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MANCHESTER, N.H. – The Manchester Monarchs are seeing their hold on the North Division slip away after dropping three straight games to division opponents, including a loss to the Wheeling Nailers Wednesday night at the SNHU.

The Nailers (29-22-6-0) surged ahead early with three first period goals and the Monarchs (33-18-3-2) could not rally back, allowing three unanswered goals to give the Nailers a 6-3 victory. Monarchs goaltender Charles Williams had an uncharacteristically poor game, while the Wheeling offensive effort came from all sides, and constituted a true team effort.

The Nailers struck just 59 seconds into the game. After a faceoff win by Wheeling captain Derek Army, defenseman Danny Fick made the quick shot on goal from the slot which bested Williams to make it 1-0.

The Monarchs would return the favor at 9:29 of the first when recently-returned Kevin Morris found the back of the net. Taking a shot from the point, Rob Hamilton put the puck on net, where it found a waiting Morris. Morris’ stick redirected the puck past Wheeling goalie Colin Stevens to draw the teams even.

Wheeling would retake the lead shortly after on a shot by Freddie Tiffels. Tiffels intercepted the puck from Alexx Privitera‘s failed clear attempt and returned it to the empty Monarchs’ cage to put the score at 2-1 Wheeling.

The Monarchs would knot things up again at 11:52 of the first. After a Wheeling defensive play separated the puck from the stick of Morris, Keegan Iverson found the loose puck and took the shot from the right of Stevens which eluded the Nailers’ goalie, making it 2-2.

But Wheeling would push ahead again at 15:16 of the first, this time on the power play. Nailers’ scoring leader Cody Wydo fed a pass to Nick Sorkin, who took a shot from the right circle. Troy Josephs’ stick interceded, redirecting the puck past Williams and giving the Nailers a 3-2 lead.

They would hold the lead until 15:28 of the second period. Morris would pick up his third point of the night after catching the pass from Iverson in the right circle. He then slid the puck to a waiting Francois Beauchemin, who took the shot to tie things up yet again, 3-3.

That would be the end of the good news for the Monarchs, however. At 17:34 of the second, Marcus Basara took a pass from Chris Francis at the top of the left circle, one-timing it to overcome Williams and give the Nailers a 4-3 lead. Basara would then pick up an assist at 4:39 of the third period when he sent a pass across to Ross McMullen at the left faceoff dot. McMullen’s shot would find its mark past Williams to make it 5-3. Wydo then scored his team-leading 23rd goal of the season at 12:34 of the third after Williams bit on a fake from Ayerton Valente, who then passed it to a waiting Wydo. He put the puck around the leg of Williams to make the final score 6-3.

The Takeaway – First things first: there are no easy wins to be had in the North Division. Every one of these teams has played hard from day one, (yes, even Brampton) and while there are games that you should win, there are no guarantees. That’s become readily apparent to the Monarchs over the past three games. After winning five straight and looking like they could carry the division to the end, Worcester came and punched them in the mouth on Saturday and they honestly haven’t looked the same since.

Of course, a three-game losing streak is nothing to panic about, but this game against the Nailers will hopefully be a real eye-opener for the team. With three of their next looming four against Adirondack, the Monarchs really need to get their heads and hearts back in the game if they hope to hold their division lead. As previously stated: this was a game where Williams looked like a completely different person, and every goalie has a game like that occasionally. But there were some crucial defensive breakdowns (the Tiffels goal being the most glaring example) which contributed to the loss. It can’t happen. Rest assured, though: Coach Seeley is more than likely all over it.

Some good news: Morris has been on fire since returning to the team after a stint in Binghamton with the Devils. He has four points in three games, and put up three against the Nailers. The Monarchs also only gave the Nailers one power-play on the night. However, it was costly, as the Josephs goal came on the Wheeling man-advantage. Aside from that… not much else to say. The Monarchs’ lead is down to three. Adirondack is right on their heels, and they play three of the next four together. This could be the series that decides the fate of the North.

Notes – Just one note today: the Florida Everblades clinched the first playoff bid last night, with 80 points. The Monarchs currently sit at 71. It stands to reason that 80 should be enough for them, which means four wins. That’s not to say that it’s impossible for Manchester to miss the playoffs, but it’s highly unlikely.

The Monarchs return tonight against the Adirondack Thunder. Puck drops at 7:00 pm EST at the SNHU. 

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