The Toronto Marlies started the season with back-to-back wins over the Utica Comets at Ricoh Coliseum this weekend.
Across the two wins, the Marlies found the back of the net seven times over the weekend. Of those goals, four were scored on second chances after rebounds and another was off a deflection on the goal mouth.
At Tuesday’s practice, the Marlies continued to focus on establishing net presence and winning puck battles, competing in miniature one-on-one drills close to the goal.
“All over the rink are one-on-one battles, but especially in front of the net if you can be stronger than the opponent, you’re going to win a lot of loose pucks and score a lot of goals,” said Andreas Johnsson, who netted the game winner on Sunday.
“I think if you look at the stats probably from the NHL and AHL, I’d say over probably 60% of the goals are scored within 5-10 feet of the net,” added Colin Greening, who had an assist on Timothy Liljegren’s go-ahead goal Sunday. “That’s because the goalies are so good these days, they’re stopping the first shots so you need someone around there digging the puck out and putting it in the back of the net on the second chance.”
Three of the goals scored in the weekend series were on the power play, each one the result of a second chance created from a battle won in front. At Tuesday’s practice, the Marlies continued to work on the man advantage in preparation for this weekend’s games against Hartford, Providence and Springfield.
“You keep the defenceman there, making sure he’s honest, so he can’t move up on any guys that are up top. Plus it keeps the goalie back in the net,” Greening continued after practice. “If the goalie is able to come out, he cuts down the angle on the shot. So as a guy in front of the net, you want to be an option to bring the puck down and obviously that keeps the [penalty killers] honest, and I think that’s why it’s an effective strategy.”
For Johnsson, whose game winner was scored on a deflection off a Ben Smith shot, he knows how important it is to get to the crease.
“I feel like that’s my strong side of play, being in front of the net and maybe try to tip it or try to time the one-timer in the middle,” he said. “So on that goal, I just tried to make room for Smitty to shoot it and take away the D. And luckily it hit me and went into the open net.”
The Marlies are now headed to Boston for a couple of days at practice at Agganis Arena, home of the Boston Terriers, before getting ready for the first three-in-three of the season that kicks off Friday night in Hartford. They’ll look to carry over some key learnings from the first two games and hope to continue momentum.
“It’s what you take out of it. We were lucky enough to have two wins. There’s a lot of learning lessons there. I think the games were a little too close to call. Both games went into the third period with us being tied,” said Greening, of the weekend’s wins. “But at the end of the day, you always get confidence from wins but you have to take the learning lessons out of them as well.”
“It feels good. First two games, honestly, I didn’t think we played our strategy that well, but we fought hard and we did the best we could and won both games,” Johnsson added. “We took four points, and that was the goal.”
Puck drop for Friday’s game is at 7:15 pm. Fans can watch on AHL Live or tune in to hear the audio call on marlies.ca.