It’s hard, damnably hard to lose when you don’t give up any power play goals.
Really. You can do anything. A trip, a wayward shot that doesn’t hit Plexiglas, a hug misinterpreted by a suspicious official as a hold.
Right now it’s a bit like professional wrestling in Marlieworld. You can go heel and come out ahead.
The Marlies are a win away from the Calder Cup finals thanks to a tidy 3-0 win over the Oklahoma City Barons, Wednesday at Ricoh.
They now lead their third-round series three games to one and can clinch with a win at home Friday night. Barring that, they will be looking at a nastier job, winning one of two in OKC.
Jerry D’Amigo with an empty netter, his eighth goal in 12 games, Nicolas Deschamps and Philip Dupuis scored for the Marlies.
The Marlies were without their most consistent regular season forward, Mike Zigomanis, lost to injury. Same with Marcel Mueller. Same with Nazem Kadri. That’s 20 playoff points out of the lineup, ten of them owned by Kadri. Carter Ashton has played only two games because of injury. The Marlies played minus the owners of 10 of their 33 playoff goals. Didn’t seem to matter.
Without much of their offence, the Marlies hung around in the first period. Outshot 13-5, they weren’t really dramatically outchanced and ended up taking a 1-0 lead into intermission thanks to a nice bit of work from Dupuis who deposited a rebound off a shot from Deschamps past OKC netminder Yann Danis.
After that it was a slow, discreet garotte. Outshot 30-16, the Marlies enjoyed as many good chances as the visitors. Goalie Ben Scrivens was stone-cold calm and impeccably positioned.
“We knew we weren’t going to be able to get our cycle game going because of our lineup,” said coach Dallas Eakins. “Our guys know their limitations. That’s not a slight on anybody. We knew we were going to have to check well and when we did get an opportunity we had to take advantage of it.”
Wednesday’s win was the eighth in 12 post-season games in which the Marlies did not allow a power play marker. The Marlies killed off 88 per cent of their penalties in the regular season, best in the American League. They now sit 55 of 58 in the post-season. That’s 94.8 per cent. It’s starting to get goofy.
The numbers are nice but good penalty killing has ancillary benefits. It grinds an opponent down. It forces the opposition penalty killers to be perfect. It helps smooth over bumps and allows a team to reassert control of the game.
“When we take a penalty we’re not that worried about it,” said defenceman Jake Gardiner. “There’s no scramble out there. Everyone reads off each other. “
Indeed, penalty killing seems to skip a generation. The Leafs have been dreadful at it. Last season they managed to kill off 77.3 per cent, 28th worst in the league.
Think someone once said that your goalie is the best penalty killer.
“They had more guns than us tonight,” said Marlies coach Dallas Eakins. “Scrivie’s got his bullet proof vest on.”
Scrivens now sits at 10-2 in the playoffs. He has surrendered 1.33 goals per game which is bordering on ridiculous. The shutout was his third of the post-season.
The shining star of the penalty kill, once you get past Scrivens, is D’Amigo. He is an NHL level skater and a superb penalty-killer, tough to dislodge from the puck and inventive when attacking the puck-carrier. Greg Scott and big-bodied Will Acton are rotated in at forward and the team’s go-to defence pairing of Korbinian Holzer and Mark Fraser log major minutes when the Marlies are outnumbered.
“I have played on teams and coached teams where you take a penalty and the whole team just holds their breath,” Eakins said. “This team expects to be the number one power play. They expect to kill every penalty and they expect to win every night.”
You have to admit, it’s working out pretty well. Gardiner and Matt Frattin are overqualified for their job. Kadri too seems ready to graduate.
But the players who will also help the Leafs are the players who can kill penalties, Holzer and Fraser and D’Amigo and the way he is going, Scrivens. Maybe what the Marlies’ run -they are five wins away from the Calder Cup, after all- will reveal is who can help right the historically bad penalty kill of the team a few clicks up the Gardiner.