NORFOLK, VA – The Manchester Monarchs return to action against the Norfolk Admirals tonight, following a decisive Wednesday night victory which saw six different players light the lap for the silver-and-black.
The Monarchs (4-3-0-1) were looking for a statement win after a disappointing home loss to the Greenville Swamp Rabbits at home on October 28th. They went into Norfolk (2-6-0-0) to find a team on a four-game losing streak, and took their frustrations out on the flagging Admirals.
The history between the two teams goes back to the AHL days, where the Monarchs were twice the victims of the Admirals in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs, including the during the Admirals’ Calder Cup-winning season in 2011-12. Both teams moved to the ECHL before the 2015-16 season after their AHL iterations relocated to AHL West. Since then, the Monarchs were 10-2-2-3 against the Admirals before their November 1st victory.
Manchester picked up right where they left off Wednesday night, taking 40 shots on the Norfolk net and harrowing Admirals goaltender Jake Paterson and finding the back of the cage seven times. They did this while holding Norfolk to a mere 17 shots, and making their season-best showing on the power-play.
The Monarchs struck gold early in the game, when team assists leader Matt Leitner found Zac Lynch in front of the Norfolk net, who shoveled the puck between the legs of Paterson just 59 seconds in to make the score 1-0.
Manchester would score the first of three power-play goals at 5:51 of the first when Matthew Marcinew took a pass from Tony Cameranesi and wristed the puck over Paterson’s left shoulder to pull the Monarchs ahead by two. They would strike again on the man advantage later in the period, when acting-captain Jordan Lavallee-Smotherman found the rebound after Paterson stopped a slapper from Eric Schurhamer. Smotherman finished the play into a wide-open cage to increase the lead to 3-0 at 12:31 of the opening period.
Norfolk would finally answer back just 32 seconds later, when center Brady Vail scored his 4th goal in three games to make it 3-1. Vail received the puck from Erik Bradford (who was yesterday traded to the Rapid City Rush for defenseman Michael Young) and fired a wrist shot past Monarchs goalie Charles Williams to cut the lead to two.
But that would be the only goal for the Admirals, who had difficulty finding offense throughout the contest. The Monarchs, however, had no such difficulty and picked the scoring back up at 5:22 of period number two. Leitner picked up his second point of the night when he outraced Norfolk defender TJ Melancon to the line and sent the puck to the front of the net, where it found the skates of winger Kevin Morris and finished its journey over the line to make it 4-1 Manchester.
Impressive rookie Sam Kurker scored his third goal of the year 26 seconds later to put the lead at four goals. After a Michael Doherty shot bounced off of a Norfolk player, Kurker picked it up and beat Paterson on the backhand to put the tally at 5-1. Smotherman returned to the scorecard at 13:49 of the second period when he made his second power-play strike of the night. Lynch returned the favor of Smotherman’s earlier assist with a pass to the slot, which the winger didn’t waste as he put the shot over Paterson’s leg for a 6-1 lead.
44 seconds into the third period was all it took for the Monarchs to put the PAT on the touchdown when Kurker and Cory Ward found themselves in a 2-on-1 situation, going tic-tac to befuddle the beleaguered Paterson, with Ward finishing the play to cap the scoring at 7-1.
All told, twelve Monarchs players scored a point in the contest, in which everything seemed to go right for the squad. It was a complete turnaround from the previous game, when the Manchester attack was stymied by Greenville goaltender Ty Rimmer. The machine was running on all cylinders, and Paterson never seemed comfortable. The Norfolk tender, who won 34 of his 49 starts last season in Toledo, now finds himself 1-3 with a .882 save percentage and a 4.80 goals against average in Norfolk.
On the defensive end, the Monarchs have barely looked better this season, allowing a season-low 17 shots on goal, with Williams allowing only one to pass by. They also only gave the Admirals four power-play chances, another season low, while scoring three goals with a man-up which, you guessed it, was a season-best.
After a demoralizing loss where 51 shots weren’t good enough, this was a good palate cleanser game to boost team confidence against an opposing team which has found little luck.
Former Monarch Rick Pinkston now serves as an alternate captain for the Admirals. The 27-year-old defenseman played 20 games with the Monarchs last season, with two goals and five assists. So far, he has been held scoreless in his first seven games with the Admirals. He did, however, drop the gloves against Joel Lowry in the third period of this contest.
The combination of Leitner-Lynch-Smotherman connected on three of Manchester’s seven goals. Leitner has found a comfortable place in the role of playmaker, and has been impressive with the setup passes all year. Veteran Smotherman, who has four goals in seven games so far, is no stranger to offensive production. In 18 games with the Monarchs last year, he had 20 points with 12 of them being goals. Lynch himself had a point-per-game pace last season with Manchester, with 18 goals and 16 assists in 34 games. He’s only one point off of that pace so far this year.
The Monarchs’ top four scorers (Lowry, Ward, Cameranesi, Kurker) are all on point-per-game paces at the moment, with seven more players only one point behind that mark.
The Monarchs are also averaging 39.6 shots per game, a pace which can only be referred to as “blistering.” Over the past three games, they’ve averaged a ridiculous 46.3 shots per game. It’s obvious that this is an unsustainable number, but as long as they keep it up, they should win more games than they lose.
On the other end of the ice, Williams has settled into the starting role with gusto, his goals against average have dropped to 1.98 with a stout .925 save percentage. It’s hard to argue that goalie stats like that plus shot totals in the low-to-mid 40s won’t translate into wins over the long term.
The Monarchs and Admirals meet again tonight at the Scope for the first game of a back-to-back in Norfolk. The game starts at 7 pm, and the Admirals will be looking to pick themselves up off the mat.