The Marlies picked up two out of four points in their weekend home-away series against the Cleveland Monsters, but they didn't actually win either game. They managed to get the Monsters past regulation both times and lost the first in a shootout, and the second in overtime.
These two losses still earned two standings points, but they also gave four to the Monsters who have pushed the up to the top of the North Division standings while the Marlies have dropped down to fourth place, now with a record of eight wins and nine losses.
The Marlies also made a big announcement this afternoon about their coaching staff, with a familiar player name joining, but more on that after a quick recap of the weekend.
The lines for the skaters are what we were expecting, with Alex Steeves and Bobby McMann called up to the Maple Leafs. Below are the lines from Sunday, with the only difference from Friday being that William Villeneuve was subbed in for Mikko Kokkonen.
Denis Hildeby started in net on Friday and Martin Jones started on Sunday.
Alex Steeves has since been loaned back to the Marlies. There is still no firm timeline for the return of Ryan Tverberg or Roni Hirvonen, still out injured.
Ovchinnikov is still blasting his way through this season with six goals in nine games. Even Kieffer Bellows, who also has six goals in ten games like Ovchinnikov, praised his scoring a week prior saying "I'm happy for him, and he's been playing really well lately. I feel like he's found his confidence and it's showing." Note that while Ovchinnikov is ostensibly listed on the fourth line, he's used on ice far more than the few minutes per game you might expect form someone on a fourth line in the NHL, though accurate time-on-ice states aren't published for the AHL.
You can never not highlight a great story like Zach Solow, a guy who is undrafted and ostensibly a depth player for the Marlies but one called up to fill in a higher role as things change, Gruden summed it up with "he brings the juice, he brings the jam," and what better comment can you get from your coach? Here is his first goal of the season from Sunday.
Solow took a penalty later in Sunday's game that was questionable at best, with Gruden saying about the Monsters player he "thought it was a bit of a dive," and as someone there who isn't constrined like the coach I would add it so totally was a dive, but while Solow went to the box the Marlies killed off that penalty and another with Solow's help as he stepped out of the box with another called. He looked good stepping up on the PK. Solow's toolbox has grown this season and it's great to see him out there exceeding expectations.
It was two losses, but both games were in reach of a win for the team with the games tied at the end of regulation, but it's also another weekend with only two points. Gruden said "when you're not confident and you're struggling, it affects our players," adding that even-strength is where they still have to win games and "we're going to need our power play moving forward, but you have to control the things you can control."
While the season is still young, they can't rely on OT points against teams in the division to go up the standings. The next two games are both big division matchups against Syracuse. Regulations wins are needed.
We now have a new question of whether another defender may be called up to the Maple Leafs from the Marlies to cover off for the injury to Mark Giordano last night. I doubt this will happen given that Simon Benoit was already called up and on deck for this scenario, and also I don't see anyone on the Marlies defence getting a call up after a recent performance with three losses in a row. The team is sliding down the rankings, but they do seem to be aware of this, with Captain Logan Shaw noting "I wouldn't say we are very happy or pleased with the weekend," but added "we stayed in the fight, and that's the sign of a good team."
A final note is that the game on Sunday was the Hockey Fights Cancer night, and there was a tribute wall where Marlies staff and players could add names, and there was one for a Maple Leafs prospect not ever forgotten.
Breaking News - Rich Clune is back
The Marlies announced today that ex-captain Rich Clune will be joining the coaching staff for this season. This isn't much of a surprise as several players have mentioned that Clune is frequently still around the team now long after his formal retirement from hockey, and at most home games in the past year you could take a walk around the upper rim of the Coliseum and spot him cheering on his old team.
Clune is a local Toronto guy and he clearly fits the culture of the group well, if he didn't actually help build the foundation of that culture himself.
The Mariles have another home-away series again this coming weekend, this time against the Syracuse Crunch. The first game is in Syracuse on Friday night, the second is Saturday afternoon in Toronto.
In the meantime, the Marlies are practicing at the Ford Centre where Joseph Blandisi has apparently been busy destroying the arena with some wild missed shots.