By Rob Del Mundo
The Toronto Marlies weren’t quite mathematically out of the AHL playoff race when the final horn sounded at Ricoh Coliseum on Sunday afternoon following the team’s 3-2 loss to the Manitoba Moose.
However, the death knell for Toronto’s post-season aspirations came a few hours later when Peoria defeated Milwaukee 4-3. The Marlies cannot finish higher than fourth in the North Division, and would lose a tiebreaker to the current fifth-place team in the West, Oklahoma City, who would advance in place of Toronto due to the crossover rule.
Even though the Marlies hadn’t been officially ousted when their Sunday game ended, the dressing room mood was still sombre, as the squad skated to their fourth straight defeat, and 8th loss in their past nine games.
“We have a great group of guys, and we all work really hard,” said Alex Foster who is winding down his first full season as team captain. “Even until the last game today, we were hoping to still win it; we were hoping to win out.”
Every American Hockey League team experiences high turnover, and the Marlies will not garner – nor do they expect – sympathy from their opponents. Yet when the Leafs’ third line consists of Nazem Kadri, Darryl Boyce and Joey Crabb, and the parent club’s starting goalie is a rookie phenom named James Reimer, it’s difficult to envision the Marlies’ elimination from post-season contention this early with those players available in their lineup.
“If you look at the Leafs roster, we have eight or ten guys that started (with the Marlies) and are up there now,” said Foster. “I know that happens around the league, but that’s a tough situation.”
Head coach Dallas Eakins, while not offering the loss of talent to the NHL as an excuse, acknowledged the obstacle. “I think (the lack of success) has a lot to do with the number of players in and out of our lineup,” said Eakins. “I think at the beginning of the season I sat out five healthy forwards, one night. And now, we’re bringing up guys from other leagues.”
The team plays its final road game of the season on Wednesday in Lake Erie before closing out the year with a weekend homestand against Rochester and Abbotsford.
Looking ahead to next season, plenty of focus will be placed on the prospects acquired by Brian Burke in two separate February deals – centre Joe Colborne and defenceman Jake Gardiner. Colborne scored his 20th goal of the season (split between Providence and Toronto) on Sunday. “It’s nice, it’s definitely something to be proud of,” said Colborne on reaching the milestone. “But, it’s frustrating when it comes in a losing effort.”
As for Gardiner, coach Eakins believes that skating is the strongest part of the University of Wisconsin graduate’s repertoire. “This kid can move on his feet. I think everyone here today saw that. I think that when any player coming of amateur hockey can really move his feet, it’s really going to help him in the pro game,” said Eakins.
• The Marlies are fifth in the North Division with a record of of 35-31-1-10 (81 points).
• The top scorers are Mike Zigomanis (14 goals, 33 assists, 47 points), Nazem Kadri (17-24-41), and Christian Hanson (13-21-34).
• Joe Colborne (40 AHL points) and Fabian Brunnstrom (35 AHL points) have compiled most of their scoring with Providence and Texas, respectively, and have fewer points as Marlies.
• “I feel like the last handful of games, we’ve been outplaying the teams, and we just haven’t been getting the bounces. We’re probably averaging a goal and a half, or two goals, a game for the past 10 games,” – Alex Foster.
• “Special teams have been our biggest obstacle. When games are as tight as they are nowadays, especially coming down the stretch, everyone knows that every game is so important. There’s not many mistakes out there, that means you have to take advantage whenever you are on the power-play, and we haven’t done that.” – Joe Colborne. The Marlies are 1-for-17 on the power-play over their current four-game slide.
• Eakins on goalie Ben Scrivens, who has started 15 consecutive games since March 1. “He’s been good. He came into training camp, was open-minded, and he was the guy that had to go to Reading (Royals, ECHL). He went down and he worked very hard at it. I know that (Leafs goalie coach) Francois Allaire has worked a lot with this young man this year, and Ben Scrivens loves working with him. Allaire is a great teacher and Scrivens is a great learner. Once again, we have hard decisions with our goaltenders”
Rob Del Mundo is the author of the TMLfans.ca Marlies Report, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca
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