Looking at the Manchester Monarchs’ offense on paper entering the season, there were questions as to whether they’d be able to produce offense without the likes of Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, Linden Vey, Nic Deslauriers, and Brandon Kozun. Through the team’s first 20 games, head coach Mike Stothers’ team has shown they can light the lamp despite the lack of star firepower up front.
While many of last year’s big names have moved on, one familiar face made his way back to Manchester, as Andy Andreoff was assigned to the team on a conditioning assignment. In front of Kings general manager Dean Lombardi and assistant general manager Rob Blake, Manchester would route the Norfolk Admirals by a score of 5-2.
Early in the first, Jordan Weal would one-time home his ninth goal of the season. After a failed clearing attempt by an Admirals defenseman was collected by Zach O’Brien, Weal opened himself up to take the feed, and his teammate fed him with a perfect pass. Weal buried the shot high behind Yann Danis to give his team the 1-0 lead.
In the second period, Nick Shore would continue his sweltering start to the season by adding his team-leading 11th goal. With Andreoff carrying the puck into the offensive zone along the left boards, Shore drove the net and tipped the perfectly placed pass past Danis.
Minutes into the third, Michael Mersch would make it a 3-0 game with his fourth goal of the year. Derek Forbort’s attempted point shot did not make it to the net, but the puck found its way onto Nic Dowd’s stick, who fired it at the net. Danis was able to make the initial pad save, but Mersch emphatically slammed home the rebound.
Down by three and running out of time, Norfolk would finally crack through three minutes later as Matt Bailey slid the puck behind goalie JF Berube. Scrambling to find the puck, Berube was sprawled out in his crease, allowing the puck to be easily shot home by Bailey from the slot.
For the second time in the game, the pair of Weal and O’Brien would combine for a strike, restoring their team’s 3 goal lead and putting them up 4-1. Circling around the top of the offensive zone with the puck, Weal’s shot hit a body and landed at the feet of O’Brien. The winger scooped up the loose biscuit and backhanded it home.
Two and a half minutes later, Shore added his second of the night. Racing down the ice, Brian O’Neill entered the offensive zone in a two-on-zero rush with Shore, opting to pass to Shore as the Denver native was in the slot. Shore beat Danis as the goalie was moving laterally.
A late Norfolk goal would once again make it a three goal game. With Berube once again down and out on a play, Charles Sarault slid a puck past the goalie. However, it was too little, too late, as his team fell by a final score of 5-2.
While it has been mentioned how well he has played as of late, Saturday was far and away O’Brien’s best game of the year. From the opening puck drop, it was clear that the winger was in the zone, and the puck repeatedly found him all night. On top of scoring a goal and an assist, O’Brien played incredibly solid defensive hockey, proving just how versatile he can be.
Entering his first full season as the team’s starter, Berube has been a stabilizer in net for Stothers. Game in and game out, he makes big saves to rob sure-fire goals. His fundamentals are solid and he plays a game similar to former Kings netminder Jonathan Bernier. If there were two areas of concern in the goalie’s game, it would be that pucks tend to find a way to squeeze through his body at times, and sometimes his scrambles leave him out of position. These two issues are something that could be worked on over time, leaving a lot of optimism that these issues can be fixed going forward.
Playing in only his 12th game of the year, Nick Ebert has had struggles similar to what Colin Miller went through last year. Struggling to adjust to the professional pace, Ebert has not been able to put his dynamic skill set on display. Not having that extra second or two allowed in junior hockey has hurt the blue liner, who has shot plenty of pucks into the shin pads of defending players. With a deep defense, Ebert will continue to struggle for ice time and must take advantage of every shift he takes.
Any doubts about Shore’s hot start have been eased, as he has continued his torrid pace to his second professional campaign. With few issues holding him back, it wouldn’t be a long shot to say that Shore is ready for his first taste of NHL action. If his play continues, he may get that shot sooner rather than later.
For Norfolk, it was a rough night for prospect Louis LeBlanc. A former first-round pick, LeBlanc was traded to the Ducks for a conditional late round pick over the offseason. The forward created little-to-no offense, while being nothing short of a liability on defense. By the end of the night, LeBlanc collected a -4 rating with few positives to walk away with.
Out of the lineup for the Monarchs on Saturday were two regulars – David Van der Gulik and Scott Sabourin. Both were banged up in the team’s game on Friday. Van der Gulik’s injury isn’t expected to keep him out of the lineup, but Mike Stothers has slightly more concern for Sabourin, who is scheduled to meet with doctors on Monday to evaluate his injury.
The Monarchs and Admirals will meet again Sunday afternoon at 3 PM. Expect Patrik Bartosak to start in goal for Stothers’ squad.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Saturday were as follows:
Andy Andreoff – Nick Shore – Brian O’Neill
Michael Mersch – Nic Dowd – Sean Backman
Zach O’Brien – Jordan Weal – Justin Auger
Ryan Horvat – Andrew Crescenzi – Josh Gratton
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
Jeff Schultz – Colin Miller
Derek Forbort – Nick Ebert
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