MANCHESTER — A Sunday matinee provided just what the Manchester Monarchs needed to break out of a post-Christmas funk.
The Monarchs jumped out early with three first-period goals, scored a rare power-play goal and broke a two-game losing streak with a 5-2 win over Hartford in front of 4,217 fans at Verizon Wireless Arena.
The AHL-leading Monarchs improved to 22-7-5 and return to action Tuesday night when they host the Providence Bruins at 7 p.m. for the annual New Years's Eve contest with post-game fireworks.
"It was as close to 60 minutes (of effort) as we've been for a long time," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "We've put together some good periods of hockey over this weekend. It was just at the tail end of a couple of them that soured how we look at the weekend in total, but today was a real good bounce-back game for us."
Linden Vey scored a pair of goals for Manchester and Tanner Pearson (three assists) and Jordan Weal (two assists) were the primary dishers on the day.
Rookie goalie J.F. Berube made 25 saves in the win and set a franchise record with his 20th consecutive start. Berube has been the one and only goalie with Martin Jones called up to Los Angeles.
"It should mean a lot," Morris said of the record. "He's filling some pretty big shoes and there's some good goalies that preceded him so to be in the net for that long speaks volumes about how far his game has come and what he's meant to us during this stretch."
Berube said he feels good physically, but staying sharp mentally has been the challenge.
"It's always the mental part (that's harder)," Berube said of the workload. "I'm learning how to deal with it and I think it's going in a good direction. You have to make sure you do the little things that make you ready and keep working hard."
The first-period barrage started at 4:37 when Andy Andreoff netted his sixth goal of the season. Pearson started a two-on-one rush on the right wing with Andreoff trailing in the slot. Pearson hit Andreoff with a saucer pass and Andreoff got the shaft of his stick on it and past Dov Grumet-Morris for the 1-0 lead.
Manchester extended to a 2-0 lead at 6:40 with a nice piece of transition hockey. Nick Shore sent Brian O'Neill into the Hartford zone with a head-man pass and O'Neill put a shot on net that Grumet-Morris kicked out, but right to A.J. Gale for a shot into the open net as he was being taken to the ice.
The Monarchs made it 3-0 with a power-play goal at 14:25. Weal cycled off the left boards and fired a pass to Vey on the right win and Vey finished with a shot off Grumet-Morris' shoulder and into the net. That goal ended Grumet-Morris' day in net.
"(Vey) played with a lot of jump in his step and it was nice to see him playing the way we know he can. He's been a big part of our success, too," Morris said. "We found a little bit of chemistry by putting Andy Andreoff up on the wing and Tanner Pearson moving over to the other side. I think those guys like to play together and it showed."
Manchester pushed the lead to 4-0 at 14:02 of the second period. Vey took a pass from Andrew Bodnarchuk at the blue line, faked a slap shot to deke around Wolf Pack defender Darroll Powe and skated into the left circle before wristing a shot off the left post and in.
Hartford (11-16-4) found some life with a pair of goals within 30 seconds of one another. Jesper Fast broke in alone on Berube and shoveled a backhand shot over Berube's right pad to make it 4-1 at 15:45.
Half a minute later, Marek Hrivik sent a pass from the right wing corner to Danny Syvret in the slot all alone for a shot that beat Berube through traffic and over the shoulder glove-side to make it 4-2.
"We got caught on a line change one time and a little miscommunication shortly after that gave them a couple goals and I thought 'oh, boy, here we go again,'" Morris said. "But it was nice to get that fifth goal to right the ship."
The fifth goal came in the third period when Brandon Kozun wristed a shot past Jeff Malcolm from the right side after a perfect cross-ice pass from Nick Deslauriers at 12:11 to cap the scoring.