CHARLOTTE, NC – With each club only securing one win in their previous four games and two NHL-caliber netminders in goal, Saturday’s matchup between the Cleveland Monsters and Charlotte Checkers had all the makings of a hard-fought redemption story.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, this game ended with an embarrassing new franchise-tying mark for most goals given up in a game. The Monsters lost by a wide margin, 9-0, to the hosting Checkers.
North Carolina Night
On a night when the Checkers put everything that makes their home state great on display, it seems serendipitous that the Checkers would set a new mark for most goals in a period this season and almost set a new franchise record for most goals in a single period.
A huge defensive miscommunication just two minutes into the game between Monsters goaltender Daniil Tarasov and defensemen Marcus Bjork and Brenden Miller led to a simple chip-in tally for Anton Levtchi.
It was just the start of a jumpy and disconnected start overall for both teams. Charlotte obviously got it together as the afternoon went on, but Cleveland struggled to form chemistry and cohesive play. They have seen more than their fair share of roster shakeups in the last few weeks. While it is great news that bodies are coming back (both Justin Richards and PTO-signee Luka Burzan), it is yet another adjustment that Cleveland has to contend with.
As the minutes ticked by, there was some hope that Tarasov was starting to settle into his first AHL game since December 10th.
Spencer Knight, on a conditioning stint from the Florida Panthers, impressed early, especially with the glove, fighting off the limited chances sent his way by the Monsters.
Also making the North Carolina Night crowd proud were Charlotte’s veterans Zac Dalpe and Riley Nash, especially on the penalty kill. They were super aggressive, especially against Cleveland’s top power play unit. The Monsters’ power play had a few good rushes through the neutral zone which led to a few high-danger shots on net. Once they generated some momentum, Dalpe forced a turnover on his former team, completely ruining the Monsters’ best scoring chance.
Charlotte almost doubled Cleveland’s shot attempts in the first, leading that count 17-9.
An (Almost) Historic Second
The second period for the Checkers had all the makings of a Hollywood-esque script. Significant contributions from well-loved veterans, young players tallying up a multi-point night, and a conditioning goaltender backstopping his team with confidence. If you were a Checkers fan on Saturday, life was good and the second period was worth far more than the price of admission. I just hope your popcorn was hot, fresh, and filled with exactly the amount of butter and salt you prefer.
For the Monsters, this game was a psychological horror script for the ages. No one could blame them if they decided to sleep with a nightlight Saturday night.
In total, Charlotte put up seven goals in the second period. That gives this Cleveland squad, one that was once so offensively deadly and second in the North Division, the distinct dishonor of a franchise record for most goals allowed in a single period. By the end of the game, they also are going down in franchise history for tying the most goals allowed in a game, with nine.
Again. Nightlights are fine here, Monsters fans. I don’t blame you.
Perhaps the scariest part of all of this for Cleveland was that Charlotte made their absolute pounding of Cleveland so easy! Not to discount Charlotte at all, but Cleveland didn’t appear to put up much of a fight.
Unfortunately, that move was unsuccessful, with the Checkers putting up four more in the period.
Standing out in this period were Nash (two goals and one assist), Gerry Mayhew (two goals), Connor Bunnaman (one goal and two assists), and Aleksi Heponiemi (3 assists). If I were to go through each goal here, we’d be here until Sunday’s puck drop. Instead, here is a quick rundown of the second-period goals:
|Time of Goal||Goal Scorer||Primary Assist||Secondary Assist|
|16:31||Anthony Bitetto||Heponiemi||Dennis Cesana|
But all things, both good and bad, must come to an end, and eventually, this period also wound down with Charlotte putting up 17 shots on net for the second to Cleveland’s five.
Glimmers of Hope
Though, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Monsters. Despite an absolute shellacking in the second period, Cleveland showed some heart and flashes of the team they once were.
For fans, and I’m sure the coaching staff as well, the question is, “Where was this effort all game?” Of course, when you are in the third period looking at an 8-0 deficit, pride is on the line. But why didn’t this effort show up when trailing by two? Maybe five? This was an eight-goal deficit. Kudos to that group for picking themselves up and truly showing some glimmers of hope.
Charlotte eased up a little in the third, though Cleveland did clamp down offensively, only allowing a single Checkers goal 33 seconds in the third. Carlsson had a perfect feed from the face off, danced parallel to Greaves, and snapped the puck past him.
Essentially, that was the story of the third. Cleveland started forming some good habits and prevented Charlotte from putting up a 10-spot on them. In total, Charlotte wracked up 42 shots on net to Cleveland’s 23.
Where Do The Monsters Go From Here?
Cleveland has been in a rockslide in the standings over the last few weeks. Maybe this is the rock bottom that this team needs to start going back in the right direction. In my mind, this isn’t a “burn the tapes and move on” type of loss. There are many valuable lessons to be learned from this (lack of) effort. What is to be seen is how this relatively young Monsters coaching staff and squad embraces the loss.
Either way, coming out of this game feels like a potential multi-alarm fire. What first started as a small smolder back in December has now fully engulfed the Cleveland Monsters. The question is, what, if anything, will the Monsters and their NHL parent club Columbus Blue Jackets, do to put it out?
Cleveland and Charlotte face off again Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time at Bojangles Coliseum.
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