Lost in all the Mike Richards trade talk is the fact that there is a team that is still counting on him to be a productive hockey player. Despite his noted struggles in the NHL, the Manchester Monarchs are relying on Richards to focus on the game and help them pick up wins. This is especially true due to leading scorer Nick Shore being recalled by the Kings. In his second-ever AHL regular season contest, Richards had a dominant effort, recording three points in a 4-1 victory over the Albany Devils.
[Note: see Richards’ post-game comments, imcluding why he skipped the White House visit, here]
The former Philadelphia Flyer would waste no time in making an impact, as he scored just 1:16 after the opening puck drop. Carrying the puck, Jordan Weal cut from the boards towards the net, backhanding a pass in the direction of Brian O’Neill. An Albany defender broke up the pass, allowing Richards to jump on the loose puck and bang it home for a 1-0 lead.
Later in the period, depth scoring would extend the hometown Monarchs lead to two, when Andrew Crescenzi netted his third goal of the year. Sean Backman entered the zone along the right boards and dropped a pass near the top of the circle for his center, who scored with a perfectly placed, heavy wrist shot top shelf. The power play goal sent his team into the intermission holding a 2-0 lead, while also leading in shots 14-3.
Although the game-winning goal came in the first period, the Monarchs won the game in the second period. Penalty trouble saw the Devils with five power play opportunities, and the penalty killing efforts by Manchester allowed zero goals. What’s more, the team only allowed eight shots in the middle frame, while spending half of the time a man down. Jeff Schultz lead the way, blocking several key shots.
In fact, the Monarchs’ penalty kill was so effective that they were the only team to score during any of Albany’s man advantages, as O’Neill added a short-handed marker. In a manner similar to what he has done numerous times over his career, Mike Richards intercepted a pass at the blue line, springing a three-on-one break for his team. Spotting O’Neill, Richards made a cross-ice pass on the tape of his winger, who deked out Scott Wedgewood for his 11th of the season.
Albany’s lone goal came in the final minutes of the second period on a low-angle shot from Mike Sislo. The University of New Hampshire alumni threw a simple shot on net from only a few feet above the goal line, bouncing the puck off of goalie JF Berube’s pants and into the net. Berube showed his frustration after, slamming his stick on the post.
Heading into the final 20 minutes of regulation with a 3-1 lead, Manchester would add a fourth goal for good measure early into the frame. When the puck found Colin Miller at the middle of the point, the defender laid a heavy slap shot on net, hitting the post and ricocheting into the cage.
The Monarchs would once again dominate the Devils for a full 20 minutes and hold on for the 4-1 victory, while nearly doubling Albany’s shot total 33-17.
Credited with an assist on Miller’s goal, Richards final stat line included one goal and two helpers in 16:08 of play. From his first shift on, Richards simply made things happen. Be it scoring a goal, intercepting a pass, or setting up teammates, Richards was all over the ice and a big part of his team’s victory. Maybe more impressive with his play is the fact that Richards does not appear to be sulking over the demotion. He has kept a good attitude and is committed to helping whatever team he is playing for win games.
After a tough rookie year, Miller continues to make huge strides in his game. At the conclusion of Wednesday’s game, Miller sits fourth in team goals with 11, just one behind O’Neill and Weal, who are tied for second with 12. In only 39 games, the former Soo Greyhound has nearly doubled his goal and point totals from last year, which he did in 65 contests. Though it is unlikely, but not impossible, for him to see an NHL call up this year, his play is setting himself up for a gig at the next level sooner rather than later.
A player who may well be inching his way up the list for a call-up is O’Neill. Versatility seems to be the word of choice when talking about the speedy winger. No matter what line he is put on, what role he is asked to play, or who he is on the ice with, O’Neill finds a way to impact the game. Serving as one of the team’s leaders, the speedster sets an example for his teammates to follow, game in and game out.
Last week, coach Mike Stothers indicated he may try Weal as a winger, after he has spent the entire season as a center, his natural position. Wednesday he followed up on that plan, playing him to the left of Richards. Though it was undoubtedly an adjustment to Weal, who is used to having the puck on his stick and leading the rush up the middle of the ice, he did not look out of place one bit.
The Monarchs return to action on Friday, as they travel to take on the Providence Bruins.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Wednesday were as follows:
Jordan Weal – Mike Richards – Brian O’Neill
David Van der Gulik – Nic Dowd – Justin Auger
Michael Mersch – Andrew Crescenzi – Sean Backman
Paul Bissonnette – Ryan Horvat – Scott Sabourin
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
Jeff Schultz – Colin Miller
Derek Forbort – Nick Ebert
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