The Manchester Monarchs were right where they wanted to be heading into the third period of Sunday’s game against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins at the Verizon Wireless Arena.
And then . . .
The Monarchs gave up a shorthanded goal five minutes into the period, in which the Penguins had a one-on-four to start the play, and WBS added another goal with 5:14 left in the game to take a 4-2 win. Manchester (71 points) drops into third place in the Atlantic Division, three points behind first-place Worcester.
“We put ourselves in position to win, but our effort in the third (period) was listless,” Monarchs coach Mark Morris said. “Too many mental mistakes. There were basic things that we needed to do and we didn’t execute. That cost us two goals.”
Tim Wallace scored the game-winner while the Monarchs were on the power play. Joe Vitale moved the puck into the Manchester zone along the boards and as he approached the goal, he tossed the puck across the top of the crease to Wallace, who buried the puck past goalie Jeff Zatkoff to give the Penguins a 3-2 lead.
“We’re up a guy,” said Justin Azevedo, who had both Manchester goals. “You can’t be letting the puck in the net. That takes the energy right out of the team. And then they get another one. We’re on the ropes and we’re battling, trying, but just couldn’t get one at the end there.”
Mark Letestu added an insurance goal for WBS, collecting the rebound of a Dustin Jeffery shot and knocking it past Zatkoff.
“A guy gets a shot on net and there’s a big, juicy rebound and we’re all puck watching,” Morris said. “We have positions to be in and we decided to go off the beaten path and improvise.”
While the loss was just another in what has been a frustrating stretch – since breaking a three-game losing streak on Feb. 12, Manchester has won two, lost two, won one and lost one – the manner in which it happened might be the toughest part to comprehend.
“I thought our energy level was subpar in the third,” Morris said. “We needed somebody to step up in the third and it didn’t happen. Last night, (in a 4-0 win over Providence) we were the guys that dictated the game. We wanted it more. We played with purpose, we played with commitment and we all followed the game plan. Tonight, we did it sporadically and we paid for it.”
After Friday’s loss at Lowell, the team had a meeting upon returning home. The immediate result was Saturday’s win against Providence.
“We shouldn’t be having meetings at this time of year,” Azevedo said. “(Saturday), we were just flying. Today, we just weren’t the same team. If we were like what we were (Saturday), I don’t think any team could beat us. It’s frustrating, that’s for sure.”
Azevedo scored his first goal on the power play in the final minutes of the first period, executing a give-and-go with Bud Holloway, who was standing to the left behind the net, to tie the game at one.
Manchester’s Viatcheslav Voynov took a holding penalty at the end of the first period, but it was the Monarchs who got the special teams goal. Azevedo led a three-on-one into the Penguins’ end and added his second goal to give Manchester 2-1 lead early in the second period.
That lead would hold until Eric Tangradi tied the game at two less than three minutes later.
“You can call it bad luck, you can call it whatever you want, but at the end of the day, we’ve just got to stick to the basics,” Azevedo said. “We’re working hard and I think the bounces will be there for us.”
Manchester plays the third of five straight home games on Wednesday, when the Springfield Falcons visit the Verizon Wireless Arena at 7 p.m.