The AHL season might only have started on October 4th, but the Manchester Monarchs have skated in 7 games so far and only had one of those end in regulation. Of the 6 to go into overtime, 5 of those games have needed a shootout to come to a final decision. You could say shootouts have become their thing even if that might not be something that they want to be known for.
“We’re getting points and everything so that’s a positive. But we’re joking about maybe trying to finish a couple of these in regulation. There were two games there where we had two goal leads late. We kind of let them slip,” assistant captain and returning defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk said. “We don’t need to be tacking on the extra mileage especially with the seasons we have. So if we can finish them in regulation, we’d like to. If it does go to extra, we can handle that too.”
Although the AHL teams actually play 6 fewer games than their NHL counterparts each season, their seasons can feel more tiring in some senses. In the NHL, teams can play any given night of the week and it is not as common for them to play back-to-back games. In the AHL, teams play most of their games on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Often, they play games each of those nights in some combination of being home or on the road.
“Pretty much the story of the season so far is overtime and usually shootouts. I think we’ve only won one game in regulation, but we haven’t lost any in regulation,” forward Tanner Pearson said. “So that’s a plus. We’re walking away with a point and in the shootout and guys are scoring. (Martin) Jones is coming up big.”
That one game they won in regulation was a 3-0 win over Bridgeport where Martin Jones recorded his first shutout of the season. He came up huge, making 38 saves. Having taken at least a point away from each of their 7 games, the Monarchs have 11 points and are sitting atop the Atlantic Division. They understand how important every point is in this division.
“It’s definitely not what we want to go to extra time. But if it takes that to get at least a point, we’re going to do it and we’ll take it,” Pearson said.
This might not be exactly how Manchester expected to start their season, but you can’t deny that they’re having success. They have a solid group of players that do not want to give up, even when they give up a lead in a game. It makes them work harder.
“I think if it doesn’t motivate you a little more then there’s something wrong. Anytime you give up a two goal lead to go into overtime you should be bearing down more knowing that you might have let a point slip to the other team,” Bodnarchuk said. “You need to bear down and keep that second point for your team. Just because a team ties it up doesn’t mean you should let up.”
One such game came on Friday night when the Monarchs visted the Hartford Wolf Pack. They gave up two goals in 24 seconds in the second half of the third period. But, they held on to at least get the point in the 4-3 shootout loss. That led into them finally coming home for their first home game of the season. It was a nice feeling to finally play at the Verizon Wireless Arena again.
“It was good, it was enjoyable. Anytime you get back to your home building, it’s a little more comfortable. The routine is a little easier,” Bodnarchuk said. “The games don’t get any easier, but it’s always nice to get back home especially when you start with a little bit of a road swing like we did.”
The game certainly did not get any easier for the Monarchs, who skated to a 5-4 win over the Providence Bruins in their home opener. The Bruins came back to tie it up at 3 with two goals towards the middle of the third period. Monarchs Robbie Czarnik put Manchester ahead again, but Bruins Matt Fraser tied it up with 25 seconds to go.
Once again, Manchester headed to a shootout. This was not new territory for these two teams. Providence hosted Manchester in their home opener and the Monarchs came out with a 3-2 shootout win. This shootout, like that game, required only 4 of the 5 shooters for Manchester. Although it was a different order, it was the same four that shot in the Providence home opener. It was also the same player to score the shootout goal that won it for Manchester. The result was another shootout win, but the first in front of their home crowd.
“It felt really good to get the win. It’s a little nerve wracking getting into the shootouts but it’s always nice to get the win,” Andy Andreoff, who had the final shootout goal, said. “I was decent at shootouts in juniors and I guess (Coach) Mark (Morris) saw me in practice a couple times. He gave me a shot and I ended up capitalizing on my chances. Hopefully we don’t go into shootouts the next couple games, but we’ve been in them a lot early here.”
The Monarchs continue their season tonight as they head down to Worcester to face the Sharks. It is the first meeting of 12 between the two teams this season. With all of those games and being division rivals, things don’t usually take long to heat up. Both teams seem to love and hate the rivalry and this season shouldn’t be any different.