TORONTO– With standout defencemen Jake Gardiner not dressing for this weekend’s set of games, the Toronto Marlies are left to fill a major void on their blue line.
The 22-year-old was eating up major minutes in the AHL before being labeled on Wednesday with “concussion-like symptoms” and was Toronto’s leading scorer with nine goals.
Five of those came in, perhaps, his most important role as the quarterback on a Toronto power-play that’s currently 16th in the league. While Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins knows Gardiner’s absence will be felt, he’s hoping to not have to change much while he is out of the lineup.
“I don’t think we have to reinvent the power play at all,” said Eakins. “The burden will fall on Paul Ranger’s shoulders because he’s more than capable to fill that hole.”
Ranger only has two goals this season, however he’s been consistently smart with his play in the offensive zone and with a left-handed shot he squeezes in nicely alongside righty Mike Kostka, who leads all Toronto defencemen in points and was Gardiner’s partner before the injury.
Currently there is no timeline for Gardiner’s return.
Because of the NHL lockout Eakins has carried three goaltenders all season, which hasn’t been the best situation for anyone, but that came to an end on Thursday when Toronto assigned Mark Owuya to the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL.
Playing behind Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas, Owuya saw just four starts in 23 games and often had to split net time in practice, which led to less than stellar play in the time he was given.
The Swedish netminder went 2-2-0 with a 3.79 goals-against average and .833 save percentage in his four outings.
“It wasn’t like it was a problem but we thought Mark’s development was being stunted,” said Eakins. “This kid’s hungry, he’s been one of our hardest working guys every day and he’s excited to play.”
Over the last four weeks Owuya was able to stick around Toronto because Rynnas had been sidelined with a groin injury, but the Finland native put in solid work at practice on Thursday and will be ready to suit up this weekend.
“He told me he’s good to go and he looked excellent today in practice, really challenging the shooters,” said Eakins.
The 25-year-old goaltender, who admitted he was frustrated with his injury because of how well he was playing before he went down, went 3-0-1 with a 1.98 goals-against average and .938 save percentage before tweaking his groin in a practice on Nov. 9th.
It’s expected that Scrivens will start on Saturday when the Marlies head to Rochester while Rynnas will get the start on Sunday when Grand Rapids comes to Toronto.