Monarchs break for Christmas with 3-1 win
The Monarchs (18-11-2, 38 points) moved back into first place in the Atlantic Division by one point over St. John';s. Manchester has won five straight over third-place Worcester (13-7-6, 32).
Dwight King and Brandon Kozun combined for a pair of goals and Linden Vey scored an insurance marker in the third while Monarchs goalie Jeff Zatkoff out-dueled veteran NHL netminder Antero Nittymaki.
';I thought we had a real workmanlike win today,'; Monarchs head coach Mark Morris said. ';As much as they threw at us, we were able to defend well and we turned some of their turnovers into goals and we had strong goaltending.';
Leading 2-1 in the third period, the Monarchs got a big goal from Vey at 8:47. Skating a two-on-one with the puck on his stick, Ray Kaunisto was patient, driving deep on the left side before hitting Vey on the right for a one-timer past Nittymaki.
The Sharks continued to press, pulling Nittymaki with 2:36 remaining for an extra attacker, but could not break through. Zatkoff made 40 saves in the game to improve to 9-3-1. Nittymaki made 25 stops on the other end in his second start in Worcester as part of a two-week conditioning stint down from San Jose.
';I was hoping he would play,'; Zatkoff said. ';It';s one of those things where it';s always a great experience to play against an NHL netminder. He';s someone I watched on TV when he was starting out with Philly. It gives a little added incentive because you want to beat him.';
Kozun gave Manchester a 1-0 lead at 2:01 of the first period, scoring his eighth of the season. King sent as pass down low from the left point and Kozun re-directed the puck from the slot to beat Nittymaki inside the right post.
From there it was time for the fisticuffs. Manchester';s Justin Johnson squared off with Jimmy Bonneau for a lengthy scrap that ended in a draw. Immediately off the faceoff following that fight, Monarchs newcomer Chris Cloud tangled with Sharks heavyweight Curt Gogol in a quick one.
It was par for the course between the two teams as tensions are always high when they meet.
';They play the same kind of hockey like us, they never give up and skate hard and when you play two competitive teams like this, things like that happen,'; said Monarchs captain Marc-Andre Cliche. ';We';ve got guys to back it up and they do too so we know it';s going to happen every game.';
Worcester tied the game at 1-1 at 7:23 of the first. Jack Combs took a shot from the goal line on the left side that Zatkoff stopped. The rebound returned to Combs'; tape and he banked the puck off Zatkoff';s skate and into the cage.
Manchester took a 2-1 lead with the only goal of the second period. King and Kozun reversed roles from the first goal, working a two-on-none give-and-go. King left a drop pass for Kozun, who quickly shipped the puck back to King on the right post for one-touch past Nittymaki.
';I mentioned that (Nittymaki) was an NHL goalie. I look at that as a challenge,'; Morris said. ';If you can score on an NHL goalie I think that speaks volumes. You throw that out to a goal-scorer and that';s something that';s motivational, I think.';
The Monarchs will practice through Wednesday before the players and coaches scatter all over the continent and beyond for Christmas. Manchester is back in action Monday at 7 p.m. when the Providence Bruins come to town.
';We go home and it';s good to head in on a win like this,'; Cliche said. ';You';ve got positive thoughts when you go home.';