Ian Clark's On Hockey: Monarchs just not playing up to expectations
Nearing the halfway point of the AHL season, the Manchester Monarchs find themselves below .500 at 14-15-4 and in fourth place in the Atlantic Division. The Monarchs opened the season 5-1 and appeared ready to take the winning formula from the Los Angeles Kings' Stanley Cup championship and run with it.
With four players from that Cup title playing in Manchester due to the NHL lockout, a young goaltender ready to take the No. 1 spot and a good mix of veterans and talented young players, the Monarchs were primed for a strong season.
At least on paper.
"We're a better team on paper. But it's just paper," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "You've got to step out on the ice and get it done. We're looking for results right now."
Goaltending has been a major issue, with Martin Jones struggling as the No. 1 goalie. Jones has lost a franchise-record nine consecutive starts and forced veteran Peter Mannino into more active duty than was expected.
Inconsistent scoring has also plagued the team and the four players from L.A.'s Cup run have also not delivered. There have been injuries among them, but for the most part, Dwight King, Jordan Nolan, Andrei Loktionov and defenseman Slava Voynov have not delivered on expectations.
Loktionov has been the most productive with his time, scoring five goals and 12 assists for 17 points in 24 games. Nolan has 2-3-5 in 19 games, sometimes appearing as though he's ready to take over a game with his size and skill while otherwise disappearing for shifts at a time.
King has scored 5-11-16 in 26 games, but his net-front presence and strength have not been on display as much as expected. Voynov has 6-9-15 in 33 games. He is frequently effective on both offense and defense, but also appears disinterested at other times.
Asked directly about the disappointment of the four Stanley Cup winners playing for him, Morris only smiled and kept silent. But his comments from just a few moments before being asked that question speak volumes.
"I'm sure that there are guys that are here that are hoping that the NHL starts up so that they can pick up where they left off last year, and I'm not so sure that their focus is totally where it needs to be right now," Morris said.
The frustration with how the season has gone isn't just in the coach's office.
"Our expectations were high and are high. With all the names here, there's got to be a standard," said Monarchs assistant captain Thomas Hickey. "We've got to get everyone playing up to the top level as often as we can. We have the big names but we're just not putting them all together at the same time so it doesn't mean anything at all."
It is a new system in Manchester this season. The system Kings head coach Darryl Sutter used to win the Stanley Cup is being played by the Monarchs. It's high-energy, but requires discipline and some of the younger players have not bought in despite the obvious success L.A. had.
"It's really frustrating. I think we're still looking to grasp the system. That system works. Everybody works short shifts and we're all over the opposition," captain Marc-Andre Cliche said. "That system is all about working. Sometimes you can work your butt off, but you don't work smart. We work really hard, but we're not smart about it."
A full 60-minute effort has been elusive for Manchester. After the hot start in October, the team has struggled to string together wins, often losing late leads or seeing winnable games slip away as Monday's 3-2 loss to Worcester did.
The Monarchs will try and get things going in the right direction this weekend with a road trip to St. John's in Newfoundland.
"We just continue to find ways to spoil a good effort. It's hard to believe that we haven't grasped that concept yet, that we have to defend before we can attack," Morris said. "Hopefully, in the new year we'll be able to look back at all of the rough spots and glitches that have taken good efforts and turned them into losing efforts and learn from it."
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.