The Toronto Marlies closed out February with a 4-3 overtime defeat at the hands of Syracuse at Ricoh Coliseum.
It concluded a rollercoaster month that saw Toronto win five straight before losing five of the final seven games to finish February with a record of 7-4-1.
Facing more divisional opponents over this past weekend, Toronto dropped to another defeat on home ice, this time against cross-border rivals Rochester.
Back on the road, Toronto finally found their groove again in Belleville and prevailed 4-1 after surrendering the first goal of the game. That victory ensured the Marlies did not suffer a fourth straight defeat, kept them atop the AHL standings, and leaves them in need of just five points to clinch a playoff berth with 18 games remaining.
Toronto also hit the 40-win mark with their 25th road victory of the season in Belleville.
It’s the seventh straight season that the Marlies have recorded 40+ wins, an achievement that shouldn’t go under-recognized considering the huge turnover of players and coaches as well as the focus on player development first under the current management regime.
– The Marlies were affected by the NHL trade deadline, with Kerby Rychel and Rinat Valiev heading out and Kyle Baun coming back in the deal. Yet to record a point, Baun has played well and more should be expected from him after a full week of practice to help his adjustment and acclimatization.
– Also into the fold are Derian Plouffe (Niagara) and Josh Kestner (Alabama-Huntsville), both signed on amateur tryout contracts this week. Plouffe is a 23-year-old center who was a point per game producer (17-18-35) in the Atlantic Hockey Conference (NCAA Division I) this season.
One year older, Kestner is a forward who was nominated for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award in 2017. A right-handed shot, Kestner broke out with 24 goals in his senior year, which eclipses his goal production during the three previous college campaigns combined.
– After suffering a facial injury, Justin Holl returned to action against Rochester sporting a bubble mask. In registering his fifth goal of the year against Belleville, Justin Holl surpassed his single-season career high in points by reaching 22 in his 45th game of the year.
– With Miro Aaltonen out with a concussion, captain Ben Smith has stepped into fold as the team’s number-one center. He extended his points streak to five games (2-6-8) with a pair of assists in his most recent outing and recorded a three-point game against Syracuse.
– Andreas Johnsson was named the AHL’s player of the month for February (19 points in 11 games) and isn’t showing any signs of slowing up. A goal and two helpers for the Swedish winger saw him surpass the 50-point mark and he now sits at a point-per-game pace through 52 games.
– Garret Sparks posted a mere 15 saves for the 71st victory of his AHL career in the lone victory of the week. That draws him level with Justin Pogge as the winningest goaltender in Toronto Marlies franchise history.
– Andreas Borgman found the net twice this past week, giving him three goals in 11 games off the blue line since being reassigned to the AHL.
Orlando Solar Bears News
Despite a resounding 6-1 reverse in Atlanta, the Solar Bears look well placed to qualify for the playoffs after run of recent good form. Five straight victories, including two consecutive overtime wins against the Reading Royals, has propelled to Orlando to third in the South Division with a 28-26-6 record.
Max Novak is bouncing between Toronto and Orlando of late, letting neither team down and providing a real spark for the Marlies in their most recent win. Novak and Jean Dupuy were put together on a line with Rich Clune, a combination we could see more of going forward.
Joshua Winquist has missed the last three games but continues to lead the Solar Bears in scoring at a point per game pace through 49 games.
Before the aforementioned Atlanta loss, goaltender Cal Heeter had won three straight with a combined save percentage of .942. He’s now 16-14-4 on the season and is consistently splitting starts with Mackenzie Skapski.
Toronto Marlies Player Stats – March 9
Toronto Marlies Goalie Stats – March 9