrivens was the favourite to get the starts after he won the NHL job for the Maple Leafs away from James Reimer. But Rynnas won’t give up and his play early has showed that. Rynnas was in net when the Marlies shutout the Hamilton Bulldogs last Saturday, and again on Sunday when they lost in a shootout to the Grand Rapid Griffins. These two will battle as long as Scrivens services are not needed in the NHL, which could be a while, and could make it very difficult for opponents to score on Toronto on any given night.
2. Will the new guys fit in?
Brian Burke may not have added some big stars to the NHL roster, but he did add some AHL stars to the Marlies when he signed defenceman Mike Kostka and forward Keith Aucoin to big contracts. Both have been stars in the AHL before but neither has been able to make the jump to the NHL so far. Marlies fans don’t mind though as these guys were brought in to bring a boost to their team and so far they have been important contributors. Kostka has 2 goals and 3 assists in the first 5 games, while Aucoin has 3 assists. If the Marlies are going to be successful this season, they will need these two to continue to produce the offence they were brought on for.
3. Is Nazem Kadri still a star?
When the Marlies reported for training camp in late September, a big story was Kadri’s weight gain. The former first-round pick of the Leafs really can’t catch a break with the organization and is always under pressure from the media and fans. The Marlies need him to contribute offensively the way he did when playing in the OHL for the London Knights and so far he has 2 assists and 10 penalty minutes. It is still early, but the Marlies will need more discipline and offence from Kadri. He is one of the highest drafted players on the team and that only adds to the responsibility he has to perform.
4. Is the AHL to slow for Jake Gardnier?
For some players, the NHL lockout sees them being sent back to the AHL and Gardnier is one of those players. Gardnier played 75 games with the big club last year, registering 30 points and kicking Luke Schenn out of Toronto. But now Gardnier is back with the Marlies and is not slowing down. He already has 2 goals and 2 assists in 5 games and has become an important leader on the club. Once the NHL starts up again he will be gone, but until that happens, the Marlies can take full advantage of his talent to improve their team.
5. Will the short summer affect the team?
The Marlies had a long playoff run last year, but ultimately came up short of their goal; the Calder Cup. Their last game was June 9th, which is way later than the Marlies have ever played, but also took a few extra months of preparation away from them. It is still to early to tell if the shortened summer will affect the current group, but that will remain a factor for the entire year. If the Marlies are able to get back to the Calder Cup final, they will be tough to beat. No team likes losing twice. Just ask the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins.