This is one time where Sheldon Keefe does not want his Marlies emulating the parent team.

As the Leafs hit a four-game losing streak, it has also been a sudden reversal of fortune on the farm, where the dream AHL season hit a speed bump. The Marlies record was a jolting 2-5-1 before beating Rochester 4-1, leading to a six-day respite. Prior to going off course, the Marlies had won 37 games, including a 16-game win/points streak.

“It’s never easy to pin it on one thing,” coach Keefe said Thursday as his team returned to work and a Ricoh reconnoiter Saturday, 3 p.m. against the Providence Bruins. “It’s the nature of a long season and a lot of moving parts in our line-up. There are going to be swings and times when the good luck we had all year is not there. It was nice for us to respond (against Rochester) and give us time to breathe the past few days.”

Keefe pointed to the adjustments the Marlies made for the NHL trade deadline, the confirmation that defenceman Travis Dermott and winger Kasperi Kapanen were not coming back, the departure of Nikita Soshnikov to St. Louis and most disruptive, the losses of long-serving Kerby Rychel and Rinat Valiev to Montreal in the Tomas Plekanec deal.

“Valiev and Rychel were playing maybe as good as they ever had as Marlies,” Keefe said. “But we’re happy for their opportunity elsewhere. Kyle Baun (the forward Toronto received) has worked hard so far and is also going to contribute more offensively. Player movement at this level is expected. We’ll press on.”

One constant Keefe can count on is goaltending. Garret Sparks and Calvin Pickard rank first and fourth in the AHL with save percentages of .934 and .924, respectively.

“Both have handled this season extremely well, from a team and individual (standpoint). Most of the time, the decisions (to choose a starter) are easy for us, because of all the back-to-backs and  3-in-3 games on our schedule. The rotation is easier for both guys.”

While winger Andreas Johnsson continues to score at will with 19 points in February, Keefe is hopeful of getting centre Miro Aaltonen back in the next week or two. The Finn landed head first after a heavy hit back on Feb. 25.


After playing the Penguins, only five of Toronto’s remaining 13 games are against clubs currently in a playoff spot, but three of the last six feature Florida, the Islanders and Jersey, all knocking on the wildcard door at present … Frederik Andersen needs one more win to equal last year’s Leaf total of 33 and become the first since Ed Belfour to have that many in back-to-back seasons. Belfour won 37 in ‘02-03 and 34 the next year … Patrick Marleau was flattered to be voted in the top five role models in the NHLPA poll. “I still have role models who are younger players than me, the way they play and conduct themselves,” the 38-year-old Marleau said … Morgan Rielly  on the strengths of  Leaf assistant D.J. Smith, chosen first in the poll as the underling best suited for a head coaching job: “He lets you be young.” Rielly turns 24 on Friday … Keefe called an unusually late 6 p.m. practice Thursday night, giving any players who left town during the elongated schedule break to get home …  Coach Drake Berehowsky has the ECHL Orlando Solar Bears, the Leafs ECHL affiliate, in playoff position with a record of 28-26-5-1.

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