The Marlies had a poor outing last weekend, losing two games in a row to their division rivals the Syracuse Crunch. The Marlies lost 3-2 on Friday and 4-2 on Saturday.

Marlies Coach Gruden summed up the situation saying the "turnovers and those certain plays at [critical] moments" are what cost them both games. He also cited the team putting themselves in unnecessary risk with penalties. "We're taking a lot of penalties lately and that's got to stop," he said on the losses. The Marlies penalty kill sits at 13th in the league out of 32 teams, but even then it's still a lot of work to do which is both unnecessary and game time they could be spending on more offence.

Gruden looked at the series against the Crunch as a benchmark for where the Marlies need to be. "It's a measuring stick of where we are at and where we need to get to," then further pointing out the Crunch are one of the top teams in the division which means any playoff run by the Marlies would mean they would likely have to face them there at some point.

The Roster

Saturday's roster is on the left and Friday's is on the right. You can see that the lines were changed up by Gruden to try to and find some traction for the offence, but ultimately scoring only two goals per game against a team like the Crunch gives you a pretty low chance of winning.

The Crunch have several prospects on their roster who are high draft picks, and more with time played in the NHL for the Lightning this season, including multiple undrafted players the Lightning organisation has simply signed as they aged out of junior, NCAA, or from Europe; players you've probably heard of playing from when they played against the Leafs this season like Alex Barré-Boulet, and Waltteri Merela.

Post-Game Thoughts

I've skipped the game highlights here as there is not much to show, but there's two moments to call out; the first is Joseph Blandisi scoring his 20th goal of the season. On a goals/game basis this is his highest rate ever reached in the AHL and his contributions this season to the team's offence have been invaluable.

The Marlies lost on Friday Despite Hildeby doing his best to make every save. I'm still really excited about this guy and it will be interesting to see how we could rank him in our next Top 25 Under 25 as we generally put a very heavy discount on goalies to a point I'm not sure we've had one in the Top 20 for at least six or seven years, so it will be interesting to see where he lands.

Dmitry Ovchinnikov has not played now for seven games in a row. I asked Coach Gruden if he was injured and he said that he was a healthy scratch at this time. This coincides with some unverified reports online from Russian sources that say he is being courted to return to his old KHL team Sibir for the next hockey season.

Note that I have no way to verify the above third-party sourced quote, but Ovchinnikov's NHL contract does indeed end this season leaving him as a restricted free agent, and he may in fact find it time to move on from North American hockey given his limited success here. We'll have to wait and see on this one.

Here is the full post-game commentary from Gruden on Saturday.

Here are the current standings for the AHL North Division. By points%, Toronto is still ahead of Rochester as they have one game in hand. The playoff rules have the top five teams in the North Division advancing to the Calder Cup Playoffs, though teams #4 and #5 essentially have a play-in round with only one of them advancing to the real "first round," so ideally you want to get up to be #3 if possible to skip that. That is still a goal in reach of the Marlies with 20 games left in the regular season.

The first of those final 20 games is a school day special today at 11:00 a.m. against the Belleville Senators where a win would be a nice boost for the team against one they are chasing in the division standings. After that, the Marlies will go on a swing through the US to play the Utica Comets, Springfield Thunderbirds, and then the Rochester Americans on February 15 who they will face again at 1:30 p.m. Saturday March 16 when they return to Toronto to play a game at the Scotiabank Arena; that's at the end weekend of the March Break for Ontario schools.