MANCHESTER, NH – The Manchester Monarchs earned their first home win of the season, and broke a two-game skid by cruising to a 5-2 victory Friday night against the Greenville Swamp Rabbits.
The pucks were flying fast and furious throughout the night as the two teams combined for 81 shots on goal with the Monarchs peppering Swamp Rabbits goaltender Brandon Halverson with a season high of 46 shots (plus one to the empty cage). To his credit, Halverson’s .915 save percentage kept Greenville in the game, but Charles Williams‘s .941 save percentage, and the Monarchs’ stifling of Greenville’s first place power play, made the difference.
The action kicked off in the first period, where the combination of Jordan Lavallee-Smotherman and Matt Leitner paid dividends early. With the Monarchs on an offensive charge, Leitner took a shot which was initially saved by Halverson, but Smotherman gobbled up the rebound and tipped it up and over the Swamp Rabbits’ tender to make it 1-0 Manchester at 11:52.
A little over two minutes later, the tag team struck again, when Leitner made a nifty behind-the-back pass from the far side of the goal line, finding Smotherman in front for the one-timer that beat Halverson and doubled the Manchester lead to two. The Monarchs had hammered the Greenville goaltender with 21 shots by the end of the period.
33 seconds into the second frame, Tony Turgeon (making an appearance as a blueliner for the night) matched his total from last years’ Monarchs run on a quirky goal. Turgeon found the puck behind the Greenville cage, flipping it up and over to find Halverson’s back and bounce across the line, bringing the Monarchs’ lead to 3-0.
Then the Swamp Rabbits began to battle back. The high octane offense showed some slick moves at 8:22 of the second when Caleb Herbert picked up his second goal of the year off a pass from Dawson Leedahl. Picking up the puck in the neutral zone, Herbert streaked into the Monarchs’ end and wristed the puck on net, beating Williams glove-side and putting the Rabbits on the board.
They would come within one at 11:12 of the second when winger Branden Troock slid a pass to 20-year-old Sergei Zborovskiy, who launched a shot from the blueline that slipped past the blocker of Williams, putting the score at 3-2.
But that was as close as it would get. After six fruitless power plays, the Monarchs finally hit the back of the cage on lucky seven at 10:47 of the third. Joel Lowry fired on goal, which was deflected by Halverson onto the stick of a waiting Colton Saucerman. Sauce returned the puck to Lowry, who didn’t miss the second time, finishing the attack to pull the Monarchs ahead 4-2.
Two goals down, Greenville pulled Halverson with over four minutes to go in the third. They almost caught a break when Turgeon got called off for tripping at 17:13 of the third. The Swamp Rabbits tried to put the pressure on hard playing 6-on-4, but Williams and the Monarchs penalty kill held fast. In the end, Lowry would double up with less than a minute to go when he found the empty cage to cement the game 5-2 for the home team.
Greenville came into the game with the best power play in the ECHL, with a blistering 8-for-20 clip on the year so far. However, the Rabbits’ extra man attack looked lost at times in the SNHU, and they were held scoreless in five attempts. The Monarchs’ defense, led by Craig Wyszomirski, Saucerman, and special guest star Turgeon, looked as strong as they have all season, and Williams had his best game of the year so far. Manchester’s offense was strong as ever, with Lavallee-Smotherman picking up his first two goals of the year, and scoring leader Lowry reaching five goals on the year so far. Leitner continued to quarterback the offense, picking up two assists to bring his total to five on the season. Now the bad news: the Monarchs went 1-for-8 on the power play against the worst PK in the ECHL, bringing them to 4-for-37 on the season, or a limp 10.8%. With the way this team scores, there is no reason they shouldn’t be among the best power plays in the league.
Captain David Kolomatis was a scratch for the second game in a row. With Turgeon moonlighting on the defensive end, this would indicate an injury of some sort. Kolo is not currently listed as injured, however.
With the back-to-back concluding tonight, there’s a good chance we could see Evan Cowley back in goal. Cowley is back after a two-game call to the Springfield Thunderbirds, where he saw action in two games. He was 1-0 with a 3.18 goals against average/.882 save percentage. He still hasn’t found a win with the Monarchs. However, with Williams on a bit of a hot streak, they may return to the Canisius alum instead.
Longtime thorn-in-the-side Curt Gogol was on the warpath, picking up a double minor for roughing in the first and agitating throughout the night. Gogol played parts of three seasons with the Worcester Sharks in the AHL days and, surprisingly enough, played seven games with Ontario in 2015-16. Don’t be surprised if the gloves drop tonight.
Tonight is College Halloween Night at the SNHU Arena, so expect to see a few more weirdos than usual in the crowd if you’re watching the feed.
Greenville will be out for revenge for the second game of the back-to-back, and the puck drops at 6pm.