MANCHESTER, NH – Right wings Brian O’Neill and Zach O’Brien led the way with five combined goals as the Manchester Monarchs ran away from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, 7-0, at the Verizon Wireless Arena on Friday night.
Manchester (40-16-2-6) leads the Atlantic Division with 88 points. Bridgeport (26-28-2-4) sits in third place in the Northeast Division with 58 points.
“It’s nice to see us scoring some goals on the power play,” said Monarchs Head Coach Mark Morris. “At this stage of the year, it’s going to be more important than ever to be able to execute. Hopefully we build some confidence with tonight’s effort with the man up and I guess we’ll see where it goes from here, but that was a good start.”
The Monarchs struck early and often, starting with a power play goal from O’Brien, his eighth tally of the year. As the puck was being moved around the edges of the Bridgeport zone, left wing Andy Andreoff sent the puck out front to center Colin Fraser. Tied up by a Sound Tigers defenseman, Fraser bobbled the pass before he could shoot it. O’Brien jumped out of the left corner to pick up the loose puck and fired it high blocker side past netminder Kenny Reiter at 2:32 of the opening frame.
Manchester doubled their lead to 2-0 late in the first period thanks to the unending effort of O’Neill. Center Linden Vey sent the puck from the left wing half-boards down to center Jordan Weal waiting on the left post. Weal pushed the puck between his legs and out in front of the net. O’Neill was parked at the top of the crease and fought hard, poking at the puck until it slid into the bottom left corner of the net at 16:36 of the opening frame. The goal marked O’Neill’s 17th tally of the season.
The second period appeared to be quiet until 15:15 when O’Neill put away his second goal of the game after receiving a pass from Weal. The two showed their chemistry again after Weal picked up the puck in the right face-off circle in the Bridgeport end. A quick spin sent it from dot-to-dot where O’Neill was waiting in front of an open net. He quickly fired it dead center for his 18th goal of the season to make the game 3-0.
A bobbled Bridgeport pass at the Manchester blueline allowed O’Brien to pick up the puck. He streaked down center ice toward the goal, stickhandled quickly, and finished with a backhand shot between Reiter’s legs and into the back of the net. At 17:18, O’Brien’s second goal of the game and ninth tally of the season came at 17:18 of the second period and brought the game to 4-0.
Early in the third period, a Bridgeport double-minor penalty gave the Monarchs another man advantage. Cycling deep in the attacking zone, Vey picked up a pass in the right corner and pushed the puck up to defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk at the top of the right face-off circle. Bodnarchuk fired a slap shot on net. With O’Neill positioned in front of the net, O’Neill tipped the puck top shelf, increasing the lead to 5-0. O’Neill’s 19th goal of the season earned him his second hat trick in four games.
O’Brien held the puck deep in the Sound Tigers end and found forward Hunter Bishop poised for a one-timer near the top of the left face-off circle to spark the sixth goal of the season. Bishop’s shot broke his stick, but forward Nick Shore was waiting in the slot for the rebound which he redirected five-hole. Shore tacked up his 14th goal of the year at 14:08 of the final frame for a 6-0 advantage.
With just over two minutes to go in the game, Bishop and O’Brien took off on a 2-on-1. Bishop sent the puck across to O’Brien, who handled it for just a second before sending it back across behind the defender. Bishop took the puck to the outside and put it around Reiter for his fourth goal of the season and the Monarchs final goal of the game at 17:50 of the third period.
Monarchs netminder J.F. Berube (23-14-2) earned his 23rd win of the season, stopping all 23 shots he faced for his second shutout of the season. Reiter (10-10-2) suffered his 10th loss of the season with 36 saves on 43 shots.
Manchester was 3-for-8 on the power play. Bridgeport went 0-for-2 with the man advantage.
Notables: Manchester is unbeaten in regulation at home in 10 games (9-0-0-1)…The Monarchs are on a four-game winning streak… Right wing Brian O’Neill picked up his second career hat trick in four games…O’Neill broke the season record for shots on goal with nine…Right wing Zach O’Brien had four points (2-2=4) in the game…O’Brien has collected eight points (2-6=8) in his last four games…Goaltender J.F. Berube (23-14-2) stopped 23 shots for his second career shutout of the season.