While the Manchester Monarchs sit atop the AHL standings, the team has yet to find an answer for the St. John’s IceCaps. The primary affiliates of the Winnipeg Jets have held the Monarchs to a modest 3-6 record in nine games played between the division rivals, after a disappointing 3-1 loss on Saturday.
After the Monarchs failed to convert on an early power play, St. John’s opened the scoring just 3:37 into the game. Working the puck up the ice, forward JC Lipon connected on a pass with Adam Lowry in the neutral zone. Carrying the puck into the Monarchs end, the hulking winger held on to the puck and skated it all the way behind the net before wrapping it around the net and in behind JF Berube.
The visitors would extend their lead to two later in the period, as Kyle MacKinnon was able to convert on a give-and-go play with Jerome Samson. After dishing to Samson, MacKinnon drove the net, collected the return pass, and slid one backhand between the legs of Berube. Defenseman Paul Postma was credited with an assist on the play.
Towards the end of the first period, Manchester dug their hole even deeper, as they would commit two penalties just 22 seconds apart.
Starting the middle frame with a two-man advantage and leading by a pair, the IceCaps added a third goal while Andrew Campbell and Nick Shore both sat in the penalty box. After Postma blasted a slap shot off the post, the puck worked its way to the right of Berube and on the stick of Samson. From there, the winger whizzed a cross-ice pass to Jason Jaffray for the easy one-timer goal.
Trailing by three and being vastly outplayed for most of the game, the Monarchs found their lone goal early in the third period. As the IceCaps tried to break out of their defensive zone, a good forecheck by Nick Deslauriers allowed the winger to steal the puck and carry it in for a short, unchallenged attempt on goalie Michael Hutchinson. Though the initial shot by Deslauriers was stopped, Linden Vey was there to bury the rebound for his 9th goal of the year.
For the better part of the first two periods, the Monarchs were outplayed by St. John’s. Though the shot totals would indicate of a close game, it was anything but. While Manchester fought hard for a comeback, they ultimately fell short and lost by a two goals at home.
After a solid performance the day before, Berube struggled on Saturday. On the first goal, he was slow in his lateral movement from post-to-post, allowing Lowry to beak him with the wrap around. The IceCaps second goal slid right between the goaltender’s legs, one that he will likely want back. Though he played better as the game went on, those two first period goals ultimately would seal the Monarchs’ fate.
One of the biggest problems most rookie defenders face in pro hockey is finding a way to play good, consistent hockey. For the first few months of the season, Derek Forbort knew this all too well. Saturday marked the third game in a row the blueliner has played very well. Though his offense hasn’t lit the world on fire, he’s found a way to contribute solid defensive hockey as of late. He’s cut out the turnovers from his game and is making much smarter reads with the puck on his stick.
Saturday was far from Vey’s best game of the year. Despite scoring the lone goal for his team, the center was one of many disappointments for the home team. Multiple times, Vey tried too hard to force a play, resulting in a turnover. Instead of opting for the safer plays, Vey likes to try and squeeze pucks in small windows or simply does not see defenders clogging the passing lanes. On top of his turnover woes, he continues to be below average on the faceoff dot.
For the IceCaps, Postma stood out amongst all else. Spending all of this year with the Jets, Postma played his second game of a conditioning assignment as he returns from injury. In the game, Postma registered an assist on every goal for his team, while also contributing sound defensive hockey in his own zone. His shot from the point was heavy and more often than not found its way through traffic.
After the game, coach Mark Morris named Mathias Niederberger the starter for the team’s next game. He also indicated that Hunter Bishop and Ian O’Connor would draw their ways back into the lineup but did not state who they would be replacing.
The Monarchs return to action on Sunday, February 2 at 1 PM, as they take on the Portland Pirates.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Saturday were as follows:
Nick Deslauriers – Linden Vey – Tanner Pearson
Brian O’Neill – Jordan Weal – Sean Backman
AJ Gale – Nick Shore – Zach O’Brien
Andy Andreoff – Andrew Crescenzi – Scott Sabourin
Derek Forbort – Andrew Campbell
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Colin Miller
Chris Huxley – Vincent LoVerde
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