It’s been an arduous couple of weeks for the Toronto Marlies, who have had a number of their standout performers called up to the NHL.

Toronto’s play was sporadic before the trade deadline, but since there has been a real let-down in all areas of play, bar goaltending. The Marlies may have lost some key figures, but also they’ve gotten some talented players back in turn.

As we enter the last quarter of the season, teams play with desperation as points become even more important to those chasing playoff berths. The truth is that Toronto have failed to match that intensity or desire against some weaker opposition and have been made to pay the price. It’s something Sheldon Keefe has been warning against for the longest time. As the last two defeats against Rochester and Utica evidenced, performing for a single period just won’t cut the mustard.

Some of Toronto’s defending has been poor to say the least at times, especially the past weekend, with plenty of turnovers inside their own zone for opponents to feast on and way too many missed assignments. The lack of discipline in taking unneeded penalties has also been a factor in their recent issues.

Whether it’s due to a little complacency or all the roster turnover, these are issues that the coaching staff will need to set straight and soon. It can be difficult to keep young feet grounded when they see they realize they’re more talented than the opposition, often winning at will throughout the year, and this could be just be part of the learning curve for many on the roster.

Despite losing three straight games for the first time this season, the Toronto Marlies are still atop the league standings with 90 points. Their magic number for clinching a playoff berth is eight.

February 24 
A 3-1 victory over the Binghamton Senators proved the Marlies‘ best performance in the last six outings. The structure of play Sheldon Keefe is striving for was on display, as apart from allowing the opening goal, Toronto were defensively strong and rarely looked like giving up a second, all while continuing to press offensively. A quick double strike from William Nylander and Zach Hyman overturned the deficit and Sam Carrick iced the game with an empty netter.

February 26
A hockey lesson from the Hershey Bears here as Toronto fell 5-2 at Ricoh Coliseum. A game to forget for Garret Sparks, who was not at his best throughout and allowed a goal on the opening shot he faced. Dan Ellis was superb in net for Hershey, and despite Toronto roaring back to take a 2-1 lead, it was an advantage they would cough soon after, resulting in Antoine Bibeau replacing Sparks. Despite missing a host of good chances, the turning point came when Toronto appeared to score to tie the game at three. A highly debateable high sticking call on the play prevented the goal and Hershey scored on the resulting powerplay, coasting to victory from there.

February 27
Despite playing significantly worse the following day, Toronto defeated Rochester 10-5 with individual talent rather than team play the story through 40 minutes. Both teams were horrible defensively and the scoreline after two periods favoured the Marlies 6-5. The final frame of regulation finally saw Toronto get their act together; they were too strong for the Amerks after restoring some structure to their game, scoring four times without reply.

March 1
A visit from a strong Albany Devils team looked to be a tough match-up for a post trade deadline Marlies. A 4-0 victory for Toronto far from told the story as the Marlies were able to take their chances while relying on a brilliant performance from Antoine Bibeau. He may have only made 24 saves, but many of those were gilt-edge chances for Albany. Bibeau’s play through 40 minutes enabled his team to virtually coast in the final 20 minutes, with Tobias Lindberg almost scoring his first hat trick as a professional.

March 4
It took until the 58th game of the season for it to happen but the Toronto Marlies were finally shutout. A desperate Utica Comets team on home ice were just too much too handle for Toronto as they outworked the visitors in every department. The Marlies only created chances on the rush after surviving barrages in their own zone. Despite a handful of good opportunities in behind the defense, they would be denied by Joe Cannata. The Comets pounced on their chances, scoring four without reply past a stranded Antoine Bibeau, but in truth it could have been almost double that total, such was the Comets’ dominance at times.

March 5
Despite being battered by the Toronto Marlies all season, the Rochester Americans, with a string of new players in tow, finally earned a victory in the lopsided season series. The Amerks were good value for the victory, with Toronto looking uninterested and getting comprehensively outplayed through the opening 40 minutes. The Amerks held a 3-0 lead through two periods of play, outshooting Toronto 17-8 in the middle frame. Making his debut between the pipes, Alex Stalock must have wondered what had hit him. He may have been partially at fault for the second goal, but he was mostly hung out to dry by his new teammates. Toronto decided to begin playing in the third period and drew within a goal, but any thoughts of completing the comeback were undone by undisciplined penalties. An empty netter from Jerry D’Amigo sealed a deserved 4-2 win for Rochester.

March 6
Back home to face the Comets, it was the same old story for the Marlies. Giving up a shorthanded goal in the opening seven minutes, Toronto found themselves trailing 4-1 after two periods, with Utica well in control. This time a third period surge resulted in the home team tying the game up at four, with goals from Lindberg, Carrick (his second) and Smith. There looked to be only one winner at this point, but with 63 seconds to play Darren Archibald was too strong for Loov and Percy on the backboards. Outbattling both defensemen, Archibald was allowed to work his way to the front of the net and score the winner. It was a game Toronto could easily have won after a hugely impressive showing in the final frame, but it’s hard to argue they were hard done by on the merits of their preceding 40 minutes.

Player Movement

– Garret Sparks, Nikita Soshnikov, William Nylander and Zach Hyman were recalled to Toronto Maple Leafs.

– Jeremy Morin traded away and David Ayres released from ATO.

– Colin Smith and Alex Stalock acquired via trade and John Kurtz signed to PTO.

– James Martin reassigned from Toronto Marlies to Orlando Solar Bears.

– Eric Faille recalled from Orlando Solar Bears to Toronto Marlies.

– Josh Leivo, Mark Arcobello and Rich Clune reassigned to Toronto Marlies.

– Kasperi Kapanen and Brendan Leipsic were up with Leafs but reassigned to Toronto Marlies, March 6.

– Viktor Loov recalled to Leafs, March 8.

– T.J Brennan recalled to Leafs, March 9.

Player News

T.J Brennan has broken through the 50 point barrier with 55 in 59 games. A warranted callup even if he had to wait in line. Since returning to the Marlies via trade late on last season, Brennan has a ridiculous statline of 25 goals and 71 points in 78 games. Include his first season with the Marlies from 2013-14 and he’s put up 143 points in 154 games for Toronto’s AHL affiliate.

– With Garret Sparks up with the Leafs, Antoine Bibeau is running with the ball for the Marlies. He recorded his 20th win and has played well despite two losses this past weekend. The shutout he recorded against Albany moves Bibeau into sole possession of fourth among Marlies shutout leaders with five.

Tobias Lindberg has three goals through his last four games and looks to be adapting to life with the Marlies. Adjusting to the speed of play was definitely one of his issues that’s come along already.

Sam Carrick has been one of the Marlies’ better players since his return from injury, chugging along at a point per game pace through his last seven outings while serving usual duties on the penalty kill and taking important defensive zone draws for Keefe.

Colin Smith is on the same point-per-game pace as Carrick since his arrival via trade, settling in well despite the team’s recent struggles. We’ve already seen his eye for a pass and goal scoring ability, and he’s been used on both special teams so far.

– In a worrying trend, Stuart Percy has been taking penalties galore of late and looked nothing like his normal self in possession or positionally without the puck. With his game normally founded on sound decisions and good discipline, Percy needs to apply himself better if his problems aren’t down to a nagging injury we don’t know about.

Toronto Marlies Player Stats — March 10

3T.J. Brennan (X)D5922335527458015014.7
28Mark ArcobelloC3821254615207212317.1
62William Nylander (X)C371827458103011016.4
37Colin Smith (total)C61162541-2352112612.7
Colin Smith (SA)C54132134-4332111511.3
Colin Smith (TOR)C734722001127.3
19Brendan LeipsicLW5116233915304112912.4
14Josh LeivoRW4213253810125011811
11Zach Hyman (X)RW5413203328220412110.7
90Nikita Soshnikov (X)LW5018102824183211915.1
39Matt FrattinRW58101828349201119
20Tobias Lindberg (total)RW4581927101210998.1
Tobias Lindberg (BNG)RW345172210800677.5
Tobias Lindberg (TOR)RW113250410329.4
16Sam CarrickC4191423118600919.9
42Kasperi KapanenRW338142266404816.7
61Rinat ValievD5431821322801535.7
2Andrew CampbellD57911203560007711.7
29Connor BrownRW258122078216113.1
10Stuart PercyD474162003500557.3
17Richard CluneLW356131913116123218.8
37Casey Bailey (X)RW384141851600557.3
41Justin HollD4641317291500755.3
36Brett FindlayLW345111676004710.6
23Frederik GauthierC49511161610004710.6
50Viktor Loov (X)D5331215134000754
54Byron Froese (X)C4303-10101323.1
38John Kurtz (total)LW31213-43800238.7
John Kurtz (UTI)LW25202-538001612.5
John Kurtz (TOR)LW6011100070
6Scott HarringtonD1712341400205
4Frank Corrado (X)D7033320070
25James Martin (X)D14033-21300150
7Eric FailleF61120200137.7
27David KolomatisD91124400714.3
18Rylan Schwartz (X)C5101-1000616.7
8Eric Baier (X)D1011000030
12Jack Rodewald (X)RW7011140070
49Justin JohnsonRW80110360050
15T.J. Foster (X)RW2000000040