Through the first 40 minutes in Manchester on Friday night, the Monarchs looked like a team bound to lose a hockey game they had no business losing. Holding a 35-13 lead in shots, most would expect the hometown team to find themselves in the lead. Instead, they trailed 2-1, as they ran into a hot goaltender, paired with the team’s inability to finish scoring chances. While some teams likely would have grown frustrated with the lack of goals, the Monarchs persevered, and ultimately scored three third period goals to win 4-2.
Friday’s game started on the right foot for the Monarchs, as they opened the scoring just 1:18 after the opening puck drop. Intercepting a pass at his defensive blue line, Zach O’Brien turned on the jets and went in on a breakaway. After Hartford Wolf Pack goalie Jeff Malcolm made the initial save, Mike Richards swooped in and buried a second chance opportunity for the 1-0 lead. The goal snapped a streak of four straight games that they surrendered a 2-0 lead to start the contest.
Late in the period, Hartford would draw even at one when Steve Spinell would score his first goal in the AHL. Receiving a pass from the right offensive circle, Spinell’s point shot hit off the inside of the far post and found the back of the net. Monarchs’ goalie JF Berube was screened on the play and likely did not see the shot as it found its way on net. Chris Bourque, whose Hall of Fame father Ray Bourque was in attendance, picked up one of the assists on the play.
Early in the second period, it would be the Wolf Pack who found the back of the net, as they took a 2-1 lead. Coming down the right wing with speed, Danny Kristo placed a perfect pass through a Monarchs’ defenseman right onto the stick of Tyler Brown, who deked from forehand to backhand for his fifth of the season.
The rest of the second period saw Manchester pepper Malcolm with shots, but fail to see a shot beat the former Yale goaltender. Perhaps the best scoring chance of the period was when Derek Forbort found the puck with a completely empty net, but shot the puck off the post. It seemed like with that sort of puck luck, the Monarchs were bound to lose the contest.
Brian O’Neill took matters into his own hands, as his power play goal roughly five minutes into the third period tied the game at two. After Michael Mersch dumped a defender just inside the offensive blue line, Jordan Weal scooped up the loose puck and gave a short feed to O’Neill, who slapped home a hard shot just inside the far post from near the top of the circles.
With only minutes left in regulation, Manchester would take the lead with help from Andrew Crescenzi. As Justin Auger skated down the right wing, Crescenzi worked his way towards the net. Auger’s shot hit a defender’s shin pad and redirected right to Crescenzi, who batted the puck out of mid air and right in between Malcolm’s legs.
Just 35 seconds later, O’Brien would seal the deal by adding his 10th of the season. After once again forcing a turnover, the winger picked up the loose puck at the red line and entered the offensive zone. Shielding the puck from a Wolf Pack defenseman, O’Brien beat his man in a foot race and shot the puck off of Malcolm’s blocker before it flew into the air and eventually fell behind him and in the net.
The Monarchs would win the game 4-2, while over doubling the amount of shots on net of Hartford, by a final count of 45-21.
In the game, Richards recorded one goal, two shots, and two penalty minutes in only 12:18 of ice time. Originally, he was credited with an assist on O’Brien’s goal, but that was later changed and given to Sean Backman and Colin Miller. While his minutes seem low, they were not a knock against the center, who has consistently played well since joining the team.
After sitting out for two games as a healthy scratch, Scott Sabourin drew his way back into the team’s lineup Friday. Two years ago, Sabourin impressed mightily during LA Kings training camp, prompting the team to sign him to an entry-level contract. Since then, Sabourin has had his fair share of struggles. This season has been especially tough for the tough forward, as he had a slow start to the year and then missed an extended time with an injury. Sabourin has a tremendous tool set, but is still very raw. While it is far too early to give up on the prospect, steps forward would go a long way in ensuring he doesn’t fall completely off the radar.
Monarchs’ captain Vincent LoVerde, game in and game out, has been simply tremendous on the blue line. If you were to choose one word to describe the Miami alum, it would absolutely be consistent. LoVerde’s game doesn’t hit highs or lows, rather it stays at a consistent level. While his peak NHL potential isn’t great, his ability to give a coach a consistent level of play should help immensely for the Chicago native.
Derek Forbort, who was assigned back to the team after a brief stint with the Kings, caught a red-eye flight from LA late last night and found his way into the lineup on Friday.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Friday were as follows:
Michael Mersch – Jordan Weal – Brian O’Neill
Zach O’Brien – Mike Richards – Sean Backman
David Van der Gulik – Nic Dowd – Justin Auger
Paul Bissonnette – Andrew Crescenzi – Scott Sabourin
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
Jeff Schultz – Colin Miller
Derek Forbort – Kevin Gravel
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