Ian Clark's On Hockey: Monarchs preach patience
That's the keyword for the current season. The Monarchs are 4-7-0 and have lost five of their last six games. They are off this week until Friday night when they visit Providence. Manchester will then host the Bruins Saturday at 7 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Arena.
Inconsistency has been the biggest problem for the Monarchs thus far. Inconsistent effort throughout 60 minutes of hockey and most of all, inconsistent scoring.
Coming into the season, Manchester knew this would be a concern because the top three scorers from last season, Bud Holloway, Oscar Moller and Corey Elkins, all made late decisions to play in Europe this year.
'It makes a difference. Oscar, Bud and Elks were our top three scorers so it's hard to replace that in the middle of the summer,' said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. 'Those are three guys we planned on having back here. It pushes other players to the forefront to produce and this is a process to bring these guys along.'
One of the players most effected by the loss of the up-front punch is Dwight King. Playing the physical, finisher role parked in front of the net on a line with Justin Azevedo and Holloway last year, King recorded 24 goals and 28 assists for 52 points, third on the team.
But through 11 games this year, King has just a goal and two assists.
'Obviously, it's different, especially for me since Bud was a part of me and Azzy's line for two years,' King said. 'Everyone knows how to play the game. I just think it comes with time. You get used to a guy over time and they do certain things differently.'
'We're 11 games in now and we should be more comfortable with each other. We're still trying to find the right line combinations for everybody.'
While some veteran players have stepped up and are producing like Andrei Loktionov (team high 12 points on three goals, nine assists), other young players are being called on to skate valuable minutes and the learning curve is steep.
Rookies Linden Vey (2-3-5 in 9 games) and Robbie Czarnik (one assist in two games) are still adjusting to the pro game.
'We've got some new guys to the team and to the league. It's not just having new linemates, but they're getting used to the league and the pace of playing,' King said. 'Overall, as long as we work hard, that's all we can control.'
There are signs of progress, as in last Friday's 5-2 win at Portland.
'(Friday) was the first time with Czarnik on the Azevedo/King line and we saw some spark,' Morris said. 'Czarnik was able to fill in where Holloway used to. Loktionov and (Jordan) Nolan have good chemistry and they scored a nice goal in the third but it would have been nice if we had that in the early going to sustain a little momentum.'
The Monarchs will use the long week to sharpen up and try to fine tune the line combinations. Some combos are working well, like Nolan and Loktionov and captain Marc-Andre Cliche (5-2-7) and Rich Clune (3-2-5).
'They compete every shift and you always know they're going to give you everything they've got and then some,' Morris said. 'You've got to have your muckers and grinders and we're trying to bring guys along as quick as we can.'
Finding steady third members on those lines is the key now.
'We're just a work in progress,' Morris said.
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Here come the 'staches. It's November now, which means 'Movember' which means many of the Monarchs (and other NHL) players will be growing mustaches throughout the month to raise awareness about cancers that affect men.
The Monarchs will be bringing back the popular 'mullet night' promotion on Nov. 19 for the game against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The first 3,000 fans into the VWA will receive a mullet wig and mustache.
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.