After back-to-back, intense match-ups against the St. John’s IceCaps, the Manchester Monarchs looked to close out their weekend with a win against the Worcester Sharks. Unfortunately, the team came out flat and failed to create any offense, falling by a final score of 3-0.
The flat start for Manchester bit them in the behind, as Worcester took advantage with a goal just 36 seconds into the contest. As several players battled behind the net, Ryan Carpenter took the puck and found a wide open John McCarthy in the slot. Vincent LoVerde got mixed up in his defensive assignment and left the Sharks winger unattended, leaving him the time and space to beat goalie JF Berube.
While no other goals were scored in the opening period, there wasn’t a lack of action, as the division rivals mixed it up after nearly every whistle. Included in the festivities was a scrap between Andrew Bodnarchuk and Rylan Schwartz, which saw the Monarchs defender unload right hands as he picked up the decision in the fight.
It became evident what type of night the Monarchs were in store for when Worcester once again came out and found an early goal in the second period. Collecting a drop pass from Schwartz, Taylor Fedun made a slick move to cut towards the middle of the ice before he backhanded a shot top shelf.
Down by two heading into the final 20 minutes of regulation, the hometown team would need to find a spark if they wanted any chance at a comeback. What they got instead was a lackadaisical period which saw the only goal come on the side of Worcester, as they iced the game with an empty net goal from Willie Coetzee.
In net, Berube played as well as his team could ask of him. The first goal he allowed was due to a defensive lapse, while the second was simply a perfectly placed shot. Facing only 16 shots in the game, Berube was not tested often, but did have a few solid saves by the end of the night.
Opposite of him, former Monarch Aaron Dell, who backed up Berube for parts of last year, put forth a top notch effort in picking up his third shutout of the year. With many Monarchs skaters having shot on Dell in practice, there seemed to be a clear scouting report to test the blocker side of the former University of North Dakota netminder. Each time, Dell came up with the save, stopping all 24 shots he faced.
One of the players we felt would play an increased role in the 2014-15 season, Michael Mersch has failed to meet expectations this year. At times, it appears that Mersch is fighting the puck and simply unable to handle it at the full speed of the AHL game. While there have been positives, notably his play in front of the net, his overall game still puts him a full season or two away from any potential NHL action.
Facing a similar problem to Mersch has been Mike Richards. Though Richards has undoubtedly had more positives than negatives in his time since joining the Monarchs, he has also had his struggles handling the puck. This is something the forward outlined with us in a recent interview. In the third period of Sunday’s game, Richards had three chances on one shift to net a goal to get his team on the board, but failed on each attempt. Nevertheless, Richards has been a welcome addition to the team and contributed in many ways, including adding 11 points in 10 games.
For the fourth straight game, the Monarchs have given up a 2-0 lead to start the contest. Known as a team who tends to find the back of the net first, it has been concerning to see the starts of their games not as sharp as they often are.
“Well, you never want to give up a goal 36 seconds into a game,” said coach Mike Stothers on his team’s recent start to games. “You can do it every once in a while, but if you make a habit of it, you’re going to get the results that you get, either fighting back, trying to win games in overtime instead of winning them outright. Today, we never did get our feet underneath us. It’s not something that you want to do, but it’s something you have to deal with.”
On the positive side of things, it appears that with every game he plays, Kevin Gravel is earning more and more trust, as he found himself playing in all three of his team’s contests this weekend. In the beginning of the year, Gravel, Kevin Raine, and Nick Ebert all rotated in and out of the lineup. Now, the latter seems to find himself near the bottom of the depth chart thanks to Gravel and Raine’s improved play. Challenged to come to Manchester and compete, Gravel has done exactly what has been asked of him and is likely well on his way to earning an NHL contract.
Goalie Patrik Bartosak, who left Saturday’s game with an injury, is expected to be fine should the team need him to play next weekend.
Sunday’s game was the 200th of Jordan Weal’s career. In that time, the shifty center has accumulated 151 points.
The Monarchs return to action on Friday when the Hartford Wolf Pack come to town.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Sunday were as follows:
Zach O’Brien – Jordan Weal – Brian O’Neill
David Van der Gulik – Mike Richards – Sean Backman
Michael Mersch – Nic Dowd – Justin Auger
Ryan Horvat – Andrew Crescenzi – Paul Bissonnette
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
Kevin Gravel – Colin Miller
Jeff Schultz – Kevin Raine
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