The Toronto Marlies are well-placed at the halfway point of their regular season, but can they remain consistent with the games set to come thick and fast?
The Toronto Marlies have been very productive during the first half of their regular season. If you look at the AHL Eastern Conference standings as of Wednesday morning, they have the second-best winning percentage, at .625 percent.
What’s also important to note however, is how many games the Marlies have played in comparison to those around them in the standings. Still based on winning percentage, every other team in the top six has played at least 41 times.
This alludes to the stop-start nature of Toronto’s season to date. During December for example, they had one of professional hockey’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks, with more than 20 players and staff testing positive.
As a result of this outbreak, the Marlies did not play for two weeks. This turned out to be to their benefit though, considering they were just 10-9-1-1 entering the COVID-19 enforced break.
Upon their return to action, Toronto appeared rejuvenated in winning seven of their first eight games. As a whole, they have a record of 11-3-1-0 since their enforced break in December.
The Marlies will begin the second half of their regular season on Wednesday night, with an important game against the Eastern Conference-leading Utica Comets. They also find themselves once again coming off a break, having not played for 10 days.
The break arguably came at a good time, given Toronto was on the road for eight consecutive games prior to their last contest on Feb. 5. In terms of their breaks generally up to this point, it alludes to what will be a hectic second half of the season.
Consider that the Marlies played the first 36 games of their regular season over 16 weeks. By comparison, the second half of their schedule will take place during a period of just over 10 weeks.
This leads to the question of if Toronto was productive during the first half of their season because of or despite the lack of games? If someone is going to know for this team specifically, it’s Marlies’ head coach Greg Moore.
Moore was asked about the most recent break specifically and if being off for such a long period of time led to concerns about a loss of conditioning. As per Maple Leafs Hot Stove, he said:
"“I wouldn’t say you lose anything. In the long term, it probably recharges you and you get more out of it as long as you come back and you push really hard to regain where you were at before the break.I wouldn’t say that you lose stuff. It is more the peaks and valleys of the season. Now, coming out of this, we get back to game shape, and we should be in a better spot than we were before the break.”"
Moore did add that he feels the team is in a good place both energy and execution-wise. This is important, because the increased frequency of games in the coming weeks will represent an interesting challenge to navigate through.
One player who should prove useful is Nick Ritchie, for however long he remains in Toronto. As much as he is frustrated and would clearly prefer to be playing for the Leafs, his talent will be invaluable at the AHL level.
Another player providing an excellent boost, is Nick Roberson. He recently returned to action for the Marlies, after missing three-and-a-half months through injury.
As one of the Leafs’ top-rated prospects, Robertson is a crucial piece of the puzzle both short and long-term for the organisation. As per Maple Leafs Hot Stove, Moore raved about the winger’s work-ethic and discipline both in respect of his rehab and in general.
In terms of actual points, the Marlies enter Wednesday’s action holding second place in the North Division. As for the Eastern Conference as a whole, their 45 points are good enough to place them seventh.
Now, it’s a case of making sure those games in hand prove to be beneficial rather than a hindrance. Assuming it’s the former — and there’s every reason to believe it will be — the Toronto Marlies will be well-placed to challenge for a third Calder Cup appearance and second trophy.
What level of success are you predicting for the Toronto Marlies during the second half of their regular season? Do you see them being genuine contenders come playoff time? Let us know in the comments section below.