In a defensive struggle the Amerks eventually fell to the Marlies in the 7th round of a shootout. Once again the teams top line was held without a point as Fasching secured the only regulation goal. Even though he was electric with the puck, Justin Bailey failed to find the net for the second game in a row. The same excitement could not be found in the game of fellow prospect Nick Baptiste. The player I have been gushing about all season has almost completely disappeared and is showing no signs of improvement. If the Amerks are going to have any chance of making the post season other players will need to step up. Tonight it was Erik Burgdoerfer who played a phenomenal game to help keep the Marlies off the score sheet in the final two frames. He was able to take the body on the rush so efficiently that Toronto was faced with an impossible task creating odd man rushes. He was consistently able to staple his man to the boards and dispossess him of the puck with ease.
Daniel Muzito-Bagenda was also among players that stepped up. I am going to rate him an A- for his efforts tonight. It looked like DMB would play the role of hero tonight after potting the only Amerk goal in the shootout. Unfortunately, the Marlies were able to extend it on the next attempt and eventually win. In many ways Muzito-Bagenda exceeded expectations; and earned quite a bit of extra ice time as a result. It was obvious he played more than he was used to. By the third period he was exhausted and unable to make the same kind of impact.
Offensively DMB continued to impress with the improvements he has made. He was constantly in great position on the break out, allowing him to get the puck in space and skate it into the offensive zone. As the game wore on he was a step slower and had issues getting it deep, but for the most part he did a great job. He showed quick hands on the rush and was able create a couple tantalizing chances. However, one area he still has plenty of room for improvement is in his shooting. On the first, after a clumsy exchange with Karabacek he found himself open in the slot. Bagenda took too long to get the shot off allowing the goalie to cut down the angle and give him less room. As a result, he wasn’t able to pick the tight window on the far post. In the following frame he made a sneaky cut from behind the net to find himself all alone in front of goal. He slid the puck to his backhand bringing the Marlie net-minder to his knees but couldn’t lift the puck above the pad to score. Even though he lacked the polish of a more seasoned player he turned in a performance that far exceeded the expectations of a fourth line winger.
Defensively, Bagenda played a very inconsistent game from zone to zone. His fore-checking was fantastic; his pressing made passing very difficult on the breakout. He showed very impressive hand eye coordination to knock a stretch pass out of the air that eventually led to his first chance. He even did a great job back checking forwards. He made a heads up play late on the rush to lift the stick of his man all the way through the defensive zone, eliminating him from the play. However, once the Marlies set up position in the offensive zone DMB looked like a lost puppy. He gave defenseman way too much space on the point and was consistently caught in “no mans land” unable to block shots. Things only got worse for Muzito-Bagenda in the third when he started to run out of steam. He was so flat-footed that he was more of a screen than a defender. Fortunately in the closing moments of the game he was able to redeem himself and help force a shootout. He finally got all the way out to the point and poked the puck away from his man and out of danger.
Even though there were obvious holes in the game DMB played tonight, the progress he has made this season is staggering. I am also going to cut him a little slack for his stamina issues because it was probably the most ice time he has received so far. Aside from Baily’s blazing speed, Bagenda reminds me of 95 last season. He plays vey hard, but lacks the extra polish that would take his game to the next level. He is slowly turning into a key player for the Amerks and it looks like his role with the team will be expanded going forward.