MANCHESTER -- Turns out the goaltending situation with the Manchester Monarchs is not as clear-cut as it was expected to be.
Coming into the season, third-year man Martin Jones was the obvious No. 1 and journeyman Peter Mannino would only see the ice during busy three-game weekends.
But after a hot start that included three shutouts, Jones has now lost five straight games and Mannino earned back-to-back starts over the past weekend for the first time this season.
"It's something that (Jones) has got to continue to battle," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "He's got all the tools to make it happen. Every goalie has to work their way through and learn how to seal the deal. He's been great for us in the past and he'll be great again. It's part of the maturation process to go through the ups and downs of being a pro and learning how to be a starter."
Just a month shy of his 23rd birthday, Jones (7-10-1, 2.47 goals against average) has been struggling to hold leads late in games.
"I expect to be a leader on this team and when things aren't going well I look to my own game, for sure," Jones said. "I need to make sure I'm making the big saves when we need them and making all the saves I need to in order for us to win games."
And to be fair to Jones, the five losses with him in net have not all fallen on his shoulders. Defensive breakdowns and a failure to put teams away have stung the Monarchs (11-10-3), who play at Lewiston, Maine, against Portland Friday night.
"I've been quite happy with Jonesy," said Los Angeles Kings goalie coach Bill Ranford, who arrived in town on Sunday. "There's the odd situation where he could be better but for whatever reason, the team hasn't played very well in front of him. I don't know if the team relaxes a little more in front of him or what the deal is. We're at the point now where he's just got to find a way."
Ranford is confident that Jones will get back on track.
"He's very professional in his approach, not only on the ice but off the ice. If there were little things in his game that I saw that need to be improved on we'd be all over it," Ranford said. "The management of his game right now is good, the results just aren't there. You've got to find a way to buckle down and get a win under your belt and things will turn around because he's played very, very well."
Meanwhile, Mannino is trying to make the most of his playing time. Now with his ninth pro team, the 28-year-old has seen it all.
"Five years now, I've been through basically every situation," Mannino said. "In Chicago I sat for about a month and a half behind Manny Legace and Drew MacIntyre. Last year, I got called up (to the NHL) a week into the season and sat for a month in Atlanta so I've been there. I don't want to change what I need to do. When coach gives me an opportunity, I just want to be there, be prepared and do what I need to do."
Mannino is off to a 4-2 start with a 2.08 goals-against average. His well-traveled resume and spending the summer not knowing if he would be playing somewhere has made him hungry.
"He competes his tail off. I think that's why he's here," Morris said. "He's more determined than most because things haven't been handed to him. Peter is a popular guy in the room and we're not afraid to throw him in there."
Manchester has a tough weekend with the trip to Lewiston, a reverse of direction over to Glens Falls, N.Y., to play the Adirondack Phantoms Saturday and a Sunday matinee at home with the Springfield Falcons.
Both goaltenders will be called on, but which one gets the brunt of the ice time remains to be seen.
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MONARCHS captain Marc-Andre Cliche is expected to return to the lineup Friday. Cliche was injured in Saturday's 9-2 win over Connecticut and sat out Sunday's 3-2 loss to Worcester.
- - - - - - - -Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at email@example.com.