Last time the Manchester Monarchs and Providence Bruins met, Manchester was blown out on home ice. With that loss in the back of their minds, the Monarchs looked for revenge on Saturday night, as they once again hosted their division rivals. Ultimately, Manchester would get just that, as they scored five straight goals and cruised to a 5-2 victory.
Scoring first has come natural to the Monarchs. In their first 12 games of the year, they had tallied the first goal of the game 10 times. In the other two contests, they were shut out. Saturday, however, Providence would light the lamp first with Bryce Aneloski’s first AHL goal. The defenseman set himself up on the point and received a pass from Alexander Khokhlachev on the right wall, quickly wristing a shot past Manchester netminder JF Berube, who was screened and did not react as the puck went in behind him.
Midway through the opening 20 minutes, top prospect David Pastrnak redirected a puck for his fourth of the season. Khokhlachev, with the puck towards the left point, threw a pass perfectly onto Pastrnak’s stick, who tipped it top shelf past Berube.
Late in the first, Manchester would get on the board thanks to a goal from Justin Auger. Working the puck from low to high, a Monarchs point shot was blocked before reaching Malcolm Subban in the Bruins net, allowing Auger to bury the loose puck. On top of scoring the goal, Auger was the one responsible for starting the play by digging the puck out of the corner and feeding it to his defenseman before the big man made his way to the slot.
Despite out-shooting the Bruins in the first, Manchester failed to generate many quality chances in the opening frame. Half way through the second period, the home team took over and asserted their dominance until the final buzzer. Late in the middle period, Derek Forbort scored his first of two goals in the game with a beautiful and perfectly placed backhand shot from the slot. Forbort found the puck after Brian O’Neill held it until he spotted the defenseman set up in a soft spot of the Providence defense.
A minute and 19 seconds later, the University of North Dakota alumni registered his second of the game and the season. Another puck going from low to high caused problems for Providence, as Forbort’s point wrister beat a screened Subban. Jordan Weal picked up an assist on the play, maintaining his point-per-game pace.
Heading into the final stanza with a 3-2 lead, the Monarchs were not done scoring. With under five minutes to go, Nick Shore delivered the dagger. As Auger drove low with the puck along the right wall, Shore set himself up in the slot for a one-timer that went five-hole on the Bruins netminder.
In the closing minutes of the game, captain Vincent LoVerde would pad his stats with his team’s fifth tally of the night. Collecting the puck off of a Nic Dowd faceoff win, the defender skated towards the corner, releasing a shot from the bottom of the circle that found its way into the back of the net. The final buzzer would sound minutes later and coach Mike Stother’s team would pick up their ninth win in 13 games.
Auger has continued to play quietly brilliant hockey. In his last three games, the Guelph Storm alum has six points. Though his offense is likely not sustainable, he continues to show how effective a big man can be if they utilize their size. Few prospects in recent memory protect the puck as well as Auger, and the winger seems dedicated to playing a tough brand of hockey. If anything will hold Auger back, it is his skating, as he lacks both speed and acceleration. However, if he can plant himself in front of the net and work well along the boards, a future with the Kings isn’t out of the question.
Scoring two goals in the game, Forbort doubled his output from last season, where he only managed to put one puck in the back of the net through 74 games. While there is still work to be done in his game, Forbort has steadily improved with every game and every day he has spent in Manchester since the beginning of last season. Defensively, he has become incredibly steady and asserts himself much more on the ice, something he desperately needed to do. The former first round pick has been one of the better defenseman on his team to start the year.
Another blue liner who has quietly performed well all season is the Chicago native LoVerde. Though he does nothing exceedingly well, the Monarchs’ captain is solid in all areas of his game. His off-season workouts appeared to leave LoVerde a step faster on the ice as well. If there was one word to describe his game, it would be consistent. Game in and game out, LoVerde is someone his coaching staff can count on to deliver a solid performance. After being near the top of the plus/minus rankings last season, LoVerde was a plus-four rating on the night.
Dowd is yet another player quietly producing on the young season. In 13 games, the St. Cloud State alum has nine points, including eight assists. On top of his offensive contributions, Dowd is a key asset to the Monarchs’ penalty kill and is above average in the faceoff dot. Though things are going well for the center, there are still areas of improvement. Dowd has a tendency to take far too long to let shots go. While he may have had time to wind up and pick a corner in college, defenders are much quicker in professional hockey. Too many times now, Dowd has been interrupted in the process of shooting due to a slow release.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Saturday were as follows:
Brian O’Neill – Nick Shore – Justin Auger
David Van der Gulik – Nic Dowd – Sean Backman
Michael Mersch – Jordan Weal –Scott Sabourin
Ryan Horvat – Andrew Crescenzi – Josh Gratton
Derek Forbort – Vincent LoVerde
Jeff Schultz – Colin Miller
Kevin Gravel – Nick Ebert
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