Nope, no need to adjust your monitors. You can also put down the phone and refrain from calling your local anti-zombie task force. I have indeed risen from the metaphorical grave after a long period of silence, but am very much alive and well. Where have I been? Read on, my friends.
My absence isn’t that I no longer attend Monarchs games. It isn’t that I’ve grown to love the Monarchs any less. It’s not that I don’t have any tidbits to share from the jungle. It’s certainly not that there haven’t been any nail-biting moments to wax poetic about.
I think the better people to ask about there whereabouts are the guys on the team roster.
After a slow start in October, the Monarchs racked up quite the record over the months of November and December, 8-2-0-1 and 7-3-0-1 respectively, which put them on the fast track to the top of their division. A rag-tag group of newbies and veterans finally seemed to have found their groove. Goal-tending was solid, defense was keeping the crease clear of shenanigans, and the snipers were firing on all cylinders. Since the clock struck 12:01 am on January 1st, oddly, that team has been missing.
In January, the guys have somehow given up a handful of games against teams that, on-paper, can’t even hold a candle to their talent. What’s wrong with the Monarchs? If I knew the answer to that question, I would feel obligated to share that with coach Morris so he can fix it. I am a fair-weather fan by no stretch of the imagination, but it is damn frustrating as a season ticket holder watching them tumble.
This past weekend, a very scary moment took place in a back-and-forth affair with division rival the Portland Pirates. In an unnecessary and reckless act, Pirates captain Dean Arsene drilled a streaking Robbie Czarnik just south of the blue line; spinning in the air, he was out cold before he hit the ice, his helmet popped off, and the arena fell silent. For what seemed like an eternity, the medics were out on the ice tending to the unconscious Monarchs winger. The stretcher came out and they carefully carted him off the ice as the crowd all stood and clapped.
When the same thing happened to Boston Bruins phenom Nathan Horton, the Bruins turned around what looked like an un-winnable series. It galvanized their resolve. For one hot minute, I thought maybe it would have the same effect on the struggling Monarchs.
Rather than turning it around though, they only fell farther behind and eventually lost the game (including a stinging empty-net goal). It was almost as though his condition was symbolic of their desire to win.
I’m hoping that this weekend the guys will be able to pull out a win in any of the three very tough games ahead – one against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and two against the Hershey Bears – but only time will tell. While they have record of 1-1-0 this season against the Penguins, this weekend’s back-to-back will be their first meeting with the 2011-2012 Bears.
But you know, not everything is all doom and gloom in the jungle. Although the team has had a hard time pulling together as a unit, there have been strong individual efforts. If you haven’t heard, Monarchs net-minder Jeff Zatkoff was named the Reebok/AHL goaltender of the month for the month of December. With the season in full-swing, Zats has been making big saves look easy. It’s this amazing effort that also got him nominated for the AHL All-Star team for the first time.
He will be joined in Atlantic City for the AHL All-Star festivities by feisty D-man Thomas Hickey who – at the time of his nomination – was leading the Monarchs with a plus-11 rating.
The new players who were signed in the absence of Loktionov and Voynov (still on-loan to your Kings), J.D. Watt and Chris Cloud, have both been making positive contributions. Watt has recorded 1 goal, 1 assist and 13 penalty minutes in 11 games, and Cloud has been stepping up as an unlikely enforcer, recording 19 penalty minutes in 8 games. The Monarchs’ game has always been underlined by gritty play and intimidation. To that end, these two are fitting right in.
So what lies ahead for the Monarchs? One of my fellow season ticket holders said something to me after the team’s loss on Sunday against the Pirates that reminded me of a fact I had forgotten. The last time the Monarchs lost 5 or 6 straight games, they went on to win 8 or 9 straight.
Is a rebound streak like that on the horizon?
I sure as heck hope so!