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January 27. 2012 11:04PM

Monarchs’ rally comes up short

MANCHESTER — A strong finish wasn’t enough to overcome a sloppy start for the Manchester Monarchs, who fell to the St. John’s IceCaps, 3-2, in front of 4,624 fans at Verizon Wireless Arena Friday night.

Manchester remained in second place in the Atlantic Division at 24-20-2 for 50 points. First-place St. John’s improved to 26-11-6 for 58 points, including a 5-0 mark against the Monarchs. Manchester will host third-place Worcester tonight at 7 o’clock.

The IceCaps scored three times in the first 12:46 of the game, a hole that proved too big for the Monarchs to climb out of despite a strong comeback effort.

“I liked our energy in the second and third (periods), but the mistakes in the first and the lack of focus and execution sealed our fate,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “It’s a lesson that we’ve had to learn over and over this year (and that’s) how we start. You’ve got to get the momentum in your favor and you’ve got to be focused and we weren’t.”

The first-period barrage began at 5:19 with a Kenndal McArdle goal. Spencer Machacek carried the puck up the left wing side and then made a nifty pass behind his back to himself before sending the a a a nifty pass behind his back to himself before sending the puck cross-ice for a one-touch into the cage by McArdle.

Kevin Clark made it 2-0 at 9:43. Ben Maxwell rushed the puck, dancing around traffic at center ice and gaining the zone before leaving a pass for Clark, who snapped a wrist shot from the right circle high inside the far post to beat Martin Jones.

Just over three minutes later it was 3-0. Jones made the initial save on a Clark shot, but the scramble in front ended with Jason Gregoire jamming the puck in. That goal ended Jones’ night of work as Jeff Zatkoff came in to man the crease.

“We needed a change,” Morris said. “The first one was a tap-in and the second one (Jones) might have wanted to have back. The third one, we sent the puck right up the gut and we tried to change (lines) and we got caught flat-footed and we let them stand around and poke the puck in the net.”

Trying to get a spark out of his team, Monarchs forward Richard Clune engaged NHL veteran Garth Murray in a ferocious fight, with both men throwing and landing some solid shots. Manchester seemed to respond and got some late chances, but the first intermission still showed a 3-0 St. John’s lead.

The opportunities continued to mount for Manchester in the second, eventually leading to a Marc-Andre Cliche goal at 8:41. Defenseman Thomas Hickey slapped the puck on net from the right point and Cliche tipped it past veteran NHL netminder David Aebischer to make it 3-1.

The Monarchs then scored early in the third period on a Dwight King goal at 5:29. A Jake Muzzin shot from the left point hit traffic in front and came to King on the right side and he swept it into the empty side of the cage.

Manchester continued to press but could not net the equalizer to force overtime. While Zatkoff was often highlight-reel-worthy in relief (making 28 saves), Aebischer was equally adept on the other end in stopping 35 Monarchs shots.

“We faced a goalie that was spectacular,” Morris said. “We had many, many chances to score goals but he came up huge. There were also some opportunities we had where we were point-blank and missed the net.”

NOTES: Los Angeles Kings head coach Darryl Sutter was in attendance, getting a look at his club’s prospects during the NHL all-star break … Monarchs defenseman David Kolomatis returned to action after more than a month out of commission with a lower body injury … the Kings released two Monarchs players from the their tryout agreements Friday. Former University of New Hampshire defenseman Joe Charlebois and forward Chris Cloud were let go.

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