As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Coming in to Friday night’s game, the Monarchs had not lost a game in regulation. With Kings GM Dean Lombardi, his Special Assistant Jack Ferreira and Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti in attendance, the Monarchs finally met their match in the St. John’s IceCaps. After a 3-2 loss to Winnipeg’s AHL affiliate, Manchester now holds a 5-1-1-2 record.
Last season, the ‘White Line’ (Tanner Pearson, Linden Vey and Tyler Toffoli), were among the most lethal combinations in the entire league. To start this year, Pearson was moved to the second line in an effort to up overall offensive production. Friday’s game saw the line reunited though and they wasted no time sparking the offense, as Vey scored just 4:09 into the game.
The play started when Toffoli took a pass from Derek Forbort, skated in to the zone and found a wide open Vey. Wanting a better shot, his center toe-dragged the puck in the high slot and then buried it shot blocker side on IceCaps goalie Eddie Pasquale.
Unfortunately for the Monarchs, their early lead would be short lived. Just 39 seconds later, Swedish winger Carl Klingberg found a loose puck in the slot and beat goalie Martin Jones with a perfectly placed shot.
Coming into the contest, the Monarchs’ penalty kill was working at a rate of 90.7%, good for fourth in the AHL. With two men in the box, the PK went to work, but came up short. After the 12 seconds ticked off from the first call, Andrew Gordon gave St. John’s a 2-1 lead. A scramble in front of the net saw the puck end up on Gordon’s stick for the easy goal. Jones made the initial save but Gordon was in the right place at the right time.
Midway through the second frame, Jason Jaffray scored what would end up being the game-winning goal for the IceCaps. While Jaffray will get credit on the score sheet, J.C. Lipon deserves a bulk of the credit for the work he did in feeding his linemate a perfect pass. Lipon corralled the puck behind the net, took his time in letting the play develop, and then found his captain wide open in the slot. No Manchester defenseman pressured Lipon and no one picked up Jaffray, allowing the goal to consummate.
Struggling to create real threats or sustain any pressure, the tide of the game began to shift in favor of the Monarchs late, as they became desperate to claw their way back in it. With under five minutes to go in regulation, Nick Deslauriers tallied his third goal of the year. The scoring sequence started with center Jordan Weal throwing the puck towards the net from the right half-wall. From there, the puck found its way onto the stick of Brandon Kozun, whose shot was stopped by the pad of Pasquale before Deslauriers buried the rebound.
Similar to several recent games, the offensive sequence began with Weal. Thus far, he’s been a key contributor for coach Mark Morris. While many are familiar with Weal’s tremendous offensive abilities, especially given his tremendous junior numbers with the Regina Pats of the WHL, he’s been showing a tremendous well-rounded game of late. With seven points through nine games, Vey has been forcing turnovers, defensively responsible and showed versatility by manning the point on the first power-play unit.
Deslauriers has been equally impressive since recently being converted from a defenseman to left wing. The proverbial bull in a china shop, Deslauriers hits everything that moves. Thus far, his combination of size, physicality and overall skill could make him an attractive option at left wing in the future for the Kings. He’s impressed in his early showings up front and still mans the point on the power-play.
One forward who has perhaps been flying under the radar to start the year is Brian O’Neill. Although Generally not a flashy forward, there have been sequences where he’s shown great play-making ability. On the penalty kill, he was able to eat time with great board play before the IceCaps could steal the puck from him. Package his PK ability with his tenacity, willingness to engage in physical play and glimpses of play-making ability and you have a very solid hockey player.
Jones, who received his Player of the Week award before the game started, turned in another quality performance in goal. Stopping 28 of 31 shots, the lanky goaltender did what was asked of him by keeping the Monarchs in the game. Former King Jonathan Bernier was known for his calmness in net, which is a trait Jones shares with him and put on full display in this game.
When you’re trying to earn your way up to an NHL roster, it’s always said you should give 110% every shift if you want to get noticed. That’s exactly what Pearson was doing against the IceCaps. While he did take a penalty for tripping and turn the puck over more than once, he never stopped moving his feet. This effort also included using his body more than usual and being a physical presence for the reunited ‘White Line.’
Even more impressive than the effort of Pearson was his linemate, Toffoli. Known as a pure goal scorer, the right winger was tremendous defensively throughout the game. Often times, the former Ottawa 67 was seen breaking up the IceCaps’ offensive chances. A dedication to his defensive game and effort on every shift should see Toffoli back in LA sooner rather than later.
One lingering question surrounds the right move for the development of Maxim Kitsyn. After spending the past few seasons in the KHL, the promising winger made the move to North America this past summer after the Kings signed him to an Entry Level Contract. Through nine games, he’s only found his way into the lineup one time though. Like the recent roster move with defenseman Alex Roach, it may best suit him to be sent to Ontario of the ECHL, where he can log top minutes while readjusting to the North American brand of hockey.
The Monarchs will have their chance for revenge against St. John’s with another home game Saturday afternoon.
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