As the top nations compete in Sochi for Olympic gold, the AHL continues on with business as usual. Many NHL teams sent eligible young players to their farm teams to continue getting ice time and working on their case, a move which has paid dividends for the Manchester Monarchs.
While the team has spent the majority of the season juggling a lineup that saw many players suffer injuries or be called up to the LA Kings, the past few weeks have seen a more steady lineup for coach Mark Morris. The return of top players in Martin Jones and Tyler Toffoli, among others, has taken an already strong lineup and made the challenge for opposing teams even tougher, as was evident on Friday night, as the Monarchs took on the Worcester Sharks.
Manchester would open the scoring in the first period, thanks to a great individual effort from Jordan Weal on the power play. Skating the puck up the ice, Weal broke into the offensive zone, and worked a give-and-go play with Zach O’Brien. After regaining the puck from his winger, Weal drove to the net and went to his backhand, burying the puck top shelf past Sharks goalie Troy Grosenick.
At the end of the first period, the Monarchs led by a goal and outshot the Sharks 18 to 6. Worcester’s defense was unprepared to handle the speedy Monarchs, who saw plenty of odd-man rushes and breakaway chances in the first 20 minutes. For all intents and purposes, the Sharks were lucky to escape only down by one.
With his brother, Boston Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton, in the crowd, Sharks forward Freddie Hamilton knotted the game up at one a piece with a power play goal early in the second period. Standing in front of the net, the puck bounced around quickly before ending up on Hamilton’s stick for an easy tap in past Jones.
The Monarchs would regain the lead midway through the second stanza, as Toffoli scored his 11th of the season. Skating the puck up the ice, defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk would pass off to Linden Vey in the offensive zone before working towards the net. As he drove down low, Bodnarchuk collected a pass from Vey, took a few strides, and threw a quality cross-crease pass to Toffoli for the one-timer.
A few minutes later, Tanner Pearson would score the Monarchs second power play goal of the night. The scoring sequence started when Nick Shore passed to Nick Deslauriers at the point, who in turn gave the puck to Pearson in the right offensive zone corner. Pearson’s attempted cross-crease pass would hit off a Sharks defender and go through the five-hole of Grosenick for the 3-1 lead.
Sometimes, the Monarchs have taken their foot off the pedal in the third period and allowed teams back into games when they had no business being there. In Friday’s game, the hometown team would make sure to avoid this, thanks to two more goals from Toffoli.
Toffoli’s second goal of the game came 11:03 into the third period on yet another give-and-go type of play, involving Vey and the eventual goal scorer Toffoli. As the duo worked in to the offensive zone, Toffoli would collect the pass from Vey and wire it home for the 4-1 lead.
Completing the hat trick, Toffoli’s third goal was scored 3:31 after his second. Once again, Vey would make a tremendous play to pass off to Toffoli for yet another easy score. With the puck on the left side off the offensive zone, Vey would spot the wide open Toffoli and deliver a pass, which Toffoli would wrist home to the top shelf. The goal would be his 13th of the year and the final goal of a 5-1 victory for the Monarchs.
While the last few games have seen Toffoli and Pearson show great chemistry with Vey taking more of a secondary role, Friday was a dominant performance by both Vey and Toffoli.
Vey showed off good vision and puck moving ability, earning himself the second star of the game for his four assist night. While he is very weak on the faceoff dot and at times struggles in the defensive zone, Vey’s offensive talents were in full effect on the night. His chemistry with Toffoli was evident all night, as almost every shift their line had, they created offensive chances.
As Vey showed off what he did best in distributing the puck, Toffoli did the same in his role as a goal scorer. Finding the soft spots in the ice and setting himself up to receive a pass, Toffoli made his hat trick look easy. Toffoli set a Monarchs record by recording his fourth hat trick with the team, doing so in just 75 games. His offensive awareness and NHL-caliber shot combined to make the winger show why he is so highly touted in the hockey world.
Playing in his first game with the team after being traded for Robbie Czarnik last week, Steve Quailer had an up and down game. Used in a fourth line role, the lanky winger did not receive heavy ice time but got better as the game went on. In the early going, his unfamiliarity with the team and system showed, as he made a few mistakes with and without the puck. For a player of his size, Quailer skates better than expected and his one shot attempt, though it missed the net, did have velocity behind it. To thrive in the organization, the winger will likely look to add bulk to his frame over time, as he is noticeably trim on the ice.
Monarchs captain Andrew Campbell is a player who receives little fanfare, as do most defensive-defenseman. A player who relies on strong positioning and stick work to break up plays, Campbell plays a no nonsense game and often flies under the radar during any given game. Of late, Campbell has been involving himself more offensively, pinching down low to create scoring chances and carrying the puck into the zone more than he did at the beginning of the year. Though he could stand to play a more physical role, the long time Monarch is as steady as they come in the AHL, as well as being a good leader for a young team.
Jones, once again not heavily tested, will likely start both remaining games on the weekend, Morris indicated after the win. The Monarchs travel to Hartford to take on the Wolf Pack on Saturday, February 15 at 7 PM before closing out the weekend on Sunday, February 16 with a 3 PM game against division rivals St. John’s IceCaps.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Friday were as follows:
Tanner Pearson – Linden Vey – Tyler Toffoli
Brian O’Neill – Jordan Weal – Sean Backman
Nick Deslauriers – Nick Shore – Zach O’Brien
Steve Quailer – Andy Andreoff – Scott Sabourin
Derek Forbort – Andrew Campbell
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
Jeff Schultz – Colin Miller
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