After clinching first in the AHL, the Toronto Marlies head into the playoffs with a crop of very capable goaltenders. With no clear-cut starter this year, the job is essentially up for grabs. Antoine Bibeau has started the most games for the club this season, Garret Sparks has 17 games of NHL experience under his belt, and Kasimir Kaskisuo showed a lot of promise in the NCAA. Note that Alex Stalock will not be returning to the Marlies this season, as reported by Steve Dangle. Stalock was acquired from the San Jose Sharks as a part of James Reimer trade.
With 2 very capable AHL goaltenders and a backup barring injury, what is the Marlies goaltending situation heading into the playoffs?
Antoine Bibeau was essentially the Marlies starter this season. In 39 games (27 wins, 9 losses), Bibeau had a .908 save percentage and three shutouts (Fun fact: Jonathan Bernier has the same number of shutouts in five AHL games this season). Bibeau has been the Marlies’ somewhat-starter for the past two years, playing between 30 and 40 regular season games. Bibeau’s starting job has never been solidified, as he has been up against adequate competition since joining the Marlies in 2014 (Fun fact part two: Eight different goaltenders have won at least one game for the Marlies this season). The team relied heavily on Chris Gibson, the goaltender acquired by the New York Islanders in the offseason, in the 2015 Calder Cup playoffs and because of this, Bibeau has little AHL playoff experience.
Garret Sparks’ AHL numbers are significantly better than Bibeau’s. In 20 AHL games this year, Sparks has 13 wins, four losses and a .925 save percentage. He has never been a consistent AHL starter but has spent a significant amount of time with the club’s ECHL affiliate, the Orlando Solar Bears. Sparks had been up with the Leafs since the trade deadline, playing 17 games for the big club this season. In those games, Sparks had a .893 save percentage, which is bad enough for third-worst in the NHL among goalies who have played 15 games or more. Sparks’ advanced numbers aren’t particularly thrilling either. Here is a breakdown of Sparks’ NHL statistics:
His medium-danger save percentage sits at a minuscule 86 percent (NHL average is between 92 and 95), and his high-danger save percentage is 79 percent (NHL average is mid-80s). The good news is, his low-danger save percentage is 98.79 percent, which is best among Leafs goaltenders and third-best in the NHL.
Kasimir Kaskisuo has played only two games for the Marlies this season. He has one win, one shootout loss, and a .905 save percentage. Kaskisuo is a recent signing out of the NCAA from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He started his career in his home country of Finland, playing for the Jokerit U-20 team. He joined the Minnesota Wilderness of the NAHL in the 2013-14 season. Kaskisuo caught the attention of the Leafs organization after making the jump to the NCAA in 2014 and signed an amateur tryout contract (ATO) with the Marlies this past March. The Kaskisuo signing brings assurance to the Marlies barring injury as the playoffs draw closer.
Toronto’s three goaltenders have exactly 72 minutes of AHL playoff experience combined. Antoine Bibeau started one game in the 2015 Calder Cup playoffs, and Garret Sparks fills in the other 12 minutes with a relief effort in the 2013 playoffs. In terms of juniors post season experience, Bibeau started 30 playoff games in the QMJHL and Sparks started 11 games in the OHL. Lack of experience among the Marlies’ goaltending crop may be their only weakness heading into the playoffs, as the team playing in front of the goaltenders will certainly help the goalies remain strong. The starting job will likely be a toss-up between Bibeau and Sparks- AHL starter vs. better numbers/NHL experience. Both are very capable goaltenders, and the best option for coach Sheldon Keefe will be to start whoever’s hot. Kaskisuo is a good option to fall back on should there be the need. The Marlies are the obvious Calder Cup favorite this year, and expectations are high for this young team heading into the playoffs.
Their abundance of forward depth and skilled defense core puts the team at a significant advantage over their opponent, and if the goaltenders are able to come up big, the Marlies will prevail.