Special teams can be the deciding factor in any given hockey game. A hot powerplay can fuel a team to victory, while a weak penalty kill can sink a team’s chances at the win. For the Manchester Monarchs, a night in which their penalty kill allowed three goals would not hold them back from victory.
Saturday marked the eighth time the Portland Pirates and Monarchs faced off on the season. Manchester held a 5-2 lead in the VIP Cup, awarded to the team who wins the most head to head games between the two. Every game the division rivals had played featured no less than five combined goals, a trend that continued in the eighth installment of the series.
For the second game in a row, the Monarchs got off to a slow start. A point shot was redirected on its way to Monarchs’ goalie Martin Jones, beating him and giving Portland the 1-0 lead. Credit for the goal was given to Daine Todd, with assists to Mathieu Brodeur and Brandon Yip.
Portland would pick up its first of three powerplay goals on the night thanks to a one-timer from Lucas Lessio. Carrying the puck along the left boards, Brendan Shinnimin turned and fed Lessio a pass right in his wheel house. Lessio worked his way to a soft spot in the Monarchs’ defense, allowing Shinnimin to feed him with the pass. Picking up the secondary assist on the play was Brandon McMillan.
Trailing by two heading into the second period yet again, Manchester found an early goal by Nick Deslauriers to cut the lead to 2-1. Cycling the puck along the boards, Scott Sabouring took a pass from Andrew Crescenzi and spotted a wide open Deslauriers on the other side of the ice. Sabourin threw a hard and crisp pass right to the tape of Deslauriers, who fired home his team leading 18th goal of the year.
McMillan would pick up his second point of the evening just under five minutes later, scoring the Pirates’ second powerplay goal of the game. Off of an Andy Miele faceoff win, Chris Brown would pick up the puck and find McMillan open, who then beat Jones with a wrist shot to the top shelf.
Once again, the Monarchs would make it a one goal game off of Jordan Weal’s 14th tally of the season. After Portland goalie Louis Domingue made the initial save, Brian O’Neill and Sean Backman battled for the loose puck. Eventually, Weal would come in and let go a wrist shot to the far post, beating the right handed catching goalie.
The visiting Pirates would regain their two goal lead on the back of McMillan’s second goal and third point of the night. On the powerplay for the third time on the evening, Miele carried the puck below the goal line and fed McMillan in front of Jones for a tap in goal. Former Edmonton Oiler draft pick Tobias Rieder was awarded a secondary assist on the third powerplay goal of the night for his team.
Heading into the final 20 minutes of regulations, the Monarchs trailed 4-2 and it appeared as if the weak penalty killing on the night would mean dropping the game to a division rival. Instead, the Monarchs showed a never-say-die attitude and mounted a comeback, starting with a goal from a new face.
After receiving a great stretch pass from Vincent LoVerde, who was dangerous with the puck on his stick all night, Andy Andreoff worked his way down the left boards and into the Pirates zone. Turning his head to read what his team was doing, Andreoff spotted Colin Fraser in the high slot and passed him the puck for Fraser’s first goal with the team.
Completing the comeback for his team, Weal tallied his second goal and fourth point in two nights. Set up near the goal line and to the left of Domingue, Weal picked up a rebound and slapped it home, finding a way to squeak the puck through the Pirates’ goalie. Assists on the play went to O’Neill and Deslauriers.
While some teams would be happy with the tie game, the Monarchs were hungry to end the game before going to overtime and allowing the Pirates a point. Zach O’Brien, a pleasant surprise since being signed to a professional tryout, would score the deciding goal. The scoring sequence started with a strong defensive effort by Nick Shore to steal the puck as Portland tried to break out. From there, the puck would eventually find its way to the stick of Andrew Bodnarchuk on the left point. The former Bruins prospect let go a heavy slapshot, missing the net and rebounding out to the other side of Domingue, where O’Brien had an empty net to score his seventh of the year.
The Monarchs would hold on to win 5-4 and take a commanding 6-2 lead in the VIP Cup series.
Though hockey is a world of much uncertainty, the win may mark the last game Martin Jones plays for the organization. Before Sunday’s game, Jones will return to LA to resume play with the Kings. While allowing four goals is less than ideal for any goalie, most were due to high level plays made by the opposing team. Jones otherwise made all the saves he needed to make, picking up his 84th victory in his Monarchs career.
Not known for being a goal scorer, Weal has now scored three goals in the past two games. Though he doesn’t possess a particularly heavy shot, he has found a way to put the puck behind the opposing goaltender. On top of this, his vision and hands make him one of the more lethal offensive threats for the Monarchs.
“It’s important [that] he plays well. He’s got to play a lot of big minutes. And he’s got to be defensively sound, but with the puck on his stick, he seems to make things happen,” coach Mark Morris commented on Weal’s play so far on the weekend.
In his second game with the team, Fraser continues to play well for Morris. While the AHL is a league consisting of a lot of young players working towards being in the NHL one day, his experience shines through. Rarely has he made a mistake and his understanding for the game is evident in every shift. Morris praised Fraser for his positivity on the bench, going on to say that he has met all expectations in his short time with the team. To top off a strong evening of play, Fraser scored his first goal since March 9, 2013, in which he also added an assist versus the Calgary Flames.
“It’s been a joke with the guys. I think its been about, if it hasn’t been 12 months, its probably been 11 months. And I kind of forgot what it felt like to score a goal,” Fraser joked post game about the long scoring drought.
The Monarchs will complete their weekend with a third home game, taking on the Worcester Sharks on Sunday, February 23 at 3 PM. With Jones set to return to LA, Mathias Niederberger will get the start and the team will sign an “emergency” backup for the game.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Saturday were as follows:
Brian O’Neill – Jordan Weal – Sean Backman
Nick Deslauriers – Nick Shore – Zach O’Brien
Andy Andreoff – Colin Fraser – Steve Quailer
Hunter Bishop – Andrew Crescenzi – Scott Sabourin
Derek Forbort – Andrew Campbell
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
Jeff Schultz – Colin Miller
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