While the Los Angeles Kings fight for their playoff lives, their AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs, are sitting pretty. The team has spent most of the season atop the standings league wide, while having a sizable gap on any one of their division rivals. Manchester continued their winning ways, as they squeaked out a victory in overtime over the St. John’s IceCaps on Saturday night.
The IceCaps would open the scoring, something that rarely happens to the Monarchs on home ice, just over four and a half minutes after the opening puck drop. With a man for each team sitting in the penalty box, crafty defenseman Brenden Kichton took a pass, skated to open ice, and blasted a slap shot high and just inside the far post, besting goalie Patrik Bartosak.
It wouldn’t take long for the Monarchs to find their answer once the puck hit the ice to start the second period. Parked to the right of IceCaps goalie Connor Hellebuyck, Brian O’Neill took a pass and attempted several whacks at the puck. From below the goal line, O’Neill finally bounced the puck off Hellebuyck and to the back of the net with the man advantage.
In hockey history, there have been a myriad of reasons for stoppages in games. Fog, bats, and zamboni malfunctions have all forced a halt to the action at various levels of the game. You can add fire alarms to the previously mentioned list, as buzzers went off and the arena was evacuated near the middle of the second period. After a nearly 30 minute delay, the teams took to the ice again and resumed the contest.
Just after play restarted, Manchester found themselves in a world of trouble, as two quick penalties gave St. John’s a two-man advantage for 1:48. As the saying goes, your goalie must be your best penalty killer, which Bartosak was, as he made several key saves to keep the game tied at one.
The Monarchs once again tempted fate by taking a too many men penalty with under two minutes left in regulation. Once again, the penalty kill was up to the task, forcing the game to an overtime period.
When Jason Jaffray was called for tripping during the extra time, O’Neill made the visitors pay, icing his second goal of the game and sealing a 2-1 victory for his team.
Picking up the victory in net, Bartosak looked like was once again headed towards a loss he didn’t deserve. The team scores a staggering one goal per game less with the Czech in net than when JF Berube starts. Bartosak made a slew of strong saves throughout the game. While only facing 17 shots, many were high quality ones that the goalie was up to the task in stopping.
“I tried to not let it in my head. I think I did a pretty good job. Then, we killed their big power play. I think that was the turning point of the game, ad we dominated since then,” said Bartosak on if the stoppage affected his game.
O’Neill’s two goals were just another example of what a tremendous season the Yale graduate has had. A versatile and speedy winger, O’Neill leads the league with 69 points, despite missing time for a hand injury. On top of that, the forward plays on the penalty kill and is a leader on the team.
“Good. I thought I kept it simple. I thought our whole team played a good, kind of like a road game, except at home. When you’re playing those guys, you’ve got to take what they give you, and they don’t give you much. I thought we took what they gave us, we capitalized on our chances on the power play, and got two points,” spoke O’Neill on his and the team’s performance.
After struggling for most of the season, Scott Sabourin came ready to play on Saturday. From his first shift, he was engaged all night. Multiple times, the winger threw massive hits, including one that knocked a pane of glass loose. Sabourin also dropped the gloves to fight Nicolas Blanchard, though neither combatant got a punch in before the duo fell to the ice.
At the opposite end of the ice, Hellebuyck once again was a star for his team. His team was out-shot by a margin of 35 to 17, and the goalie kept his team in the game all night. It is easy to say that the game could have looked much different without Hellebuyck in between the pipes.
Mike Richards has continued to be of hot debate lately. Richards remains in LA to undergo fitness testing and nothing has changed regarding his status. The Kings have the option to call Richards up at any time, or he may return to the Monarchs and help them battle for a Calder Cup.
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Saturday were as follows:
Justin Auger – Jordan Weal – Brian O’Neill
Michael Mersch – Nic Dowd – Sean Backman
David Van der Gulik – Zach O’Brien – Scott Sabourin
Josh Gratton – Ryan Horvat – Kevin Raine
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
Jeff Schultz – Colin Miller
Derek Forbort – Kevin Gravel
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