Monarchs continue playoff tradition, but can they win the division?

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The ECHL North Division standings as of Sunday, March 25 (ECHL.com screenshot)

 

The Manchester Monarchs are now officially in the playoffs, confirming what everybody knew was going to happen for awhile now. But can they win the ECHL North Division title?

It’s March 25, 2018, here’s your Manchester Monarchs Week in Review.

Game Recap

The Monarchs’ final regular season homestand of 2018 is now over with it, Manchester learned that it will be going to its third straight ECHL postseason and the 16th postseason appearance in the 17 years of Monarchs hockey.

A deep run into the Kelly Cup Playoffs is possible if the Monarchs can duplicate the dominance they’ve shown for much of the year, including their Wednesday night contest against Reading and their Friday night rematch against Adirondack.

In those games, they got off to the early start that has eluded them for stretches of the past several months.

On Saturday, the disjointed and sluggish start returned, with Manchester not recording a shot on goal until nearly ten minutes into the contest.

Manchester kept the game scoreless, but without that early cohesion, it’s only been a matter of time recently before things went south and Saturday fit that script.

Monarchs head coach Rich Seeley knows he doesn’t have a magic button that can turn on his guys at the first drop of the puck. But that doesn’t mean consistency is impossible. But it will take a combined effort from top to bottom.

“It’s repetition, it’s habits, it’s self-discipline, as individuals and as a group,” he said on Friday. “There are little things we need to do every night, mentally and physically to be ready to go. But I don’t think there’s only specific thing the coaching staff can press, and when I say coaching staff that includes everybody including the athletic trainer and equipment managers. We’re just going to keep preaching the same things we’ve been preaching all year.”

Three Stars

Top Star: Michael Doherty – Doherty grabbed a goal each in all three games and could have gotten some more goals too. Describing any of his forwards as “first” or “second” line members is a misnomer since Seeley has mixed up the rotation over the year, but there are times when the Marcinew/LaVallee-Smotherman/Watson line would fit the traditional “scoring line” definition.

So, the fact that Doherty other forwards such as Matt Schmalz, Joel Lowry and others can step up almost at random and score is one of the key things that makes the Monarchs dangerous.

Second Star: Spencer Watson/Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman –  The Monarchs dynamic duo had a combined five goals over the three games this week, with LaVallee-Smotherman picking things up a bit after cooling off over the past few weeks.

Despite just one goal in March prior to Wednesday’s win, Jordan doesn’t see his recent stretch as a slump: what’s important to him is the team as a whole.

“I try not to look at that stuff that much,” he said on Wednesday. “I know people tell me I’m up there, but we’re just trying to win hockey games.”

Still, he does have a shot at the ECHL regular season points title, with his 70 after Saturday’s contest putting him six behind Fort Wayne’s Shawn Szydlowski. He also has a shot at the scoring lead, six behind the 39 posted by Colorado’s Michael Joly.

Third Star: Evan Cowley –  Minor league hockey rosters can change quickly and without notice, but Monarchs fans can only hope the Springfield Thunderbirds lend Manchester Cowley again soon.

While Seeley has generally aimed to platoon his goaltenders whenever possible, Charles Williams has become the default top choice for most of the season.

However, his success in part comes from getting rest days given early in the season and over the past few weeks by Cowley, who has proven himself in his own right through stellar performances like Friday’s shutout.

Special Star: Matt Johnson – Matt hasn’t scored any goals or made any spectacular saves or won any fights on the ice this year, but he’s been an integral part of the team this season as the Monarchs VP of Brand and Marketing.

With the end of this final regular season homestand, it seemed fitting to give thanks to MJ for all the help he and his staff have given us in our coverage this year.

Beyond the Blue Lines

The trade deadline’s come and gone, but the roster keeps on shifting.

Colton Saucerman and Joel Lowry returned to the AHL on Thursday while Cowley and Matt Leitner went up to the AHL on Saturday.

UConn Huskie alumnus Derek Pratt got an appearance on Saturday, but he was released a day later.

Other newcomers this week include Ryan Lough (also let go) and Jake Horton (not let go yet.)

Alexx Privatera’s younger brother Jarrid was also offered a tryout, but has not yet appeared in any games.

Joe Spagnoli is also back as an emergency backup for Williams following Cowley’s departure.

Coming Up

Manchester has only one more home game left before the playoffs: April 7 in their umpteen millionth game this year against Worcester.

The next day they finish the regular season in Worcester and before that they have a four-game road trip against Reading (Mar. 28, 30), Wheeling (Mar. 31) and Adirondack (Apr. 6)

Manchester’s lead over Adirondack remains at just two points heading into the week, so their final road game may decide the division winner, but the final two games against Worcester may have more bearing on playoff seeding.

The Railers have five games before their home-and-home against Manchester, with five points standing between them and Wheeling’s location in the division’s final playoff spot.

While Worcester has two games-in-hand over Wheeling to grab those additional points, the Railers currently have the ECHL’s least potent offense, with an astounding 69 fewer goals than Manchester.