With three regular season games left in regulation, and having already locked up the best record in the AHL, the Manchester Monarchs don’t have much left to play for before the playoffs start. As other junior, college, and European teams seasons end, some players have made their way into the professional ranks in North America. The LA Kings signed Jonny Brodzinski, Adrian Kempe, and Alex Lintuniemi to entry level deals, while all three joined the Manchester Monarchs. On Friday, Kempe, the Kings 2014 1st round pick, made his North American debut, while Lintuniemi drew into his second straight game for the team.
In the first period, the visiting Portland Pirates, fighting for their playoff lives, opened the scoring on the power play. Midway through the frame, a shot from high in the left half of the offensive zone bounced off of goalie Patrik Bartosak’s pad and rebounded towards the right circle. There, Henrik Samuelsson, recently returned from a stint with the Arizona Coyotes, banged home the loose puck for a 1-0 lead.
A few minutes later, the Monarchs would tie the game thanks to a tremendous individual effort by Nic Dowd. A weak pass attempt between Pirates players in their own zone allowed Dowd to use his long reach to stretch out and intercept a pass. Corralling the puck back towards his body, Dowd let go a heavy wrist shot to the top corner, tying the game at 1.
With just under a minute left in the first, Manchester would grab their first lead of the game. Jordan Weal and Michael Mersch broke in on a two-on-one and were unable to salvage a shot on net. After recovering the loose puck, Weal drove the net and dished off a tremendous saucer pass through the crease and past a defender, finding Mersch on the far post for an easy tap-in.
Weal would make his second terrific play of the game five minutes into the middle period. Coming in on a slight breakaway, a defender interfered with Weal, who then opted to turn 180 degrees and find Justin Auger as he crashed the crease. Auger took the pass from Weal and one-timed a puck home with authority, extending his team’s lead to 3-1.
Another late period goal would bring Portland back within one. As Alexandre Bolduc worked down the right boards into the offensive zone, Samuelsson trailed back. Bolduc dropped a pass back to his winger, whose one-timer scored in the top left of the net for his second goal of the game.
Portland carried the play in the third period, controlling the puck for most of the period, but Bartosak held strong and didn’t allow a puck past him in the final 20 minutes. The Monarchs held on to win 3-1.
In net, Bartosak made a career high 42 saves in the victory. Though he wasn’t faced with a ton of grade-A scoring chances, he did stop a lot of B-level saves. Breaking in a new pair of pads, Bartosak’s rebound control wasn’t perfect, but his defense was there to bail him out when called upon. With two games left in the regular season, the plan is to start JF Berube in Saturday’s home finale, while Bartosak will close the season out with a start on Sunday.
Kempe, playing on the second line, played well for himself, all things considered. His greatest asset, his speed, was evident from his very first shift. On said shift, he made a good play in his defensive zone and then nearly scored a goal. Kempe was on the first power-play unit when the Monarchs were awarded their first man-advantage of the game. Throughout the game, the Pirates attempted to target Kempe and get him off his game, to no avail. He remained calm and level-headed. There are still some kinks to work out with Kempe learning a new defensive system, but that will come in time. His debut was so impressive that coach Mike Stothers revealed that Kempe will play on the top line for Saturday’s game, alongside Weal and Brian O’Neill.
Adrian Kempe had no points, a +1 rating, 1 shot, and 2 penalty minutes in 12:06 played.
— Andy Tonge (@AndyTonge1) April 18, 2015
Playing in his second game, Lintuniemi also had a solid, yet unassuming outing. Though he didn’t make any mistakes, he didn’t necessarily do anything to stand out. While to some this may be concerning, this is likely what you’d ideally like to see from a player like the young Finn. Lintuniemi quietly played his game and made many subtle plays that most fans would miss. A few times, the defender carried the puck up the ice, but didn’t do much with the puck upon entering the zone. His transition game is fairly strong, but do not expect much offense out of the former Ottawa 67. There were times he got lost in his zone coverage, but like Kempe, he is still adjusting to a new system. The newest defender on the team lead the Monarchs with 6 shots on net, yet his shot is an area that will likely need improvement going forward.
After the game, Mike Stothers offered several updates. As stated earlier, the coach expect to line up Kempe, Weal, and O’Neill as his top line on Saturday. Stothers also said that the word was that center Nick Shore was on his way to join the Monarchs for the playoffs, but the coach was still cautious and said he won’t fully believe Shore is coming until he walks through the door. O’Neill, who was held out of the game after just being named AHL MVP, is healthy, but Stothers wanted to give him a day off. Speaking of Stothers, the coach was named Outstanding Coach of the year in the league, an award he absolutely deserved.
Vincent LoVerde, Andrew Bodnarchuk, and Jeff Schultz were all out on the blue line on Friday. LoVerde and Schultz are banged up and thus given rest before the playoffs start.
After the game, we spoke to Lintuniemi on how he’s felt since joining the team…
Lintuniemi, on how he felt during the game:
“I felt good. I didn’t play as much as I used to a couple weeks ago, no 35 minutes, just 15 minutes. But I’ll take it, its fun.”
Lintuniemi, on having an assist his first pro shift last week:
“Yeah that was fun, it helped me a lot. I got my confidence up. Just a D-to-D on the blue line and then Millsy scored.”
Lintuniemi, on the biggest difference from junior:
“The speed. The forwards are a lot faster and the other teams are a lot stronger. This league is tough and guys hit a lot.”
Lintuniemi, on if he’s gotten used to the system:
“Yeah With the assistant coach Chris we had a 25 minute video with everything. The first or second day I came here.”
Lintuniemi, on his comfort level and being able to keep up:
“Yeah. Of course the second game felt better than the first one. I was a lot more confident.”
Lintuniemi, on if playing with Collin Miller helps:
“Yeah it’s great to play with Millsy, he’s an unbelievable player. He’s had a great season so far and it’s great to play with him.”
Stothers, on Lintuniemi:
“Alex, now that he’s got a haircut, I’m a lot happier with him. I thought he played extremely well versus Bridgeport for us (last weekend). He looks stead, he looks poised, he looks composed. He’s making some good reads. He’s done some good things. It’s an early evaluation, but it’s all positive.”
Line combinations and defensive pairings on Friday were as follows:
Michael Mersch – Jordan Weal – Justin Auger
Adrian Kempe – Nic Dowd – Sean Backman
David Van der Gulik – Zach O’Brien – Scott Sabourin
Josh Gratton – Andrew Crescenzi – Paul Bissonnette
Alex Lintuniemi – Colin Miller
Derek Forbort – Nick Ebert
Kevin Gravel – Kevin Raine
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