For two periods, last night’s game between the visiting Bridgeport Sound Tigers and the Manchester Monarchs came down to an impressive goaltender duel between Anders Nilsson and Martin Jones. But in the third, the Sound Tigers scored three of the period’s four goals to give Nilsson a 5-2 victory in his first start of the season.
Nino Niederreiter and Brock Nelson scored a goal apiece for the third straight game (Nelson has now scored in four straight) and Nilsson turned aside 32 shots, many of them quality scoring opportunities.
Bridgeport seemed to enter the game with a simple game plan: shoot from everywhere and crash the net for rebounds. They put 44 shots on net overall, 21 of which came in the first period. Nearly every time Jones covered the puck in the opening frame, no less than three Sound Tigers would be hovering over him, looking for loose change. It was this strategy that led to the lone goal in the period. Travis Hamonic put a harmless-looking shot toward the net, but it hit some traffic in front and bounced right onto Casey Cizikas’ stick. Cizikas did not miss the wide open net in front of him, and his fourth goal of the year put the Sound tigers up 1-0.
The Monarchs managed just seven shots in the first period, but just about all of them were high-quality chances after cross-zone passes. Still, even though Manchester took some good shots, the Sound Tigers controlled the first period for the most part. They were hitting well, and getting a ton of traffic in front -- the little things you would expect from a team whose top-three point getters play a north-south style and rely more on strength and grit than finesse.
The second period was a different story. The Monarchs matched the Sound Tigers’ intensity, and began to control extended portions of the game, particularly from the blue line, where much of the team’s considerable talent seems to lie, at least from what I saw in this one game. Manchester finished the period with a 16-9 advantage in shots, and I’d wager that they won the zone-time battle as well, but the goaltender battle would continue. Nilsson made a great pad stop on a Manchester breakaway, and Jones matched him with a flashy glove save on a Johan Sundstrom shot that appeared labeled for the top corner.
Finally, at 18:19 of the frame, Manchester would solve Nilsson. After sustained pressure in Bridgeport’s zone, Andrei Loktionov worked the puck low-to-high to defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk, who skated in toward the slot before putting a sneaky shot through a lot of traffic past Nilsson.
The Sound Tigers would answer back just 22 seconds later. Cizikas forechecked hard, plastering Nick Deslauriers against the boards behind the net and taking the puck away. The hit was a small measure of retribution, as Deslauriers had been -- and continued to be -- a major thorn in Bridgeport’s side. Cizikas then made a backhand pass to Brandon DeFazio, who was breaking toward the net, and DeFazio beat Jones to give Bridgeport a 2-1 lead heading into the third.
But just 39 seconds into the final period, the Monarchs would once again tie the game. The defense pairing of Jon Landry and Aaron Ness had trouble clearing the zone, and the team began scrambling. Two defenders went behind the net to chase Manchester’s Tyler Toffoli, and Toffoli fed the puck in front to a wide open Linden Vey, who beat Nilsson.
Once again, it did not take long for the Sound Tigers to answer. At 4:00, with good pressure down low by Niederreiter and Nelson, Hamonic found himself open up high, and he put a shot through a screen past Jones to give Bridgeport the lead for good. If there was one goal all night that either goaltender might like back, it is probably that one.
Manchester seized the momentum after the goal, pinning the Sound Tigers in their own zone and eventually drawing a tripping penalty against Hamonic at 11:32. But Nelson managed to pick off a pass in center ice while killing the penalty, and he broke in alone against Jones. Nelson pulled the puck to his backhand and tucked it under the Manchester goaltender for his sixth goal of the year, giving Bridgeport a two-goal lead.
Not to be outdone, Niederreiter would add a power play goal at the 17:00 mark, using a quick stick in front to put the puck by Jones for his seventh goal and 12th point of the year.
After missing the first nine games with an illness, one might have expected Nilsson to show a little rust. That was not the case. His positioning was top-notch, and even more surprisingly to me, he was quick moving side-to-side. The most noticeable difference right off the bat between Nilsson and Poulin is Nilsson’s size. That, combined with his positioning, gives shooters very little net to look at. And because of that positioning, he was able to absorb most shots into his midsection, yielding few rebounds for the Monarchs to jump on. Because the AHL Live feed provides radio broadcasts for commentary, but does not jump to commercial when the radio broadcast does, you are able to hear the off-air chatter between the commentators while they go to commercial. The Manchester commentators spoke a lot about the Nilsson’s and Jones’ impressive duel.
NIEDERREITER AND NELSON
They hit, they scored, they tallied an assist each, and when they’re out there together, as they have been for the last two games, they’re a handful for the opposition. Manchester, from what I saw, boasted a solid defense, but Niederreiter and Nelson gave them all they could handle on nearly every shift.
Coach Scott Pellerin returned to Manchester, where he spent the last six years as an assistant.
Brett Gallant scored an easy win over Richard Clune in the first. Gallant, as he typically does, unloaded with rights and lefts, forcing Clune to duck away multiple times before Gallant scored the takedown.
With a little over a minute left in the game, Bridgeport’s Matt Watkins dropped the gloves with Andy Andreoff and, well, things didn’t go Watkins’ way. As decisively as Gallant won the first-period fight, Watkins lost the third-period one. But overall, Watkins had a strong game, developing a nice rivalry throughout the contest with Deslauriers, who, as I alluded to before, had perhaps the strongest game of all the Monarchs players.
BY THE NUMBERS
Shots: Bridgeport -- 44, Manchester -- 34
Power Play: Bridgeport -- 1/3, Manchester -- 0/3
Cizikas: 1g, 1a, even
Hamonic: 1g, 1a, +2
Nelson: 1g, 1a, +2
Niederreiter: 1g, 1a, even
DeFazio: 1g, even
Donovan: 1a, -1
McDonald: 1a, +1
Ness: 1a, +1
Sundstrom: 1a, +1
Niederreiter: 10gp, 7g, 5a, 12 pts
Nelson: 10gp, 6g, 5a, 11 pts
Cizikas: 10gp, 4g, 4a, 8 pts
DeFazio: 10gp, 5g, 1a, 6 pts
McDonald: 10gp, 2g, 4a, 6pts
Donovan and Ness also have 6 pts.
Bridgeport is home against the Connecticut Whale tomorrow, Sunday Nov. 11, at 3:00 p.m.