For the most part, goaltending is the most important position in hockey. A good one can steal games that a team has no business winning. On Sunday, the Monarchs learned this first hand.
For the third straight week, the Manchester faced a daunting three games in three days. After a blowout loss to Providence on Friday and a comeback victory over Portland on Saturday, they looked to end the weekend on a high note. To do so though, they would once again have to battle adversity as injuries continue to plague the LA Kings’ primary affiliate.
After Jeff Schultz was called up to LA earlier in the week, the Monarchs were down to only six defenseman. However, an injury to Chris Huxley in Providence brought that number to five, forcing coach Mark Morris to move Nick Deslauriers back to the position he was drafted as. Cameron Burt, who has only played six games for the team since arriving from Ontario (ECHL) has impressed in that time and would have normally been another option, but he too was unable to go versus the Sharks.
The first period started out with solid back-and-forth action, as the two rivals began to feel each other out by trading possession time for the first few minutes. Soon thereafter, Manchester began to take over.
In front of their hometown crowd, the Monarchs started to generate a few quality scoring chances, with none greater than a pair coming late in the first frame. Worcester goalie Troy Grosenick made two point-blank saves in the dying seconds of the first, including one by recently returned forward, Tanner Pearson.
One of the hallmarks of the Monarchs game is starting periods fast. Early in the second, Worcester turned the puck over while trying to exit their defensive zone. Sean Backman took the puck and fed a short pass to Zach O’Brien, who spun in the slot to get free from his man and scored off the far post. After being injured in his first game with the team and then taking a few games to really get going, O’Brien now has three goals in the past two games.
“I wasn’t happy when I got injured. It’s a big opportunity, getting a call up, but now that I’m back, I’m feeling better every game,” O’Brien said of his season so far.
Manchester had a multitude of near-misses in the second period, with perhaps the best chance coming when they were down a man, as Andre Campbell cut off the Sharks zone entry and sent Backman in on a shorthanded breakaway. Grosenick was once again there to bail his team out, stopping the former Bridgeport Sound Tiger and keeping his team within one.
The Sharks tied the game just over five minutes into the third period, as Daniil Tarasov’s pass was one-timed from the point by Konrad Abletshauser and making its way past JF Berube – who pleaded with the referee for goalie interference to be called, to no avail. After the game, the Monarchs’ goalie admitted that a call was likely unwarranted.
At the end of regulation, the score may have been tied, but most in the crowd probably felt the Sharks were lucky to still have a chance at two points.
In the overtime period, Tarasov committed not one, but two penalties, allowing the Monarchs to spend 3:44 of the extra session on the powerplay. Despite being gifted a golden opportunity, Manchester squandered it, unable to set anything up with the advantage.
Worcester eventually won the game in a shootout, thanks to goals from former Ontario Reign forward Dan DaSilva and Daniil Tarasov.
For all intents and purposes, Worcester should not have even sniffed the overtime period. A combination of trying to be too fancy and running into a hot goalie kept the Sharks in the game though. Grosenick stopped countless grade-A scoring chances throughout the game, and was rightfully awarded first star of the game for his efforts.
Across the ice from Grosenick, Berube rebounded from a seven-goal outing on Friday to put together a stellar performance of his own. Stopping 31 of 32 shots, Berube made timely saves to ensure his team at least received one point from the affair. Throughout the night, he tracked the puck well and showed great rebound control, skills he has shown often in his time in Manchester. The start marked his 12th in a row and he has now had three straight weeks where he has played three games in three days.
Returning from a stint with the Los Angeles Kings, Pearson showed flashes of why he was called up to Manchester’s parent club. Late in the third, Pearson rifled a wrister that stung Grosenick and forced him to grimace in pain and then drop to the ice after stopping it. The former first round pick had a familiar face in the crowd, as his father was able to take in the game while on a business trip.
“Just the pace of things. Even in practices, everything is so much quicker. And the games are so much quicker. You’re playing with the best players in the world so you’ve got to be on your toes at all times,” Pearson said on what the biggest thing he learned in LA was.
As noted above, O’Brien has begin to find his game at the AHL level. Besides his three goals over the weekend, the former QMJHLer has experienced an increased role of late. Primarily a depth guy to start in Manchester, O’Brien has recently been getting time on the powerplay, penalty kill and was even on the ice to start overtime vs. the Sharks.
On the bright side for the Monarchs, Jeff Schultz has been returned to the team. Though unable to make it back in time to face Worcester, Schultz is expected to skate with the team in next weekend’s games.
Robbie Czarnik suffered a dislocated finger during the game, meaning he may be the latest Monarch to miss time due to injury.
The Monarchs are back in action Friday, December 13 when they travel to Worcester to once again face the Sharks.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Sunday were as follows:
Tanner Pearson – Nick Shore – Brandon Kozun
Andy Andreoff – Jordan Weal – Scott Sabourin
Hunter Bishop – Zach O’Brien – Sean Backman
AJ Gale – Robbie Czarnick – Max Kitsyn
Derek Forbort – Andrew Campbell
Nick Deslauriers – Colin Miller
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
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