After a season in which they finished first in the Eastern Conference, the Manchester Monarchs have been off to a roller coaster start to their 2014-15 campaign. Friday, the team registered 44 shots and still struggled to create offense. With the Springfield Falcons in town on Saturday, the up and down ride continued, as Manchester rode Nick Shore’s two goal performance to a victory.
Shore’s first goal came in the later part of the first period. After Springfield attempted to ring the puck around their offensive zone boards, Shore found the puck and went on the attack. Entering the Falcons’ zone in a two-on-one with Justin Auger, the center opted to shoot, sniping the puck top shelf past Scott Munroe.
In the second period, the Monarchs failed to score on a five-on-three advantage, which they held for the full two minutes. Shortly after the penalties ended, Auger went to the box for a penalty of his own. While down a man, Shore tallied his second of the night and fifth of the season. As a Falcons defender tried to pass the puck to the center of the point, Shore got his stick in the passing lane, sending himself in alone on a breakaway. Shooting off the post and in, Shore converted the shorthanded attempt.
With Manchester controlling the game for most of the night, goalie JF Berube seemed poised for his first shutout of the season. Unfortunately for the French-Canadian, Sean Collins buried the puck right to the right of the goaltender, making it a 2-1 game with just over three minutes to play.
Despite the Falcons’ best effort, Berube shut the door and closed out the game for his fourth win of the season.
Saturday’s game was yet another example of why Shore ranked so highly on the MayorsManor top prospect list. Far and away, his best asset is his mind, as he reads the game incredibly well, allowing himself to always have superb positioning. Last season in his rookie campaign, Shore was slow to start offensively. This year, his five goals leads his team and his eight points put him one back from tying the team lead with three others. If he continues to produce this well, Shore will find himself on an NHL roster sooner rather than later.
One of the more surprising names to make the team, Auger has quietly played very solid hockey. His offensive potential is very limited, but what he does well is utilize the gifts given to him at birth. Standing at a staggering 6-foot-7 tall, the 20 year old Auger is a man on the ice. He protects the puck better than anyone on the team and is an absolute handful for any defender to deal with. Though he isn’t a big hitter, he plays a physical, strong brand of hockey that is incredibly appealing to the Kings style of play.
Playing his fifth game with the team, Jamie McBain continues to have his ups and his downs. His offensive skill is very evident at times, as he makes flashy plays that impress the crowd. Other times, the NHL veteran tried to force pucks and makes poor decisions. The former Carolina Hurricanes defenseman plays a very open game, which at times conflicts with the defensive system the Monarchs and Kings both run.
Moving into next weekend, the team has decisions to make on the back end. With Andrew Bodnarchuk set to return, the team will have nine healthy defenseman on their roster. As it stands now, there isn’t enough ice time for the eight healthy members, meaning it will be even more crowded on the blue line. The team has a few options to rectify the situation. First, the team could release McBain from his tryout. Second, the team could send one of Kevin Gravel, Nick Ebert, or Kevin Raine to Ontario for more ice time. Raine may have the inside track on a roster spot, as he has shown he can play forward as well. A third option would be to trade someone like Bodnarchuk and allow younger players ice time, which we don’t see likely at this time.
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 –
Josh Gratton – Andrew Crescenzi – Scott Sabourin
Jeff Schultz – Colin Miller
Derek Forbort – Vincent LoVerde
Jamie McBain – Kevin Raine
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