Monarchs streaking toward the break
The Monarchs (21-17-4, 46 points, second place in the Atlantic Division) will visit Connecticut (18-20-4, 40) Friday night at 7 and then head to Portland to face the Atlantic-leading Pirates (24-15-2, 50) Saturday at 7 p.m.
Following the weekend set, the Monarchs are off for five days for the AHL All-Star break. Tyler Toffoli is the lone Monarch headed to Monday's all-star game in Providence. Manchester head coach Mark Morris is stressing to his players that the march to the playoffs starts now.
"I was telling the guys that there were 35 games left and last year we just inched into the playoffs by having to run the table the final weekend," Morris said. "We've got some work to do."
Manchester finished 39-32-5 to claim the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs last season. Morris wants to avoid the drama that last year's late run created.
"We still have a lot of games to win and there's no question there will be a lot of tight ones," Morris said. "It's how we do from this point forward that's going to determine the success of this team."
A bright spot for the Monarchs during this win streak has been goaltender Martin Jones. After struggling through a franchise-record nine game losing streak, Jones has returned to the form that made him an all-star two seasons ago and has won four straight.
On Wednesday, Jones was superb, making 42 saves for his fourth shutout of the season and turning in several remarkable saves.
The Monarchs also got a boost from two new players in the lineup, veteran NHL presence Anthony Stewart on the wing and defenseman Chris Huxley, a Harvard University product who made his AHL debut. Stewart came out swinging, literally, fighting Providence's Bobby Robins 11 seconds into the game.
"I was pleased with both guys. Stewart's physical presence was shown even before he had a chance to play. Bobby Robins is a big, tough kid and he flopped him on his back," Morris said. "Chris Huxley played a real nice game back there. He made a lot of intelligent plays, defended well and kept the game simple. He handled the puck smartly."
The winning streak has shown that the Monarchs can play complete 60-minute games where winning the small battles results in big things.
"We're a young team and we're going to have ups and downs this season and some things seem to be going our way right now," Jones said. "With the young team we have, when we're moving our feet and have energy and get pucks deep and do all the little things we need to do to be successful, more often than not we're going to get the result we want."