January 6, 2014
TORONTO– Josh Leivo was in need of a spark to get over his scoring struggles, and on Saturday he got it when he was placed on the Marlies top line with centreman Greg McKegg.
After going 12 games without a goal, and just one in his last 15 outings, Leivo broke out with his first-career hat trick as Toronto downed the visiting Utica Comets 5-2.
McKegg, who played on a line with the Innisfil, Ont. native earlier in the season, assisted on two of the rookie’s goals.
“We met after the game (against Syracuse) with (Marlies GM) Dave Poulin and (Development Coach) Steve Staios, we talked about some player movement both in and out of our lineup and some line combinations,” said Marlies head coach Steve Spott post game to reporters. “We agreed on giving Josh an opportunity to play with McKegg…they had some chemistry before.”
“We’re pretty familiar with each other,” added McKegg. “Josh is great player wih a great shot.”
Prior to Saturday, Leivo’s last goal came way back on Nov. 19 and through the month of December he registered only one assist and found himself a healthy scratch for a game against the Hamilton Bulldogs on Dec 7.
The 20-year-old now has eight goals and 16 points in 26 games with the Marlies.
Spott made it clear to his club early in the season that every player would be held accountable regardless of their status in the organization. That message hasn’t changed.
Like Leivo in December, the coach hasn’t hesitated to scratch a player when needed and Saturday against the Comets prospect Brad Ross and veteran Mike Duco found themselves watching rather than playing.
Ross has struggled through his sophomore season and has had difficulty finding ways to produce. While the 43rd pick from the 2010 NHL draft has shown signs of positive growth in chunks, his performance in Friday’s 6-3 loss to the Syracuse Crunch was enough for Spott to bench him against Utica.
“You talk about confidence, at this level you have to find it and the way to find it is to work harder and he has to work harder,” said Spott. “He cares, he’s a passionate guy, he’s a high draft pick, we all need this to work. But Brad has to be better, as do some others.”
Duco, whose relationship with Spott goes back to junior with the Kitchener Rangers, disgruntled his coach against the Crunch as well and had to pay for it.
In the third period against Syracuse, the 26-year-old scored his first goal since returning from a high ankle sprain, however three minutes after that he took a hooking penalty that led to a Syracuse goal.
“He turned over a puck, took a bad penalty and (Syracuse) scored on it,” said Spott. “That’s the fine line we’re walking right now with healthy players.”
Spott currently has 16 forwards to choose from to fill his four lines.
Spencer Abbott has been the Marlies most consistent forward all season as he’s stayed a point-per-game player for 31 contests.
The 25-year-old has played the right wing as a top-six for majority of the campaign, including the top unit on the power play. Against the Comets he was still on the top power-play unit, however Spott moved him to the point and played Leivo, McKegg and Carter Ashton as his forwards.
The move paid off as Toronto scored two power-play goals in a game for the first time since November.
“He (played the point) in college, he has tremendous poise, he’s able to make plays from back there,” said Spott. “He doesn’t have a heavy shot but he can get the puck to the net.”
The Marlies play their next seven games on the road, including back-to-back contests against the IceCaps in St. John’s starting Friday. They return to Toronto on Jan 25 to host the Chicago Wolves.