It’s a tale of two teams heading in opposite directions.
The Manchester Monarchs have gone 7-1-0 in their last eight games, while the Portland Pirates are officially mired in a slump after losing their third straight game with a 6-1 loss to the Monarchs before 5,014 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, NH on Saturday night.
The Pirates had been in first place in the AHL’s Atlantic Division for the majority of the season, but now find themselves in a reversal of roles with the Monarchs as they enter the game sitting atop the division after a 7-2 win over the Albany River Rats on Friday night.
Down to nine healthy regulars in the lineup due to call ups (Luke Adam and Colin Stuart) and injuries to Mark Parrish (abdomen) and Travis Turnbull (shoulder), Pirates head coach Kevin Dineen brought two players from the ECHL today, signing Igor Gongalsky and Ethan Cox today to professional try out contracts.
There addition didn’t help as the Pirates found themselves down 4-0 after 20 minutes of play.
Corey Elkins opened the scoring for Manchester just 2:36 into the period when Ray Kaunisto shot on net came to Elkins, who snapped a shot by Pirates goalie David Leggio.
The Monarchs made it 2-0 on a give-and-go play by Oscar Moller and Andrei Loktionov as Moller took the shot, beating Leggio at 9:30 of the first period.
Turnovers – and not the apple variety – have been killers for the Pirates lately, and it was another turnover that put the nail in the Pirates’ coffin as TJ Brennan gave the puck away to Loktionov, who fed a pass to Andrew Campbell for a slap shot from left point that was deflected in front by Brayden Schenn, giving the Monarchs a 3-0 lead with 6:17 to play in the period.
“You’ve got to be mad,” said Pirates forward Derek Whitmore. “It’s a staple of our hockey team, to compete and work hard every night. We know mistakes are going to happen. But the effort. That’s what really stinks. We’ve got some guys going, and some guys aren’t.”
With 2:16 left in the period, the game was all but out of reach for the Pirates when Justin Azevedo wired a slap shot from inside the right circle, beating Leggio to give Manchester a commanding 4-0 lead over Portland.
That would end the night for Leggio after stopping 12-of-16 shots, in favor of Jhonas Enroth, who started the second period.
It appeared the Pirates might feed off the goaltending change as Nick Crawford scored his second goal of the season, dishing a rebound from Mark Mancari’s blast by Monarchs Martin Jones at the 1:44 mark of the second period, cutting into the lead, 4-1.
Manchester responded less than three minutes as Moller scored his second goal of the night.
Loktionov, who ended the night with three assists, sent a shot on net where Enroth tried to smother it, but Moller poking at the puck at the top of the crease, pushed it by Enroth to give the Monarchs a commanding 5-1 lead at 4:04 of the second period.
Kaunisto scored his second point of the night with a goal that symbolized the Pirates night as he simply tried to dump a shot into the zone, but it trickled by Enroth at the 10:09 mark of the third period, putting this game out of reach for Portland.
Jhonas Enroth made 24 saves in relief of Leggio, who took the loss, while Martin Jones played a nearly perfect game, stopping 34 shots to improve to 4-1-0 on the season.
The Pirates went 0-for-3 on the power play, while not giving Manchester any time with man advantage.
NOTES: The Pirates will finish their three-in-three weekend when they travel to Providence, RI for a game against the Providence Bruins.
(with files from Dan Hickling)