TORONTO– Dallas Eakins has enough players on his current roster to split into two teams, which could make it difficult when deciding who he is going to play.
But when his Toronto Marlies square off with the Rochester Americans on Saturday in Game 1 of their best-of-five first-round matchup, only one factor will determine who gets in.
“We will dress the lineup we think we can win with,” said Eakins. “Whether that means taking some guys out of the lineup, young guys who have played recently, or lean on veteran guys. Whatever that decision is, we will only have one concern on our mind and that’s winning the game.”
At Wednesday’s practice, one that the coach extended to 90 minutes, 26 skaters took the ice with the goal of improving the special teams.
While Toronto’s penalty kill fell out of the top spot in the AHL, which it held the past two seasons, to 15th, being down a man isn’t the biggest concern. Toronto’s power play, 19th overall, has had difficulty with consistency and finished the season with just three goals on 21 chances.
It’s Top-5 power-play producers are all currently with the Leafs, leaving Spencer Abbott as the club’s current leader with four goals and 13 points, so Eakins shuffled players through different lineups looking for any sort of chemistry.
“We spent almost the whole practice today just on (the power play),” said Eakins. “We’re constantly searching for the best group and best personal and we’ll keep doing that until we find that.”
One of those getting a chance to add some offence to the power play was forward Jerry D’Amigo.
The 22-year-old has carved out an every-day role as a shut-down guy, but earned some extra playing time near the end of the regular season and finished the year with 17 goals.
“His role has changed a little bit, especially over the last month,” said Eakins. “You keep juggling the lines and I’m not sure he’s going to be out there just to shut down.”
D’Amigo has had tremendous success in his short career against Rochester, which will aid in him getting more opportunities. In last season’s first-round series, D’Amigo scored five goals, including two game winners, in a three-game sweep versus the Americans and this year he had four goals and two assists in nine games.
“Whenever you’re successful like (last season) it helps,” said D’Amigo. “For me to be the guy to kind of do that, it’s a great feeling.
“Some teams you figure out and some you don’t. And Rochester’s one of those teams,” he added.
Carter Ashton skated in his second straight practice with hopes of being ready for Game 1. A broken foot has made wearing a skate an issue, which is why today he brought two pairs to the bench. While he’s made progress, he wasn’t available to speak with the media to give an update.
Tim Connolly also took part in his second practice since being shut down with a hip issue. Unlike Tuesday, when he left practice 15 minutes early, he stayed right until the end.
Paul Ranger both sat out practice on Wednesday, however it doesn’t seem to be too concerning. Eakins termed Ranger’s absence as a “maintenance” day.