Tim Connolly shut down for remainder of regular season, Eakins wants to see competition from prospects

The Toronto Marlies are one point from clinching the North Division title for the second year in a row- Image Courtesy of Graig Abel

The Toronto Marlies are one point from clinching the North Division title for the second year in a row- Image Courtesy of Graig Abel

TORONTO– A 2-1 victory against the Oklahoma City Barons on Tuesday eased the stress level just a bit as the Toronto Marlies inch closer to the post-season.

The Marlies are now one point from clinching consecutive North Division titles and can do so when they meet the Americans on Friday in Rochester. Each team has three games remaining on schedule, with Toronto wrapping up the regular season with three games in three days starting against the Americans.

Tim Connolly sat out Tuesday against the Barons after re-aggravating an injury on Sunday against the Abbotsford Heat.

The veteran had only played six games since returning from a hip issue that cost him playing time on two different occasions already and Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins is being cautious with the post season approaching. That is why Connolly is being shut down for the remainder of the regular season.

“Timmy’s been battling so hard for us,” said Eakins. “He’s had some hip and hamstring issues and Tim can provide offence, but only if he’s healthy. We’re not going to play him for the rest of the regular season and hopefully get him back 100-percent for playoffs.”

Defenceman Korbinian Holzer also sat out on Tuesday, but it was only for a rest. With the 25-year-old in the press box, prospect Morgan Rielly played alongside Dylan Yeo for the first time.

“We thought Korbinian was getting a bit run down,” said Eakins. “We ask big things of him, ask him to play a certain way every night. It’s important to have our guys that we’re going to lean on in the playoffs to be ready.”

Eakins was pleased with the timing of Oklahoma City’s visit because it gave him a preview of who the Marlies could play in Round 1 of the post-season.

Last time these two clubs met was back in November, a 6-5 Marlies overtime victory, and each side has had a roster overhaul since.

“It’s nice to see them, it seems like forever,” said Eakins. “We get a little taste of what might be coming.”

Toronto and Oklahoma City also met last year in the Western Conference final, a series the Marlies took in five games.

Toronto’s offence has produced only three goals in the last three games and it’s power play has also struggled, going 3-for-37 in its last 11 outings.

With Ryan Hamilton and Joe Colborne currently with the Maple Leafs and Carter Ashton on the sidelines with Connolly because of a broken bone in his foot ,a drop in production is expected. But, the coach would like to see more out of everyone in his dressing room because even if those players return, he doesn’t have the same offensive options that got his club to the Calder Cup final last season.

“Our scoring list, the whole top of it, is not here,” said Eakins. “We need scoring fom everyone, it doesn’t matter what line you’re on.

“Our penatly killers, Jerry D’Aamigo and Greg Scott, are key components on our power play now. We always found a way to pick up points, but we need everybody chipping in because we are not as skilled as last year’s playoff team, or even the beginning of this season.”

Eakins was absent from Friday’s game against the Abbotsford Heat and Assistant Coaches Derek King and Gord Dineen took over the duties behind the bench. The coach explained it was due to a family matter.

“My daughter was in the hospital for four days,” said Eakins. I spent three nights there, she was really sick and I wasn’t leaving her.”

He returned to the bench on Sunday in a rematch against Abbotsford.

Eakins has a stable of junior prospects who are currently on the Marlies roster that he has to fit into the lineup while also keeping his squad competitive.

First-round picks Rielly, Tyler Biggs and Stuart Percy along with Josh Leivo, David Broll and Garret Sparks have all left their junior teams behind to join the Marlies.

While teammates, the reality is that these players are competing with each other to move up on the Leafs depth chart for next season. The internal competition is something Eakins believes is good for the prospects, as well as the organization.

“There has to be (internal competition) and that’s not a selfish thing that’ll blow up your locker room,” said Eakins. “They need to push each other. Guys at the top need to pull away. Guys looking for extra playing time need to match their play or get a head of them. And that’s the way our organization gets better.”

The Marlies have Wednesday off and will practice in Toronto on Thursday before taking the team bus to Rochester for Friday’s contest.

KYLE CICERELLA

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