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Photo Credit: Thomas Skrlj

The Monday Marlie: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Toronto Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe wasn’t pleased with his group after they fell 5-2 to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Sunday evening.

“It’s unacceptable, frankly. The most disappointing part is a lot of it is falling on the guys that played significant roles for us to win the championship last year,” a frustrated Keefe told reporters. “It’s not the new guys. It’s guys who have been here. Guys that we’ve won with. The standard is a lot higher than what we’ve been displaying on a daily basis.”

The Marlies were given a reminder of the standard that the organization has days before at the teams Calder Cup ring ceremony this past week. 15 players from last years championship team remain with the Marlies which, when you take into account how much over-haul an AHL roster, is extraordinary.

Throughout last years Calder Cup run, Trevor Moore, Adam Brooks, and Mason Marchment were a dominant trio. Chris Mueller and Carl Grundstrom helped form the Marlies balanced scoring attack. Calle Rosen and Vincent Loverde manned the teams’ second pair last year. Veterans like Mueller, Loverde, Rich Clune, Colin Greening went through it all last year.

A chunk of the puzzle pieces are still in-tact, and while it’d be ridiculous to expect the Marlies to win back to back championships, with all the talent they have, theirs no excuses for this group to lack urgency.

And these Marlies know that. They’ve talked the talk. Two weeks ago I wrote about how this Marlies group was frustrated and hungry to turn things around, and I don’t think that’s wavered, but they’ve got to walk the walk.

They defeated the Cleveland Monsters and the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins this week, but neither of the two games, especially the latter, was all smooth sailing. 3:09 into the first period against the Penguins, the Marlies were already down 2-0. Keefe called a timeout, and he gave the team a much-needed wakeup call. The team responded, scoring six unanswered goals and finishing the game off with a 7-4 win.

One step forward.

When they faced off against Lehigh Valley the next day, the Marlies found themselves trailing 2-0 to Lehigh Valley early in the first period, too. The Marlies couldn’t claw back, though, putting further emphasis on what led them to be down two goals, so early on, in the first place.

“Defensively [we were] a disaster. No attention to detail. Things we talked about in our meetings—we didn’t execute on,” Keefe said.

Two steps back.

It’s no secret that the Marlies have a high-powered offence as their 86 goals this year ties them for the most in the entire AHL. But the Marlies simply can’t go down 2-0 early and sacrifice 40 shots against in back to back games–like they did this past weekend–and assume that their offence can bail them out.

The Marlies have rarely put together a consistent 60-minute effort, and their slow starts have derailed them.

“It’s on me as a coach to figure that out,” Keefe added.

Bracco Hitting Another Gear

If there is one positive to take from this past week, it’d be the play of Jeremy Bracco. He recorded two assists in the teams 5-4 win against Cleveland on Wednesday and followed that up with a four-point night (two goals, two assists), on Saturday. Five of his six points over that span were primary points.

Keefe says the biggest thing for Bracco is confidence. Unlike last year, he’s not battling to get into the lineup every night, he’s a full- time player for the Marlies.

“Now it’s up for Jeremy to maintain that level of play,” Keefe added. “The offensive success is part of what comes from when he’s feeling it and when he’s playing well.”

Marlies acquire Klimchuk, Carcone

This past week, the Toronto Marlies have welcomed in some reinforcements up front.

The Toronto Maple Leafs traded defenceman Andrew Nielsen to the Calgary Flames, in exchange for forward Morgan Klimchuk.

Klimchuk, a 2013 first round pick of the Flames, is a defensively responsible forward with some offensive prowess. He’s recorded 19 goals and 40 points in his last two seasons with the Stockton Heat and while he’s only played two games with the Marlies, it appears the 22-year-old forward could be a perfect fit for the teams bottom six.

He’s already potted two goals in the pair of games he played. The first one was an empty net goal, but don’t be mistaken at the merit in that.

“The fact that I felt confident enough to put him on the ice with [Wilkes-Barre’s] goalie [pulled], shows that he gives you confidence when he’s on the bench,” Keefe said on Saturday

The second goal he scored was a thing of beauty

Michael Carcone, who the Leafs acquired from the Canucks in exchange for Josh Leivo, is another intriguing addition. The 22-year-old right winger has recorded 17 points through 20 games with the Utica Comets this season. The 5’10 winger went undrafted and was somewhat of a late bloomer. He scored 47 goals   in his last QMJHL season with the Drumondville Voltigeurs, which earned him an entry level contract with the Canucks.

It’s hard to foresee a circumstance where he’ll play any higher in the lineup, than the fourth line. The Marlies have Bracco, Engvall and Moore currently slotted on the right side, and as of now, Carcone likely won’t leapfrog one of the three.

But still, the Marlies or Leafs could be struck with a slew of injuries any given month, week, or game, so acquiring Carcone is a good move to provide some insurance up front.

LIljegren Injury Update

Leafs prospect Timothy Liljegren left the first period of Saturday’s game, and didn’t return. Liljegren did not suit up on Sunday either.

Keefe had no update from the doctors yet on Liljegren’s status, when asked Sunday.

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