October 29, 2012

AHL Journal: Monarchs, Falcons getting superb goaltending

By Jesse Connolly

The old saying goes that defense wins championship. Judging by the performances the Springfield Falcons and Manchester Monarchs have been getting from the position often referred to as the last line of defense, it should come as no surprise that the two New England-based clubs have emerged as frontrunners in the AHL’s Eastern Conference.

Curtis McElhinney earned his second shutout of the season in Springfield's 3-0 win in Providence Friday. (Getty Images)

Manchester has roared out of the gate, starting the 2012-13 campaign with a 5-1-0-0 record that has placed them atop the Atlantic Division. Goaltender Martin Jones has played a huge role in their red-hot start.

An undrafted 22-year-old who shined in the WHL with the Calgary Hitmen, Jones earned the No. 1 role for the Monarchs down the stretch last season and has got the nod in every game so far this year. The North Vancouver, British Columbia native has yielded a grand total of 11 goals in six contests.

Among goaltenders that have made two or more starts this season, Jones ranks seventh in the league with a 1.84 goals-against average, which is accompanied by an impressive .926 save percentage. The 6-foot-4 netminder turned in his best performance of the season on Sunday at home against the visiting Binghamton Senators, stopping all 29 shots he faced in a 4-0, shutout victory.

With those 11 goals against, Jones and the Monarchs have allowed the least tallies in the American Hockey League. Ranking right behind them are the Falcons, who own the best goals-against average (1.71) in the AHL.

Curtis McElhinney has started six of Springfield’s seven games so far this season and, like Jones, owns a 5-1-0 record on the year. The well-traveled, 29-year-old veteran has been phenomenal in his first year with the organization.

McElhinney owns a 1.51 goals-against average, good for fifth among league netminders with multiple starts under their belt. He’s managed to stop 94.9 percent of the shots he’s faced and has already notched two shutouts in the early going.

Like Jones, McElhinney turned in his best performance of the campaign over the weekend. At the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Friday night, he thwarted all 33 shots the P-Bruins fired his way, as the Falcons blanked Providence by a score of 3-0.

Through the first three weekends of the season, Springfield now sits in first place in the Northeast Division and atop the Eastern Conference with 11 points – one ahead of Manchester.

The two teams won’t meet until Nov. 24, with the Falcons serving as the host squad. If the opening month of the season is any indication, these two squads will likely be jostling for the top spot in the East in what promises to be a low-scoring affairs.

News and Notes

Sebastian Stalberg has six points through seven games for Worcester. (Photo: Worcester Sharks)

Sebastian Stalberg had three points in three games over the weekend to help Worcester earn their first two wins of the season. The former UVM standout leads the Sharks with four goals.

- Providence dropped each of their last two contests after climbing back to .500 the previous weekend, losing 3-0 to Springfield and 6-3 to the Whale. P-Bruins defenseman Torey Krug was minus-3 and is now a team-worst minus-6 on the season.

- The Whale went 2-0 over the weekend, beating the Bears 3-1 on Friday before thumping the P-Bruins with goals from six different players on Saturday. Kris Newbury had three points in the victory over Providence.

- The Sound Tigers rebounded from a 5-1 loss at Worcester on Friday with a 3-2, shootout victory over Springfield Saturday. David Ullstrom had the game-winning strike in the seventh round. Colin McDonald (New Haven, Conn.) shined the following night with a goal and an assist, but the Sound Tigers once again wound up on the losing end against the Sharks, this time by a score of 5-2.  Kenny Reiter made 41 stops in his fist start of the season for Bridgeport.

Alexandre Bolduc moved up to second in the league in scoring and now has 11 points through seven contests for the Pirates. Portland went 1-1 over the weekend.

- Since scoring on opening night, Hershey’s Barry Almeida (Springfield, Mass.) has gone six games without a tally.

Player of the Week

After missing the Whale’s first four games of the season due to injury, Ryan Bourque (pictured right) had a strong weekend and was key in Connecticut’s back-to-back victories.

The Boxford, Mass., native sealed the deal with an empty-netter in a 3-1 win over the Bears and found the back of the net the following night a 6-3 romp over his brother, Chris Bourque, and Providence.

The second-year pro now has two goals through three games. He scored just six times in 69 games for Connecticut last season as a rookie.

The Week Ahead

Here’s how the schedule looks for the Seaside Seven:

Friday, Nov. 2

Connecticut Whale @ Albany Devils (7:00)

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins @ Manchester Monarchs (7:00)

Hershey Bears @ Springfield Falcons (7:00)

Worcester Sharks at Providence Bruins (7:05)

Saturday, Nov. 3

Hershey Bears @ Bridgeport Sound Tigers (7:00)

St. John’s IceCaps @ Worcester Sharks (7:00)

Sunday, Nov. 4

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins @ Bridgeport Sound Tigers (3:00)

Manchester Monarchs @ Worcester Sharks (3:00)

St. John’s IceCaps @ Providence Bruins (3:05)

Springfield Falcons @ Connecticut Whale (7:00)

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ.