SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … A 51-win, 110-point regular season was overshadowed by a fourth straight first-round playoff exit and an off-season coaching change. But the Manchester Monarchs haven’t skipped a beat, and are right back among the elite teams in the American Hockey League in 2005-06.
At 13-3-0-3 with one game to go before reaching the season’s quarter-pole, the Monarchs under rookie bench boss Jim Hughes own the best points percentage (.763) in the Atlantic Division and are two points behind first-place Portland with two games in hand. Overtime has been Manchester’s modus operandi this year, with 12 of the team’s first 19 games extending past regulation. The Monarchs are 4-0 in the extra five-minute session, and 5-3 in the post-OT shootout.
Manchester regularly dresses as many as 10 AHL rookies in its lineup, but there is no shortage of talent among them. Jeff Tambellini was held scoreless in his first four games as a professional, even sitting out the Monarchs’ home opener on Oct. 15 as a healthy scratch. But the former first-round draft pick (2003) has been one of the hottest players in the AHL since, totaling 14 goals, 11 assists and a plus-11 rating in 18 games on the year and rattling off a nine-game scoring streak from Nov. 10-26.
Lauri Tukonen, a 19-year-old rookie and the 11th overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, has added five goals and eight assists in 19 games. Konstantin Pushkarev, a second-rounder in 2003, has chipped in seven goals and five assists. Richard Petiot leads all Monarchs defenseman with a plus-10 rating, and Dany Roussin’s credentials include 113 goals and 233 points over his last two junior seasons as a linemate of Sidney Crosby’s at Rimouski (QMJHL).
Already ranking third in the AHL in scoring (3.95 goals per game), Manchester got a shot in the arm when Yanick Lehoux rejoined the club after brief stints in Switzerland, Phoenix and San Antonio. Lehoux, who was second in the AHL with 54 points in 38 games when he went down with a season-ending injury last January, was claimed off waivers by Los Angeles and assigned to Manchester on Friday, and the 23-year-old center scored twice in his return to the Monarchs lineup during Saturday’s 6-3 win at Springfield.
Brad Smyth recorded his 600th career AHL point on Nov. 20 at Lowell, becoming the 40th player in league history to reach that mark. Now the former league All-Star, MVP and scoring champion needs just one goal to become the 17th player ever to score 300 in an AHL career.
While his goals-against average is a long way from the sub-2.00 marks he posted in 2003-04 and 2004-05, Adam Hauser still owns a mark of 8-2-2 in the Monarchs’ cage, and he is unbeaten in his last 10 decisions. Rookie Barry Brust was 4-1-1 during his time in Manchester, and Yutaka Fukufuji, believed to be the first Japanese-born player in league history, made 37 saves in his AHL debut on Saturday.
Manchester, which started last season with 20 wins in its first 21 contests, is riding a 10-game points streak (8-0-0-2) and has just one regulation loss in its last 17 (13-1-0-3). The Monarchs return to action on Tuesday night when they visit Albany.
YOUR WEEKLY PENGUINS UPDATE … One-quarter of the way through the season, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (18-0-2-0) still have not lost a game in regulation. An overtime loss to Providence on Wednesday ended a seven-game winning streak, but the Pens bounced back with victories in Rochester and Binghamton, and with W’s in each of their 11 contests away from home this year, Wilkes-Barre has tied an AHL record with 13 consecutive road wins (dating back to last season).
The Pens’ 20-game points streak is the longest in the AHL since Bridgeport went on a 22-game run (18-0-3-1) in 2003-04.
FEAST OR FAMINE FOR FINLEY … Brian Finley has a perfect 4-0-0 record in net for Milwaukee in 2005-06, but the season hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk for the former first-round draft pick.
In his four wins – all on the road – Finley has been nothing short of brilliant, stopping 125 of 126 shots (0.25 GAA, .992 SV%) and recording three shutouts.
In his two non-decisions, Finley has been anything but brilliant, allowing six goals on 13 shots in just over 33 minutes of work (10.78, .538) and earning two early seats on the bench.
The good has outweighed the bad, as Finley, who missed a month of the season with an ankle injury, takes a 1.54 goals-against average and .950 save percentage into the final days of November.
PAIR BOLSTERS PIRATES … Already first in the Atlantic, Portland got a shot of offense last week when Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf joined the club on loan from the parent Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Both first-round picks by Anaheim in the 2003 NHL draft, Perry (3g, 5a) and Getzlaf (2g, 6a) combined for 16 points in four games last week.
ALUMNI REPORT … Eric Healey, a veteran of 388 AHL games and a former league All-Star, made his NHL debut for Boston on Friday night… Grant Stevenson scored a goal in his NHL debut for San Jose in front of several family members in Calgary on Tuesday night, including his grandfather, Hockey Hall of Famer and AHL graduate Glenn Hall… Bridgeport’s Jeremy Colliton (N.Y. Islanders), Grand Rapids’ Kyle Quincey (Detroit), Lowell’s Brad Richardson (Colorado), Portland’s Dustin Penner (Anaheim), San Antonio’s Matt Jones (Phoenix), Syracuse’s Ole-Kristian Tollefsen (Columbus) and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Michel Ouellet (Pittsburgh) also made their NHL debuts last week… Jason Pominville, who has 19 goals in 18 games for Rochester this season, scored his first career NHL goal for Buffalo on Sunday… Andrew Ladd scored his first NHL goal for Carolina on Friday night vs. Toronto.