WORCESTER, MA – After a week-long hiatus, the Manchester Monarchs will return to the ice to take on newly-minted rivals the Worcester Railers Saturday night at the DCU Center.
The Monarchs (11-7-1-1) previously completed an 11-game stretch across 15 days, which saw them go 7-4 against a variety of opponents. This included four games against the Railers, with the teams splitting the contests evenly at two apiece. Worcester also happens to be the last team to hand the Monarchs a loss, as they are currently on a three-game winning streak after sweeping the Utah Grizzlies in three games at the Maverik Center in West Valley City.
The Monarchs needed the boost badly, as they had been on a four-game skid before traveling out west for their first ever contests against the Grizzlies. The first tilt ending in a shootout win for Manchester, the next two games were won handily by the Monarchs, who would go on to outscore the Grizzlies by a margin of 12-4 in subsequent games, including an 8-3 beatdown on November 24 which saw the Monarchs score five goals in the third period against a flagging Utah squad.
The Worcester game is a one-and-done before the Monarchs go on yet another extended break before a second, slightly-less-brutal stretch that will see them in action for six games in eight days, ending in a southern road trip against the Jacksonville IceMen and the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. They will start, however, with three home games: hosting the struggling Norfolk Admirals twice, with a visit by the Reading Royals acting as the creme in the hockey Oreo. While it’s certainly foolish to look past any opponent, the team can’t be upset about playing three games against two of the bottom three teams in the league so fresh off that losing streak.
But first and foremost: the Railers, who have a 4-2 advantage in the season series so far after taking the last two matchups with the Monarchs. The Railers sit in a tie for fifth in the North with the Brampton Beast at this point, but they’re coming into the game off of a win against the Wheeling Nailers, who themselves sit in a tie for first with the Monarchs atop the division. There’s been no such thing as an easy win in the ECHL’s tightest division, and the result in Worcester to start the month could set the tone for the rest of December. As previously noted, the Monarchs lost only one game in all of December last year, but it would be a minor miracle to repeat that result this season.
Things were starting to look dark to end November, and the Monarchs needed a real slumpbuster before things got out of hand. They found it in Utah, and the offense, defense, and goaltending all look to have shaken off the ghosts of the losing streak and found their footing again. Charles Williams looked especially good in the Beehive State, with a .968 save percentage in two games against the Grizzlies. He has certainly cemented his status as the Monarchs’ number one goalie this year, a worthy successor to the departed Sam Brittain. The Monarchs’ power-play went 3-for-11 in Utah, as well, though all of those tallies came in the 8-3 rout.
On the flipside, their penalty kill went a respectable 2-for-12 against an admittedly weak Grizzlies power-play. The Monarchs currently sit at fifth in the league on the PK, having held the line 87.5% of the time. This is a good thing for a team which finds itself fourth in the league in times short-handed. Looking ahead: the Railers’ power-play is only slightly more successful than Utah’s, converting 12.5% of the time.
Long story short: a win in Worcester would give the Monarchs their longest winning streak of the year, and the team is running on all cylinders right now. Cautious optimism wouldn’t be remiss here.
For those who missed it: the November 24th blowout saw seven Monarchs tally goals, and twelve skaters recorded at least one point. Four Monarchs had three-point games: Kevin Morris, Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman, Tony Cameranesi, and Zac Lynch, who was the one Monarch with two points. Overall, it was a good series for padding stats, which can’t be bad for morale.
The stretch in Utah also saw the arrival of 2014 draft pick Spencer Watson seeing action with Manchester, with the Kings deciding to use the ECHL squad’s rare proximity to evaluate the prospect. He performed well in three games, with two assists and the lone shootout goal in the Monarchs’ first win of the set. The 21-year-old winger would likely be welcome in Manchester any time.
Not to be ignored, Evan Cowley played well in his start against Utah, with a .929 save percentage on 42 shots against. He was harrowed early with Utah hanging 20 shots on the Monarchs in the first period, but he held steady and blanked the Grizzlies in the third while his offense ran rampant on a beleaguered-looking Angus Redmond. A win well-earned.
Don’t ignore McNally, a dangerous scorer in his own right, Ashton Rome is the man to watch against the Monarchs whenever the Railers are on the opposite end. The former Monarchs’ enforcer has scored a total of six goals this season, but only against three teams. That’s because he’s put four on the Monarchs so far, and thanks to that, is on pace to absolutely spank his professional average of 13.8 goals per season this year. With eight more contests remaining between these two teams, there are plenty more opportunities for Rome to light the lamp coming up.
While it could go either way, expect Eamon McAdam to pick up the start Saturday. Prince Eamon is 3-1 against the Monarchs, with a .931 save percentage. He allowed only one goal each in the previous two starts against Manchester, both wins for the Railers. Though he struggled against the silver-and-black to start the year, he’s found his rhythm against a normally potent offense. It’s now the Monarchs’ turn to solve him right back.
The puck drops in the Heart of the Commonwealth at 7:05. Worcester will be coming off a game against the Adirondack Thunder in Adirondack.