MANCHESTER, NH – After taking three points last weekend, the Manchester Monarchs were set to host three division rivals in four nights this week. The first two games did not go as planned, with Manchester surrendering to both the Reading Royals and Worcester Railers at the SNHU.
The Royals (7-4-1-0) came into Manchester (8-5-1-1) fresh off of a 5-1 drubbing of the Jacksonville Icemen and carried that momentum into their contest with the Monarchs. The two teams came together for their first of nine scheduled meetings, with the Royals barely outshooting Manchester 34-33. The difference was in the defense.
The Royals got on the board first at 10:54 of the first when Tyler Brown received a long pass from forward Matt Wilkins and struck out into the Monarchs’ defensive zone. He deked Monarchs’ tender Evan Cowley and put it home to make it 1-0.
They would double that score at 3:33 of the second when Wilkins tallied a goal of his own after taking a pass from Steven Swavely. Skating along the right wing, he hesitated before taking a shot from inside the circle that beat Cowley on the glove side for a 2-0 lead.
22 seconds later, Colton Saucerman made it 2-1 on a smart wrister from the point, after receiving a pass from Michael Doherty. The shot made it past screened Royals goalie Mark Dekanich to bring the Monarchs back within one.
It would stay that way until 11:25 of the second. The Royals’ power-play struck than when Michael Huntebrinker made a move toward the net, where he intercepted a pass by Loic Leduc and deflected it into the net by Cowley, to bring the score to 3-1 in favor of Reading.
The Monarchs would go into a three-goal hole at 3:24 of the third. After spending two minutes in the box for a high stick, Nolan Zajac would find himself all alone in the neutral zone when Leduc hurled the puck down the ice and onto his stick. Cowley couldn’t face up to the pressure and the puck went in to make it 4-1 for the visitors.
The Monarchs would make things interesting, however, scoring two goals to get within one. The first came at 6:15 of the third, courtesy of Sam Kurker. After Craig Wyszomirski took a point shot on net, Kurker put his stick on it to change trajectory and put it past Dekanich to make it 4-2. At 18:25, Matt Schmalz received a crisp pass from Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman in the slot and wristed it home over Dekanich to set up a tense finish, with a score of 4-3.
With Cowley pulled, Reading sprung the puck loose of their end where it found Matt Willows, who put in the empty-netter to seal the game at 5-3 with only 39 seconds to go, and it would hold until the buzzer.
Looking to recover from the loss, the Monarchs would host the Worcester Railers on the 17th. The Railers (6-6-1-0) were coming off of a four-game losing streak which included losses in their two previous meetings with the Monarchs on the 11th and 12th. They were determined to find a different result this time.
Things looked good for the Monarchs to start the game when they found the net in a mere 45 seconds. Wyszomirski took a hard shot from the point which missed wide, rebounding back toward the net where Joel Lowry found it and tried to put it on goal. It was tipped across the line by a waiting Matt Leitner behind the back of Railers’ goalie Eamon McAdam to give Manchester the early 1-0 lead.
The Railers would strike back at 13:53 in the second when former Monarch and current Railers captain Ashton Rome picked up his third goal against Manchester this season. After Monarchs’ tender Charles Williams stopped a shot by Kellen Jones, Rome was there to hammer home the rebound to draw even at 1-1.
The clinching goal came at only 18:52 of the second, while the Monarchs were on the power-play. A bad neutral zone pass was intercepted by Matthew Gaudreau, who charged at Williams and took the shot. Williams stopped the first but left a rebound that Gaudreau did not miss, putting it into the cage to put the score at 2-1 Railers. That score would hold until the end of regulation, snapping the Railers’ losing streak and putting the Monarchs into a hole going into yet another game on Saturday against another division rival, the Adirondack Thunder.
These were two entirely different looking games for the Monarchs, with the only common thread being a difficulty in finding a rhythm in either. The Royals looked incredibly strong on Wednesday night, skating and moving the puck through the Monarchs’ defensive zone at will. The Monarchs found some good offensive pressure at times, but there were some defensive and goaltending breakdowns that cost them the game. In the days leading up to the game, Tony Turgeon, Rob Hamilton, Cory Ward, and Charles Williams were all called up to the AHL, and Tony Cameranesi had been injured in a previous contest against Worcester and had yet to return. No one wants to make excuses, but the absence of key players likely played a factor in both losses.
Against Worcester, there was the opposite problem: the defense was pretty solid, with Williams returning to mind the net and stopping 32 of 34. It was the offense that couldn’t find a handle this time. The power-play, critically, could not produce in four opportunities, and eventually surrendered the shorthanded game-winner. Whether this was due to missing pieces on the man advantage, or a particularly strong showing by the Railers’ PK, it was the difference in the end. Through the two games, the Monarchs’ streaky power-play was back on the skid, going 0-for-6 and putting up few shots against Worcester, in particular. They took some bad penalties against the Railers as well and had a hard time gaining momentum. A strong late push wasn’t enough, as losing offensive zone faceoffs killed their chance at a comeback.
With the Brampton Beast making a hard push, it’s becoming increasingly clear that there isn’t a bad team in the North. Winning these divisional games will be an important factor in making a playoff push. But these two games made it abundantly clear that every win will be hard won. Yes, the Monarchs are depleted by injuries and callups, but they have enough producers on this squad to win in spite of that. They just need to dig deep.
Speaking of injuries – Matthew Marcinew left the game against the Royals in the second period after taking a hard hit into the boards. He has yet to return. The Monarchs called on Tommy Kelley, who played with the team in preseason, to fill the hole in the meantime.
Oddly enough, the Friday night goal by Leitner was his first on the year. He currently sits at one goal and eight assists for nine points.
Cameranesi, Marcinew, and Ward account for 14 goals and 36 points between them. Ward is currently in Ontario with the Reign, filling in for Jonny Brodzinski, who made the move up to the big show. Ward has yet to see action with the Reign.
The Monarchs square off against the Adirondack Thunder for the third game of the homestand on Saturday night. Puck drops at 6:00 pm.
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