CLEVELAND— We are less than a month away from Cleveland Monsters hockey. As a season preview, let’s take a look at how Cleveland will match up against their in-division opponents in the North Divison for this year. Over the season, the Monsters will see their in-division opponents 40 times.
Putting together this divisional preview was a little more complex than it would be in most seasons. With Cleveland only playing 26 games during a shortened season due to COVID this past year in a different division, I had to use statistics from the 2019-20 season to fill in the blanks. I calculated power play and penalty kill percentage versus each time and compiled it into a spreadsheet where I sorted it all out.
Cleveland will take on 14 teams this upcoming season. This article contains seven of those teams, and a forthcoming article will have the remainder.
You might notice that throughout the article, when referring to special teams, I might only say “out of 12 spots available”; this is due to the fact that multiple teams may be tied for a certain percentage. I will also highlight any dislikes between two teams, as well as players who may have stood out during matchups.
The Rochester Americans were the only team the Cleveland Monsters played in the North Division during the COVID-19 abbreviated 2020-21 season. The two teams matched up six times, and, overall, Cleveland dominated.
The Monsters went 4-1-0-1 and outscored Rochester 31-20. Cleveland scored their most goals in a single game versus Rochester with nine, with the 31 goals being the most versus any opponent. The interesting thing is even though the Monsters played very well against the Americans, the power play only converted 25% of the time, which is seventh in the standings.
The penalty kill versus Rochester was seventh, killing off 71.4% of all penalties. Monsters defenseman Jake Christiansen was a standout during the meeting, as he had two goals and five assists. Rochester and Cleveland also had quite a dislike for one another, having five fights over six games. Looking ahead to the upcoming season, Cleveland will play Rochester a total of ten times, Cleveland’s most frequent opponent.
The Cleveland Monsters haven’t seen the Syracuse Crunch since the 2019-20 shortened season. During that season, Syracuse dominated Cleveland taking all four games they played against one other, meanwhile doubling up the Monsters in goals with 18 scored.
A big reason for the Crunch’s success was their great penalty kills. Syracuse did not allow Cleveland to score at all while on the power play, successfully killing off all 16 penalties. Oddly enough, Cleveland’s penalty kill was outstanding, killing off 87.5% of all penalties they had acquired, leaving them second best in the standings.
Peter Abbandonato of the Syracuse Crunch was a standout player during the 2019-20 series. Abbandonato posted four goals against Cleveland. Abbabdonato is still around in the league, and if he winds up on an AHL roster, it’ll be the Laval Rocket, another division foe. The Crunch and Monsters will meet eight times this year.
Cleveland and Utica only got to meet three times during the 2019-20 shortened season. In those three meetings, Utica took two of three games while outscoring Cleveland 11-5. That, in part, was due to Utica scoring six goals in the first game when the two teams met that year.
Cleveland’s penalty kill versus Utica was 77% which fell in the dead middle, fifth place out of ten spots in the rankings. However, Cleveland did have a bright spot during the series, the power play, which converted 33% of the time, leaving them at a good standing for third in the rankings.
When it comes to standout players, Utica’s Nikolay Goldobin posted four points in three games with three goals and an assist. Goldobin has been playing in the Kontinental Hockey League for the last two seasons, making it unlikely we’ll see him this year. The Monsters and Comets play eight times this season.
Cleveland and Toronto matched up six times during the 2019-20 shortened season, with Cleveland’s record at 2-1-3. A strong suit for both teams was their offense. Cleveland scored 22 goals over six games, which was the third most goals they scored versus any opponent.
Toronto also showed a strong offense scoring 19 goals which was the third most an opposing team scored against Cleveland. Cleveland’s power play versus Toronto was sixth in the pack converting at a rate of 28%. Cleveland was killing 77% of penalties in the series, which was tied for fifth with Utica. Cleveland will play Toronto the most out of any other Canadian team during the 2021-2022 season, seeing them six times.
Cleveland started strong versus Belleville during the 2019-20 season, picking up a win in the first of four games the two teams would play. Unfortunately for Cleveland, Belleville would take the next three wins. In doing that, the Senators’ offense exploded for 16 goals in three games and would ultimately outscore Cleveland 18-9 during the series.
With scoring 18 goals, Cleveland’s penalty kill would most likely struggle in the series, but that didn’t turn out to be true. The penalty kill was 80.9% successful, which was the fourth-best in the standings. Cleveland’s power play, on the other hand, was not their best, converting 13.61%, leaving them ranked 9th in twelve spots available. Cleveland will only take on the Senators four times this upcoming season.
Cleveland and Laval saw each other eight times during the 2019-20 season. The first two matchups came during the season’s first two games, which saw the Monsters winning both games in Laval. As it would turn out, that would be the only two wins Cleveland would get all year versus Laval as they would wind up going 2-5-0-1.
The Rocket also outscored the Monsters 25-19 over an eight-game stretch. As far as the special teams went, Cleveland had an 80.6 rating on the kill, which was right in the middle of the standings. The power play versus the Rocket struggled, coming in at 15.7%, third to last in the standings.
Alex Belzile was the standout player of the series, having six goals and an assist. It’s tough to tell if the Monsters will see Belzile this year as he should, at minimum compete, for a spot on the Montreal Canadians roster. It’s quite the difference this year as Cleveland will only take on the Rocket four times compared to eight times just two seasons ago.
The Monsters have 40 games against their six North Division foes this year. I would look for Cleveland to have a lot of luck versus Rochester this year after playing so strongly last year. With seeing the Americans ten times, the most of any opponent, I would also expect them to be their biggest rival.
In two weeks, I will break down some of the teams we will see out of the North Division this year, such as the Grand Rapids Griffins, Rockford Icehogs, and the Chicago Wolves, just to name a few.
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