TORONTO – Despite the Marlies’ continuing struggles, Toronto’s head coach Dallas Eakins isn’t ready to come down hard on his players.
A.J. Banks scored the only goal in the shootout as the Rochester Americans beat the Marlies 6-5 to sweep a home-and-home series in American Hockey League action Saturday.
The Marlies (15-13-3) have now lost three in a row and five of their last six.
“They know I’m behind them,” said Eakins. “When things are going well, it’s better to be harder on them. When things aren’t going great, that’s when you’re really encouraging. I’m going to stick with that because I think it works.”
Eakins isn’t quite sure what has caused the Marlies recent slide.
“It’s hard to put your finger on a single thing,” he said. “When you start winning, it’s contagious. But when you start losing, it’s contagious, too. That’s where I try to do my best to keep these guys on a even keel across the board.”
Michael Duco had two goals and an assist to lead the way for the Americans, who pulled to within three points of the Marlies in the North Division. Scott Timmins, Jeff LoVecchio and Paul Baier also scored for Rochester.
Juraj Mikus, Danny Richmond, Christian Hanson, Alex Foster and Brayden Irwin replied for the Marlies.
Tyler Plante stopped 41 shots and stopped all five Marlies’ shooters in the shootout for the win.
Ben Scrivens, who was recalled from the Reading Royals of the ECHL on Friday, made 17 saves in just his fourth game with Toronto.
“Maybe Karma caught up to me, because I’ve had a pretty good run here lately,” Scrivens said. “But it would’ve been nice to get a better result.”
The defeat came on the heels of a 2-0 shutout loss to the Americans (14-14-3) Friday night in Rochester.
Toronto dominated the first period, outshooting Rochester 18-7, but it was the Americans who jumped out to a 2-1 lead.
Duco jammed loose the puck past Scrivens at the side of the goal for a power-play marker at 5:17 and Timmins scored another at 18:23 during a scrum around the net.
The Marlies got on the board with a power-play goal at 19:14. Mikus got his first of the season when he wristed a floater from the point that found its way past a screened Plante.
Duco made it 3-1 for the Americans just 51 seconds into the second period. Clay Wilson’s point shot trickled past Scrivens and Duco just had to tap it over the goal-line for his second of the game.
Richmond made it a one-goal game mid-way through the period when he skated into the slot uncontested and snapped a shot over the Plante’s shoulder.
Hanson evened the score at 17:01 when he tapped a rebound into an open net. Then, with just 16 seconds left in the period, Foster fired a slapshot past a screened Plante for a 4-3 lead.
The lead was short lived, however, after LoVecchio tied the score just 332 seconds into the third period. Baier’s slapshot from the point deflected off Korbinian Holzer’s skate past Scrivens a minute later to put the Americans ahead 5-4.
Irwin tied the game on the power play at 16:09 when he snapped a rebound into an open net to send the game into extra time.
It was wild back-and-forth game in which the Marlies outshot the Americans 46-22.
“It was an exciting game,” Eakins said. “I don’t think either team’s players or coaches have much left in them right now.”
Toronto heads to Peoria and Grand Rapids for a quick two-game road trip before returning home to host the Hamilton Bulldogs on Boxing Day.
Notes: Toronto made three other roster moves Friday, signing former NHLer Jeff Cowen to a professional tryout with the Marlies, recalling goalie James Reimer from the Maple Leafs and re-assigning defenceman Keith Aulie to the Marlies. . . Former Leaf and Marlie Bates Battaglia, now with the Americans, played in his 900th professional game. . . The announced attendance was 4,476. . . Saturday’s game featured the Marlies’ annual teddy bear toss. After the first Marlies’ goal, fans tossed hundreds of stuffed animals onto the ice. They will be donated to the Salvation Army Toy Drive.