Writing out the following sentence still feels bizarre: The Toronto Marlies had 24 players test positive for COVID-19, along with five members of their coaching staff.

After a two-week break, they return to action tonight with a road game against 401 rivals, the Belleville Senators. While the Marlies last played a game on December 15, it’s been an even longer absence for the Senators, who have had five games postponed and last played on December 12.

Puck drop is at 7 p.m. EST. The game can be streamed on AHL Live.

Current Form

Few teams want to have an extended break at this time of the year, and Belleville — winners of six of their last nine before the halt in action — certainly didn’t.

A break was perhaps just what the Marlies needed, albeit these awful circumstances were not how anybody drew it up. They had lost four of their last five games after the home defeat to Syracuse and were struggling to ice a full team due to injuries and callups.

The Ontario rivals have met twice already this season at the end of October. Toronto won both by a 5-2 scoreline, but the trajectory of both teams has altered a great deal since then.

After losing five of their first seven games, Belleville now has a points percentage of .500 and the same points total as Toronto (22). The Marlies have fallen from second in the North Division to fifth, only sitting above Belleville due to one fewer game played.

Toronto’s 3-5-2 record through their last 10 games makes them one of the least in-form teams in the American Hockey League at the time of writing.

Team News

Ian Scott has been practicing with the Maple Leafs but is yet to be reassigned. Michael Hutchinson is on the taxi squad, so the Marlies will choose between Joseph Woll and Erik Källgren tonight.

On defense, Toronto is missing Alex Biega, Chad Krys, and Teemu Kivihalme, all of whom were assigned to the taxi squad. Brennan Menell and Joseph Duszak are also out due to injury.

Returning to the Marlies roster are Carl Dahlström, Filip Král, and Kristiins Rubins. Toronto has eight defensemen to choose from, including Brennan Kapcheck and Matteo Pietronira, who both remain with the team after their recalls from Newfoundland.

Kyle Clifford has been reassigned to the Marlies along with Joey Anderson. I expect both to play tonight. The return of Brett Seney and Alex Steeves to the lineup will also be a big boost offensively for a team that has scored two goals or fewer in four of their last seven games.

Marc Michaelis and Nick Robertson were the two forwards injured before the two-week break. The former is more likely to be available tonight.

Antti Suomela made his comeback from injury six days before Toronto’s season was put on hold. He should be ready to go provided he is suffering no ill-affects from playing four games in a short span of time.

Toronto Marlies Projected Lines

Seney – Abramov – Anderson
Steeves – Der-Arguchintsev – Ho-Sang
Suomela – Douglas – McMann
Clifford – Blandisi – Clune

Král – Rubins
Dahlström – Hoefenmayer
Hellickson – Hollowell