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December 03. 2013 10:52PM

Ian Clark's On Hockey: Monarchs yet to flip switch on power play

GOFFSTOWN -- THE Manchester Monarchs are 15-4-4 for the second-most points in the AHL. But that doesn’t mean the team isn’t in need of improvement in certain areas.

At the top of the “needs work” list is the power play. Manchester is just 12-for-87 for 14 percent on the power play this season. That’s 26th out of 30 teams in the AHL. The Monarchs are just 1-for-18 with the man advantage in the past six games.

Head coach Mark Morris points to the roster fluctuations thanks to call-ups to Los Angeles and injuries as a roadblock to sustaining chemistry on the power-play units, but also said that part of the problem also comes down to the simple need to shoot more.

“It’s a tough thing when you’re in flux. With so many changes to personalities and personnel it’s tough to keep any continuity,” Morris said. “The principles don’t change. We have a lot of guys that like to make plays, but you’ve got to shoot the puck and play the net front well if you’re going to have an effective power-play unit.”

Fourth-year forward Brandon Kozun is a key component on the power play and admitted that trying to make the perfect play can sometimes be part of the problem.

“The way the game is now with as many penalties as there are, it’s definitely an area we need to improve at and an area I can take a little responsibility to improve at. Sometimes it’s just a matter of hard work and getting pucks to the net and outworking the other forward and sometimes we get too fancy, myself included,” Kozun said. “Sometimes you see a play and it’s open but someone gets a stick on the puck and it doesn’t work.”

Another of the power-play forwards, Jordan Weal, agrees.

“For skill guys, you don’t want to get too fancy or think too much about what you’re trying to do. You’ve got to go out there and react to situations,” Weal said. “We’re just little out of sync. You’re going to have those throughout the year. Every team has those stretches where things don’t click. I think we’re slowing it down too much and trying to be too patient. We’ll work on it in practice this week and work it out.”

Morris said that due to having so many young players, extra power-play time in practice is a luxury the team doesn’t have. Getting the new players up to speed on the L.A. systems and responsibilities remains a priority.

The Monarchs had one departure and one arrival on Tuesday. Veteran defenseman Jeff Schultz was recalled to the Kings and forward Tanner Pearson was assigned back to Manchester. Schultz has 399 career NHL games and was a steady veteran presence in Manchester since opening day this season, with a goal and assist. Pearson spent the first 15 games of the season in Manchester, then had one goal for the Kings in the six games he played in L.A.

Manchester is currently at 13 healthy forwards and the bare minimum of six defensemen.

“Our more experienced players are seeing way more ice than they normally do in all situations so they may not have the same strength and intensity to perform at the level we’ve become accustomed to,” Morris said. “A lot of guys that are on the power play also kill penalties. That’s why it’s important to stay disciplined.”

Morris also pointed to the faceoff circle as an area where the Monarchs power play could improve. Controlling the puck off the draw and then setting up shots is crucial.

“We can afford to be way better on faceoffs because if you lose that opening draw you’ve already killed 20 seconds of it,” Morris said. “We’ve been getting good puck movement but not enough finish for my liking. We have a lot of passers. When you shoot the puck, that’s what creates the chaos that creates uncertainty and missed coverages for the defensive team. We’ll continue to push to try and get more firepower and take advantage of our man-up situations.”

The Monarchs play at Providence Friday, Portland (in Lewiston) Saturday and return home for a Sunday matinee at 3 p.m. with Worcester.

Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is iclark@unionleader.com.


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