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MANCHESTER, N.H. – The Manchester Monarchs have officially surrendered first place in the North Division to the Adirondack Thunder, who did it the hard way by defeating the Monarchs Saturday night at the SNHU, 3-1.

The Monarchs (33-20-3-2) have now lost five straight after this latest defeat, their longest skid of the season. The Thunder (33-20-3-3) have overcome the six-point lead that the Monarchs held over them as recently as February 23rd. This has been a disastrous homestand for the Monarchs, who are now 1-4-0-1 in six games at what should be friendly confines.

Adirondack kicked off the scoring at 6:57 of the first on the first of two goals by centerman Pierre-Luc Mercier. Mercier picked up the puck behind the goal line from Mathieu Brodeur and shifted back across, taking a shot on net that beat Evan Cowley through the five-hole to make it 1-0 Thunder.

The Monarchs tied things up at 2:13 of the second period, on a backhand goal from Francois Beauchemin. Beauchemin was at the top of the crease when he received a pass from Keegan Iverson, and sent the puck to the back of the cage to the right of Olivier Mantha to make it 1-1.

The Thunder wrested the lead back at 10:23 of the middle frame, when Andrew Radjenovic found an opening. Radjenovic was between the circles when Austin Orszulak centered a pass from behind the net to his waiting linemate. Radjenovic made a move on net and fired the shot that beat Cowley’s glove, making it 2-1 Adirondack.

They would pick up the insurance goal at 9:26 of the third. After a clear by Conor Riley, Mercier collected the puck in the neutral zone and made his move into the Monarchs’ end. He skated to the left circle and wristed the puck on net to beat Cowley to solidify the lead and take the game, 3-1.

The Takeaway – Okay, so getting things out of the way to start: Charles Williams, Zac Lynch, and Colton Saucerman have all left on loans to the AHL (to Hartford, Utica, and Providence, respectively.) Those are three very large pieces of the puzzle all gone at once. That being said – this slide started while all of them were still in Manchester, so their absence doesn’t fully explain the struggles. But they certainly don’t help. This is the second time that the Monarchs have lost a fairly solid division lead (they had been up by eight points at the end of December, and Wheeling eventually caught up before falling out again.) The consistency of roster, or lack thereof, is certainly a factor. But in recent weeks, pieces of the team that was racking up 40+ shots a night have started to return (Kevin Morris, Rob Hamilton) and yet they haven’t regained that early-season spark.

During this losing streak, the Monarchs have been outscored 21-7. Early in the season, a run like that would have been unfathomable. It’s getting to the point where you might start to wonder if this is a question of heart. This team has the talent, they’ve proven it in the past. Hopefully, they will take this struggle as a wake-up call. As mentioned in the past, the Monarchs’ destiny is in their own hands. They have enough games remaining against their closest rivals that they can still win this division. But right now, they’re dropping like a rock. Reading is within four points, and Wheeling is within six. At this point, fourth place is just as likely as first place. Time will tell.

Notes – Showing signs of life: Iverson and Beauchemin. Each of them has three points over the last three games, and have really worked well together. Neither of them have been traditional scoring threats for this team, but they’re both stepping up right now, and that’s what this team needs. Throughout all the roster losses, the team has succeeded because someone has stepped up. So, good on these two guys for trying to spark this team.

Cowley has allowed 13 goals his three starts since February 24th. Obviously, the defense shares blame, but this isn’t a good look for the returning Florida Panthers prospect. It also looks bad for the trade of Branden Komm, who has been pretty successful in Reading during this stretch, having achieved back-to-back shutouts immediately for the Royals. I’m sure there were good reasons for the trade, and hindsight got Lasik surgery… but it doesn’t feel so hot right now. Especially considering the other side of that trade, defender Adam Comrie, has not played a single shift for the Monarchs, as he’s been in Utica from the jump.

The Monarchs finish yet another three-game weekend in Worcester today against the Railers. Puck drop at the DCU Center is at 3 pm.

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