ATLANTA – Game Two of the Manchester Monarchs’ Valentine’s Week trip resulted another satisfying finish, a 5-2 victory over the Atlanta Gladiators.
Joel Lowry got the Monarchs off to a good start with a power play goal halfway through the first period. They would carry that momentum through the first ten minutes of the second period as well, grabbing another three goals and holding the Gladiators to just three shots on net.
The pendulum began to swing shortly after a fight between Manchester’s Matt Schmalz and Atlanta’s Alexandre Carrier 9:42 into the second period, but Atlanta could only cut Manchester’s lead by two before the second intermission with a Colin Jacobs’ wrister and a sliding backhand from Lindsay Sparks that finding the back of the net for the Gladiators.
Atlanta more than doubled the Monarchs in the shot department in the third period, but Manchester’s lead only grew, with Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman getting his second goal of the night, tipping in a Alexx Privatera slapshot from the right faceoff circle.
That goal was LaVallee-Smotherman’s 29th of the season, putting him second in the league behind Colorado’s Michael Joly (36).
In the end, it was a good night for the entire club, from LaVallee-Smotherman to the rest of the roster.
Manchester head coach Richard Seeley had particular praise for Schmalz for his two assists and other intangibles, but he noted that Schmalz wasn’t alone in submitting a quality performance in this contest.
“I liked the way our team played from the drop of the puck. It started with the first shift of the game, our guys had offensive zone changes the way we wanted to play it and carried out from there,” he said.
Friday night also marked the first game following Spencer Watson’s recall to the AHL’s Ontario Reign, following a hat trick last night and another earlier in the month.
Although there certainly is a transition when losing a player contributing as much as Watson did over the past few weeks, roster turnover is a fact of life for any hockey team, especially in the minors.
Seeley had praise for Watson’s contributions, but emphasized that the core of his squad is not built around any one player.
“We’re quite used to transactions and we have a good core leadership group that lets whoever’s in our line know they’re expected to play a certain way,” he said. “Watty had been a key part of our success and really hot, but his leaving is just another opportunity for another player to step up.”
Friday night’s win finally gave the Monarchs some daylight atop the ECHL North Division following a January swoon that brought them back into the pack.
Wheeling and Adirondack dropped contests to Fort Wayne and Brampton respectively elsewhere on Friday night, putting them six points behind the Monarchs’ 66 point total at the head of the divisional standings.
The Monarchs and Gladiators will meet again on Sunday afternoon (2:05 p.m.) at the Infinite Energy Arena, for the final time in the regular season.