November 17, 2014
TORONTO– When the Marlies took to the ice last Tuesday for team practice, Petri Kontiola was nowhere to be found.
The Finnish forward, who has struggled since returning to North America to pursue his goal of playing in the NHL, had already skated for an hour in a one-on-one session with skating consultant Barbara Underhill prior to practice and was given the day off by head coach Gord Dineen.
“We felt it was more important to spend time on (skating skills),” said Dineen after his club worked for close to 90 minutes on the ice.
The 30-year-old centre was originally demoted to the Marlies after failing to make the Maple Leafs out of training camp. The goal was to work his way from the AHL level back to the NHL after spending the past five seasons in the KHL.
But the start to his season with the Marlies hasn’t gone according to plan.
Kontiola, six-foot 200 pounds, remains pointless through his first 10 games with Toronto and has produced only 11 shots on goal— the second fewest among forwards who have suited up in at least eight games.
“He hasn’t had the points to show as of yet, but he’s made his linemates better,” said Dineen. “He sees the ice well. He’s got off to a slow start with the numbers but as long as he’s getting his chances.
“It’s a question of getting his feet moving more.”
In an attempt to improve his foot skills, Underhill ran Kontiola through various drills to increase power, agility and mostly technique. The goal was not to re-create how he skates, but to eliminate negative patterns and improve his stride that sometimes looks heavy footed.
“You don’t change a guy’s skating at that age, but maybe some habits she felt he could improve on,” said Dineen. “They felt they made some good progress.”
While the former 2004 draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks has struggled, he’s not alone. The Marlies offence has had difficulties producing all season and are averaging just 1.69 goals per-game through 13 contests.
“It’s not just him, it’s through our lineup,” said Dineen. “We’re scoring less than two goals a game and that’s not going to win you a whole lot of games. We’re trying to work on creating offence in different ways, getting guys together who can recognize what they’re linemates can do.”
In his short stay with the Marlies, Kontiola has centered three different lines, as well as both sides of special teams, in an effort to find some sort of chemistry that may help spark his scoring drought.
In Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Kontiola was centring the second line with tough guy David Broll to his left and play maker Connor Brown to his right while on Friday in a 6-1 defeat at the hands of the Rochester Americans he was with wingers Brett Findlay and Tyler Biggs in a checking role.
Prior to returning to the KHL in 2009, Kontiola produced 33 goals and 121 points in 127 games with Chicago’s AHL affiliate— which gives Dineen optimisim that once he hits the scoresheet for the first time with Toronto all his current struggles will go away.
“Once (the offence) pops hopefully it becomes a consistent part of the game.”