GOFFSTOWN -- TEAM CHEMISTRY, often the bane of the early season, hasn’t been an issue thus far for the Manchester Monarchs.
Much of the Monarchs’ roster has returned from last year, but several new players are seeing significant ice time. The end result has been a positive one for the Monarchs, who are 3-0-1 for seven points, tied for the best record in the AHL.
“We have some familiarity with our personnel and that’s a good starting point. We’ve seen certain line combinations that have been successful in prior years and we’re familiar with their strengths and that gives us a leg up on teams that are still trying to find their mojo,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “We want to capitalize on that and continue to work on the details of our game and establish an ingrained mindset that we’re all on the same page.”
One of the biggest reasons Manchester is off to a hot start is goaltender Martin Jones, who was named AHL Player of the Week on Monday. Jones sports a 1.41 goals-against average, .951 save percentage and has a shutout already.
“I feel really good about (my play),” Jones said Tuesday after practice at St. Anselm College. “I’m at my best when the guys are doing a good job in front clearing bodies, letting me see the puck and taking away second and third opportunities. It makes my job easier and helps me be more reliable with rebounds.”
Jones has been excellent in shootouts, as well, with Manchester winning two and losing one this season as three of four games have gone to the extra session.
“It all starts in goal,” Morris said. “We’ve had steady performances from Jonesy and we’ve been fortunate to be effective in the shootouts with a combination of good goaltending and guys finding the back of the nets.”
Beyond Jones, the Monarchs have been solid from top to bottom. Scoring distribution is strong thus far, with eight different players notching a goal and nine with points overall. Only Tyler Toffoli (two goals) has multiple goals.
“It comes from everywhere. They’ve been team efforts,” said forward Brandon Kozun, who leads the team in points with a goal and three assists. “I don’t know if we’ve played a whole 60 (minutes) yet, but we’ve fought our way into games and we’ve fought our way out of games and it seems to be working right now. When we get it clicking well and start playing a full 60 it could be scary.”
The overall character shown by Manchester thus far is also a good sign.
“We’ve gotten timely goals and that’s been big. We’re not scoring six goals a game, but we’re getting those timely goals that we need,” Jones said. “Those are good character wins, especially in Providence coming back from down 2-0. Those are good wins to build off.”
The Monarchs have had to fight for the playoffs the past two season, with a postseason berth being earned in the final few games. Over the course of a long season, with injuries and call-ups to Los Angeles never far away, the early points could be huge.
“It’s a welcome sign early on in the season,” Morris said. “Points are important, whether early on or late in the season. To get some points in the bank is great at this juncture in time.”
The Monarchs play at Hartford (the other team with seven points so far) Friday night before the home opener against Providence Saturday at 7 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Arena.
Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.