MANCHESTER, N.H. – After leading the North Division for most of the season, the Manchester Monarchs had a bit of a collapse to finish off the season, scoring only three points in their final seven games. That was just enough to lose the division to the Adirondack Thunder by one point. Now, they face a tough first-round matchup against the Reading Royals, who have been a strong team from post-to-post. The North Division has been a meat grinder from day one; now it’s time to make the sausage.
Final Regular Season Records:
Manchester Monarchs: 41-25-3-3, 88 pts (2nd in North Division, 4th in Eastern Conference)
Reading Royals: 39-24-9-0, 87 pts (3rd in North Division, 5th in Eastern Conference)
Series Schedule: (Home Team in CAPS and all times local):
Game 1 – Friday, April 13 – Reading at MANCHESTER 7:00 pm ET
Game 2 – Saturday, April 14 – Reading at MANCHESTER 6:00 pm ET
Game 3 – Monday, April 16 – Manchester at READING 7:00 pm ET
Game 4 – Wednesday, April 18 – Manchester at READING 7:00 pm CT
*Game 5 – Thursday, April 19 – Manchester at READING 7:00 pm CT
*Game 6 – Saturday, April 21 – Reading at MANCHESTER 6:00 pm ET
*Game 7 – Tuesday, April 24 – Reading at MANCHESTER 7:00 pm ET
*=> If Necessary
Season Series Recap:
A fairly even series if you look at the numbers (5-4 in favor of the Royals, 30-29 goal totals in favor of the Monarchs,) and one that has produced some of the most lopsided wins of the season for both teams, including trading 6-2 wins on December 23rd and January 14th. The Royals have won the last two meetings, the most recent being a 5-4 shootout victory at Santander Arena on March 30th.
How Manchester Wins:
It’s been said before, and here it is again: the Monarchs have not had a streak, winning or losing, that finished at fewer than five since February 10th. They went on a six-game skid at the end of the year before winning their final game of the regular-season against Worcester. That puts the current streak at one win… could that mean four more coming? While it would be silly to expect that trend to continue, it’s worth keeping in mind.
In seriousness: at one point, the Monarchs were missing most of their top ten scorers due to injuries or AHL call-ups. Now, going into the first round, nine out of ten are back (the lone missing member is Joel Lowry, who currently suits up for the Springfield Thunderbirds.) So with the big guns back home, it’s time to get the game back to where they started the season: putting up ridiculous shot totals and protecting the goaltender (especially hot-and-cold backup backstop Evan Cowley.) If Charles Williams is in top form and the Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman-led offense puts buckets of pucks on net, the Monarchs could cruise. But…
How Reading Wins:
The Royals have made their hay this season by being stingy on defense, and especially with their solid goaltending. For much of the season, they have been backstopped by John Muse, a top-five goaltender for most of the season, though he has been called up to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms multiple times. Backing him up, the also-dependable and playoff-tested Mark Dekanich (former Monarch Branden Komm had quite the run with the Royals after being traded, but has not made the playoff roster.) But goalies aren’t the only tool in the shed for Reading – they’ll also feature a big stick in Matt Willows (32G, 42A) and a respectable defense led by Nick Luukko and Nolan Zajac. And, on a Monarchs-specific note, Michael Huntebrinker has been particularly dangerous against Manchester this season, scoring eight points over nine games. If the Royals can neutralize the Monarchs’ offensive weapons, or if Muse returns like Gandalf to Helm’s Deep, they could carry home the victory.
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