CLEVELAND— Well, Monsters fans, the offseason is almost over.
The Monsters are now less than a week away from opening weekend versus the Syracuse Crunch, which will take place Oct. 15 at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, OH. In the last article, we broke down the Monsters’ in-division opponents. Now, let’s take a look at the out-of-division opponents the Cleveland Monsters will face during the 2021-22 American Hockey League season. Cleveland will face out of division opponents 36 times this year.
Putting together this preview was a little more complex than it would be in most seasons. With Cleveland only playing 29 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. Using these statistics, I calculated power play and penalty kill percentage versus each time. Then, I compiled it into a spreadsheet, where I sorted it all out.
Cleveland will take on 14 teams this upcoming season. This article contains the eight out of division teams they will play this year.
Throughout the article, you might notice that when referring to special teams, I might only say “out of 12 spots available”; this is because 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.
Grand Rapids Griffins
It is no secret that the Cleveland Monsters and the Grand Rapid Griffins have had a bitter rivalry over the years. The COVID-19 pandemic shortened season was no different. The two teams played ten times, which saw the Monsters grab only three victories.
There were seven fights throughout the ten-game season series, more than other opponents between the two seasons being compared. Also, to note, the Monsters had the most penalty minutes versus the Griffins coming in at 201 minutes more than any other opponent.
This raises the question of how many penalty minutes did the Griffins have? Significantly less, as they come in with 141 minutes.
A bright spot in a rather dim series for Cleveland was the powerplay, which converted at a 34% rate: this being the second-best power play in the standings. Cleveland’s penalty kill was not awful either, killing 76% of penalties, which was in the middle of the pack as far as the penalty kill goes.
A player to watch in this match-up will be the Griffin’s Riley Barber, who had six goals and three assists versus Cleveland. Despite going back to the North Division, Cleveland will still see Grand Rapids eight times, which is more than any other out-of-division opponent.
Cleveland and Rockford faced each other three times this past season. Unfortunately, it seemed like every time the two teams were supposed to play, there was a COVID protocol issue impacting the game. Actually, pandemic protocols postponed the Monsters and Icehogs three times, including the first two games of the year for the Monsters. These were supposed to take place on February 5-6 in Rockford.
Overall, Cleveland controlled the series, going 2-1 and outscoring Rockford 15-9. The Monsters’ powerplay flourished when playing Rockford, converting at 45.4%. While on the kill, Cleveland never let Rockford score, stopping them all seven times they had a powerplay.
Trey Fix-Wolansky had three goals and an assist in the three matchups against the Icehogs. Unfortunately, Fix-Wolansky is currently injured and is expected to start the year on Injured Reserve. As of now, there is no time frame for his return.
Cleveland and Rockford will play four times this upcoming year.
Lehigh Valley Phantoms
The Phantoms are one of the teams in which we just do not have a lot of data to look back on. The Monsters played them once during the 2019-20 COVID shortened season, which saw the Monsters lose 2-0.
With such a small sample size, it makes it harder to look at special teams. Cleveland’s powerplay was only given three chances in the game against the Phantoms, and they were unable to convert. On the kill, the Monsters killed off both penalties they took without issue.
Of things to note, Jean- Francois Berube was the goaltender for the Phantoms. Now, he is in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization. Cleveland and Lehigh Valley will meet four times this year: two at home and two on the road.
The Bears and Monsters only had one game during the 2019-20 season, which saw a Hershey Bears victory 4-2 over Cleveland. On the power play side of things, Cleveland was 0-for-3. The penalty kill allowed two goals in six opportunities, which is 66%. That would be second worst as far as the Monsters kill goes versus an opponent. However, with such a small sample size, it’s hard to get a good understanding.
There was a fight in the game: Brett Gallant versus Hersey’s tough guy Kale Kessy. It was an old-time fight with both players throwing haymakers and ended with Gallant taking Kessy down to the ice. These two teams play four times this upcoming season.
The Cleveland Monsters and Milwaukee Admirals played three times during the 2019-20 season. Cleveland had a good amount of play in the series-winning two of the three games that the two teams played. The two wins the Monsters picked up were huge morale boosters as Cleveland was dead last in the North Division and Milwaukee was first in the Central.
Despite only grabbing one win, Milwaukee’s special teams picked Cleveland’s to shreds. Cleveland let Milwaukee score 37% of the time on the powerplay, the highest of any opponent. The powerplay wasn’t much better, converting at a measly 11.77% of the time, third-worst in the rankings. Cleveland and Milwaukee will face off four games this upcoming season.
Cleveland and Charlotte played eight games during the 2019-20 season. Cleveland actually finished that season in Charlotte, losing their final two games versus the Checkers before COVID shut the whole sports world down. The Monsters started off strong against the Checkers to start the 2019-20 season but finished with a losing record of 3-4-0-1, due in part to Charlotte winning the last four games.
Cleveland’s powerplay was dismal during the series converting at less than one percent of the time. On the opposite end, the penalty kill played well, killing 81% of the penalties, which was the third-best in the rankings. These two teams match up only four times this season.
The 2020-21 season saw the Cleveland Monsters and the Chicago Wolves match up four times. Cleveland dominated the series, taking all four games from the Wolves. This was quite impressive as the Wolves were the best team in the Central by ten points. However, the Wolves played 33 games compared to the Monsters 29, so if the two teams had both played 33 games, the division had a chance to be a whole lot tighter.
One big reason for the Monsters’ success was their strength on both ends of the special team’s battle. The penalty kill did not allow Chicago to score on the powerplay in the 11 opportunities they had. Cleveland’s powerplay also played very well, converting at a 30.1% rate which was fifth in the standings. The Wolves and Monsters will play four times this upcoming season.
Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton Penguins
To round out this preview, we have the Wiles-Barre/Scranton Penguins. This, again, is a series we have very little to look back on: only two games. The two teams split the series, each taking a victory.
In their victory, the Monsters did shut out the Penguins. But, rightfully so, the late Matiss Kivlenieks earned the first star of that game while stopping all 23 pucks he faced.
Cleveland did well in the penalty kill department, killing off all the penalties they took. On the powerplay side of things, Cleveland converted at 18%, which was eighth in the ratings. Looking ahead to this season, the two teams meet four times.
Cleveland Monsters: Out-of-Division Opponents Preview
Well, Monster fans, that is it for our look ahead at the Monsters’ opponents for the upcoming season. Will the Monsters play better inside or outside of their division? Who will they post the best/worst record against?
Time will tell.
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