‘We have to do the digging’: Marlies looking to get past adversity as playoffs approach
Photo credit:Christian Bonin/TSGphoto.com
By Nick Barden2 months ago
The Toronto Marlies are trying to claw their way out of a rut with only eight games remaining in the regular season.
It’s been a rough stretch for the team in their last five games. At times, they’ve dominated play — looking like the team they’ve been all season — until they haven’t.
Toronto has been outscored 18-4 during this five-game losing streak, even being shut out twice in that span. It’s a bout with adversity that the team hasn’t faced all year while dominating the AHL’s North Division.
“At any point, during the season when you go through adverse moments as a team you come out on the other side eventually and you dig your way out, and you learn lessons from it.” Said Marlies head coach Greg Moore.
“We’re still in it right now. We have to do the digging.”
This is uncharted territory for this Marlies team. Only 24 times this season have they lost a game, with 19 of those losses coming in regulation. The rest of their games — 40 to be exact — have been wins, placing them third in the entire AHL in that category.
For a team that’s won this many games in one season, and having a playoff spot locked down, you’d think a five-game losing streak wouldn’t rock the boat.
Except it has a little bit.
“You can tell the tension is in the air which is not a bad thing.” Moore said after Tuesday’s practice. “We’re not happy with where things are at right now. But we have to do some digging to get ourselves out of this hole and it starts tomorrow (Wednesday), and tomorrow’s game with how we compete.”
When the Marlies practiced on Tuesday at Coca-Cola Coliseum, things seemed a tad different. And so they should during a losing streak such as this one.
There was a lot of emotion, both from the coaching staff and the players. As Moore said, there was a lot of tension in the air.
With nearly three weeks remaining in the regular season, this is the time to gear up for the playoffs. This is also the first professional postseason for plenty of the Marlies’ players, and there’s still the expectation that they push back to where the organization was in 2018.
“The guys feel it.” Moore said bluntly. “That adds onto the frustration right now with where we’re at. So hopefully, the energy and the frustration from today’s practice is fueled by how they want to come out and execute tomorrow (Wednesday).”
“To have (lost) five in a row, I can speak for myself, I definitely feel it.” Alex Steeves said on Tuesday. “I think it’s good to go through this stuff. It makes you stronger. If you’re going to end up being something as a team, I think you need stuff like this.”
One positive to take away from this bout of adversity for Toronto is that it might be coming at the perfect time. Teams want to be going into the playoffs hot and if the Marlies skid along the runway now, their final takeoff — right before the postseason — could be a lot smoother.
“It can be a good time.” Said Marlies defenceman Tommy Miller. “We can look back and go to our foundation, what made us successful. And going back to that, nitpicking that, being super strict on how we play, that can build momentum going into the playoffs and hopefully playing playoff hockey here soon.”
It’s not as if this Marlies team forgot to play hockey, because again, they’ve won 40 games this season. But could it be that the players have developed a sense of complacency?
“I don’t think it’s really a result of complacency,” Steeves said on Tuesday. “I think it’s more so just not playing our best hockey and some various factors out of our control.”
Although this bout of adversity has lasted numerous games, there might be another learning experience to take away from it. Instead of it teaching them about the long-term, though, this losing streak could prepare them for the game-by-game adversity that comes in the playoffs.
“In the playoffs, you gotta be ready. Chances are, if you’re going to win the Calder Cup, you’re not going to go 16-0 or whatever it is, right?” Steeves said.
“I think of the Leafs last year in the playoffs, with the seesaw back and forth, win, loss, win, loss — like you gotta be prepared to win, win in situations like that, and then handle those losses.
“So, I think something like this is definitely good because you want to be playing your best hockey before playoffs, and if we can pull ourselves out of this valley here and start playing well again, and really feel good about ourselves with some momentum, I think it’ll be perfect timing honestly.”
When it comes to perfect timing, nothing could be better than the Marlies getting a couple of players healthy down the stretch. One of those players, in Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, is “close” to a return, Moore said on Tuesday.
That will give Toronto a huge push in the right direction.
As of right now though, and for the rest of the regular season, there’s one message that’s been spread throughout this Marlies team. A message that should — conceivably — send them in the right direction.
“We can’t afford to take time off, we can’t afford to keep losing games.” Said Moore. “We’ve got to find our best game now, and soon, to make sure we’re trending in the right direction towards the end of the season.”
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