After a game where seemingly nothing went their way the night before, the Manchester Monarchs were hungry a win heading into the AHL All Star break.
Still reaping the benefits of the Olympic break, the Monarchs’ loaded roster took on the Albany Devils on Sunday afternoon. Luckily for Manchester, Albany was without injured starting goalie Keith Kinkaid and the ineligible to play Eric Gelinas, who both would have provided a large boost for their team.
Manchester used their quick starts once again to their advantage, tallying the first goal of the game just 1:08 into the opening period. Defenseman Derek Forbort kept the puck in at the Albany blue line, where winger Sean Backman gloved the puck, dropped it to his feet, and wristed one to the far post and behind Devils’ goalie Scott Wedgewood.
The Monarchs dominated the first period and for all intents and purposes, should have had a bigger lead going in to the intermission. The team outshot the Devis 15-4 and had an extended two man advantage to work with, in which they were unable to convert.
At some point during the opening period, Devils’ top prospect Adam Larsson went down with an undisclosed injury. Larsson would leave the game and not return, playing only 4:15 on the night.
Once again, the Monarchs started the 2nd period strong and potted a second goal just over four minutes in. As the Devils tried to break the puck out, Andy Andreoff threw a hit, knocking both himself and the Devils defender down. The hit allowed Jeff Schultz to keep the puck in, where Hunter Bishop picked up the loose puck and found Andreoff going to the net uncontested. Showing off a nice set of hands, Andreoff deked forehand to backhand and beat Wedgewood to extend the lead to two.
Late in the period, Manchester would extend their lead again, as Jordan Weal picked up his 11th goal of the season, with assists going to Schultz and O’Neill. Working the puck behind the net, Brian O’Neill passed off to Schultz on the right half-wall. From there, the hulking defenseman threw a cross-ice pass to a wide open Weal, whose one-timer found the back of the net for a 3-0 lead.
A quiet third period would pass and the Monarchs won by the aforementioned score.
For the second night in a row, Monarchs’ goalie Martin Jones was not heavily tested. Though he made all the saves he needed to make, there were very few grade-A scoring chances from the Devils. Jones’ biggest save of the night came on a mad scramble in front of his crease, where the goalie was able to throw an arm out and just catch enough of the puck to keep it out.
“Yeah, I mean, the idea is to play down here and get games, get some work in. You know, it’s great that we’re playing so well but it’d be nice to get a little bit of work I guess,” Jones said of his light work load the past two nights.
On Saturday, the White Line of Tanner Pearson, Linden Vey, and Tyler Toffoli took two periods to find their chemistry after not playing together for an extended period of time. Sunday saw the line waste little time to get involved. Throughout the whole game, the line was dangerous, in particular the duo of wingers in Pearson and Toffoli. Entering the zone in the first period, Toffoli threw an area pass to the streaking Pearson, which he deflected off the crossbar and out.
The ever-dangerous Weal once again turned in a strong performance versus the Devils. A shifty and tenacious player, Weal seemingly always finds himself creating scoring opportunities. On his goal, he found a soft spot in Albany’s defense and set himself up for a pass from Schultz. Many other times, Weal did what he does best and took control of the puck and dictated the play in the offensive zone. Though his line only scored the lone goal, they were also dangerous all night and could have easily been credited with three goals by the final buzzer.
The mark of a solid defensive-defenseman is usually not to be noticed. Despite his rather large presence on the ice, at times it is easy to forget Schultz is on the ice because he is so solid and makes most plays look routine. The NHL veteran has been a steadying presence all year and has spent nearly the entire year paired with rookie Colin Miller. Saturday saw Schultz do something he doesn’t normally do – produce points. His two assists were both a credit to heads up plays by the defenseman.
“No, it’s not. I look at this as kind of a time to work on things, kind of get my game back to where I need to be, you know, get my confidence back up. You know, talking with the coaches, they’re going to give me all the opportunity to play in the situations that I can and just kind of go from there,” said Schultz on if it is hard to stay positive playing in the AHL after a long tenure in the NHL.
Losing a defenseman early in the game forces the remaining ones to step their games up immensely. That is exactly what Corbin McPherson and Alexander Urbom did for the Devils after Larsson left in the first period. Both tall defenseman used their size to their advantage, using strong positioning and long reach to fend off the attacking Monarchs. The two, while on separate pairings, both logged heavy minutes and were key reasons the Monarchs margin of victory wasn’t larger than it was.
The Monarchs sit atop the Eastern Conference as the AHL heads in to their All Star break. The team will have four days off, with some players returning home during their time off. Manchester will be back in action Friday, February 14 as they take on the Worcester Sharks.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Sunday were as follows:
Tanner Pearson – Linden Vey – Tyler Toffoli
Brian O’Neill – Jordan Weal – Sean Backman
Nick Deslauriers – Nick Shore – Zach O’Brien
Hunter Bishop – Andy Andreoff – Scott Sabourin
Derek Forbort – Andrew Campbell
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
Jeff Schultz – Colin Miller
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