Last weekend, Manchester Monarchs head coach Mike Stothers was unhappy with his team’s inability to get shots on net. On Friday, his team managed to put 44 pucks on net, and yet only came away with two goals, as his team lost to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, led by former Kings coach Terry Murray.
Evidence of the struggles to come came early for the Monarchs. Just under eight minutes into the game, Nick Cousins was given a five minute boarding penalty and a game misconduct for a hit on Zach O’Brien. On the ensuing man advantage, the team registered zero quality chances, as Lehigh Valley easily killed off the extended penalty to Cousins.
In the second period, Manchester would take advantage of their second power play of the game, as Colin Miller netted his third goal in the past three games. Set up on the left boards, Miller would take a feed from Jamie McBain and blast a one-timer high past Phantoms goalie Rob Zepp.
Lehigh Valley would knot the game at one with a power play goal of their own midway through the middle frame. After collecting a pass in the slot, Andrew Gordon skated to his left and backhanded a shot past JF Berube for his second goal of the season.
Five minutes later, the visitors would take a 2-1 lead on Gordon’s second straight goal. Gordon deflected a point shot from talented blue liner Shayne Gostisbehere and the puck slowly bounced past Berube. Heavy traffic in front of the Monarchs goaltender may have prevented him from tracking the puck as it made its way on net.
With under two minutes left in the period, Taylor Leier would put his team up 3-1. A shot from Gostisbehere hit Berube, who lost track of the rebound, allowing Leier to tap it in past the diving goalie.
A Nic Dowd goal eight minutes into the final frame would make it a 3-2 game and set up for a wild finish. In the left corner, Josh Gratton held the puck long enough to have his teammates come support him in the offensive zone. Digging the puck out from Gratton’s feet, Dowd crossed the goal line and wrapped the puck around the far side of Zepp, sliding it into the net for his first tally of the season.
In the final minutes of the period, Manchester would have plenty of chances to score, applying heavy pressure to the Phantoms. The onslaught was all for naught, as Zepp shut the door and preserved his team’s 3-2 lead until the final buzzer sounded. Manchester out-shot Lehigh Valley 44-25.
As mentioned last week, Manchester’s power play continues to fail them. A nasty elbow from Zach Stortini on Miller gave the Monarchs their second five minute advantage of the game in the third period, but the team shot themselves in the foot by taking two penalties, negating almost all of their extended power play. One of the bigger problems the team faces is trying to create the perfect play, instead of throwing pucks on net and working for rebounds.
“That’s the difference in the game. Two five minute power plays and you get nothing from it….you don’t deserve to win a hockey game,” Stothers said in addressing his team’s woes with the extra man.
The lone bright spot for the power play unit of late seems to be Miller’s emergence over the past few games. Known as a two-way defenseman, Miller skates extremely smoothly, plays a physical game, and has a heavy shot from the point. He can still work on his reads defensively, but the young blue liner has been off to a hot start this season.
While tonight marked his first goal of the year, Dowd has played solid hockey. His offensive potential may not be as high as other prospects in the Kings’ organization, but his work ethic is top notch and he is solid defensively. Dowd excels on the penalty kill, where he is more than willing to give up his body blocking shots for his team. As he continues to work and improve, Dowd’s offense will likely pick up.
“I was talking to my parents the other night…nothing against college [hockey, but] there’s just such good players in this league. Guys make you pay at a moments notice. I think college created a couple bad habits that I personally need to break on the ice. I think you can’t get away with them here, and I’ve been learning that pretty quickly,” Dowd said of his continued transition to the professional ranks. “In almost every game, there’s something that sticks out to me where I’m like, ‘God, I probably got away with that in college and didn’t even realize it.’ Now, here in professional hockey, they’ll get you.”
One of the standouts for the Phantoms was the highly skilled Gostisbehere. With the puck on his stick, the Monarchs had to be ready for him to make an electric play, which he did multiple times on the night. His vision was one of his biggest strengths, as he read plays extremely well. In the third period, he collided with the boards, holding his left knee before leaving the game and not returning.
In net, Zepp was a major force fueling the Phantoms victory. The 33 year old spent the past seven seasons playing in German before signing with the Flyers this past offseason. Saving 42 shots on the night, Zepp showed great positioning and rebound control, often not giving up second chances for the Monarchs to bury.
O’Brien’s status going forward is questionable, but the forward will likely not be available to play on Saturday, as the Springfield Falcons visit Manchester.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Friday were as follows:
Brian O’Neill – Jordan Weal – Sean Backman
Michael Mersch – Nick Shore – Justin Auger
Zach O’Brien – Nic Dowd – Scott Sabourin
Josh Gratton – Ryan Horvat – Kevin Raine
Jeff Schultz – Colin Miller
Derek Forbort – Vincent LoVerde
Kevin Gravel – Jamie McBain
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