CLEVELAND – Excitement abounded this weekend as the Cleveland Monsters welcomed the Laval Rocket to Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse for a match-up between one of the league’s highest-scoring teams in Cleveland and one of the more defensively challenged teams in Laval. With Cleveland’s annual Teddy Bear Toss on Sunday, Monsters fans were in for quite an exhilarating weekend. Many Monsters fans even made a double-header out of Saturday’s match-up against the Rocket, heading over to First Energy Stadium to watch the Browns take on the Ravens immediately following Cleveland’s 7-4 win against Laval. Good on Monsters fans, for checking out the team’s digs for the Cleveland Monsters Outdoor Classic on March 4, 2023.
The Week That Was
If you were looking for high-scoring hockey games, you absolutely went to the right place if you were able to take in the weekend action between the Rocket and the Monsters. Laval (2) and Cleveland (8) are both in the top ten in offense produced this season, respectively, and are in the bottom five in defensive efficiency this season, where Cleveland ranks 28th in goals allowed and Laval a staggering 32nd. Couple that with the fact that both Daniil Tarasov (call-up) and Cayden Primeau (injury) were unavailable for their teams; you knew there would be goals that abound.
Saturday, December 17 – LAV 4, CLE 7
The scoreboard tells a slightly different story at the end of this one than was displayed on the ice, as it was indeed a tale of two games. Things looked bleak in the first period for the Monsters after Jesse Ylönen scored his seventh of the season to give the Rocket a quick 1-0 lead 3:34 into the game. The Monster’s power play saved them on numerous occasions on Saturday, the first example being an Emil Bemstrom goal less than a minute after the Rocket took the lead, quickly tying this one at 1-1. The Rocket continued to test Jet Greaves, registering 12 shots in the first. Pierrick Dubé and Justin Barron each netted a goal to give the Rocket a 3-1 lead heading into the second period. Barron’s goal came with 0:55 remaining in the period – a critical momentum swing. The Monsters needed to respond quickly in the second, and respond quickly they did.
Brandon Davidson picked a great time to score his first goal of the season, only 0:16 into the second. Bemstorm wasted no time bringing this game back to even, scoring off of an absolute rocket of a one-timer, netting his second power-play goal of the evening.
Cleveland’s difficulties on the penalty kill were exposed by Mitchell Stephens on the Rocket’s second opportunity with the man advantage, stemming from a Josh Dunne cross-checking penalty. Anthony Richard took a high-sticking penalty at the 19:51 mark of the third period, giving Cleveland all the opportunity they needed to tie the game at the start of the third. Trey Fix-Wolansky‘s 12th goal of the season and his fifth power-play goal tied the game only 1:34 into the period, and from there, the Monsters didn’t look back. Brett Gallant and Dunne each scored in the third to give the Monsters a commanding 6-4 lead before Joona Luoto scored an empty-net goal, his sixth goal of the season, capping this one off at 7-4, Cleveland. Round one to the Monsters. David Jiricek, Bemstrom, and Fix-Wolansky accounted for three points on the evening.
Saturday, December 18 – LAV 4, CLE 1
While the Monsters were obviously hoping to pick up two wins on the weekend, the biggest question heading into Sunday’s match-up against the Rocket was, “who is going to summon the teddy bears to the ice?” Well, Monsters fans had to wait until the waning minutes of the first period, when Luoto scored his second goal on the weekend, making it rain teddy bears.
Unfortunately for the Monsters, that was the only time they found the back of the net. Laval was finally able to stifle the Monsters’ power play, holding them to no goals on three opportunities. At the same time, the Rocket only capitalized on one chance out of five. This game was far from a gentleman’s game. In the second period alone, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Roman Ahcan both sat for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, Alex Belzile and Dunne dropped the gloves, and Olivier Galipeau and Tyler Angle both sat for roughing at the 20:00 minute mark. Fix-Wolansky also got called for roughing in the third.
Joël Teasdale, Lucas Condotta, and Nicolas Beaudin scored for Rocket, leading them to a 4-1 victory. This game was the first game since October 28 that the Rocket had allowed less than two goals. The Rocket may have won the battle, but I think it’s fair to say that the true winner of this one was the beneficiaries of Cleveland’s Teddy Bear Toss.
The Week to Come
This week is a busy one for the Monsters, as they welcome Utica to town for a two-game series on Tuesday and Thursday that could ultimately lead to the Comets overtaking the Monsters in the standings if they’re not careful. A slow start by Utica has since picked up as they have secured points in seven of their last ten. Utica comes to town allowing the least goals in the North; however, they’ve also scored the least in the North. Cleveland, on the other hand, faces the opposite problem. Cleveland’s major key to victory will be the play of their special teams, as Utica struggles to keep opposing teams off the board with the man advantage. The Monsters will undoubtedly smell blood in the water every chance they get a man up.
Barring blizzard-like conditions affecting travel, the Monsters will head to Grand Rapids to take on the Griffins on Friday, with their sights set on two points. Not to kick Grand Rapids while they’re down, but it certainly hasn’t been the season anyone in Grand Rapids anticipated. Injuries for the Red Wings meant players like Jonatan Berggren were brought up never to be seen again; the goaltending has been tough, and defense? Well, let’s not get into that.
What will be most interesting for the Monsters is how they manage the workload of their goaltenders and forwards, both of which are starting to feel the pressure that the blue line has felt all season with Columbus call-ups. Olivier LeBlanc could also return to the lineup after spending time in Kalamazoo with the Wings of the ECHL.
The Tales of I-71
The Monsters and Blue Jackets have traveled plenty of miles this season on Interstate 71, the freeway connecting Columbus and Cleveland. Dunne became the recent Monster to take the trip down south after the Blue Jackets announced that captain Boone Jenner was slated to be out for four weeks with a broken thumb. Cole Sillinger also did not participate in Monday’s morning skate, which may have prompted the Blue Jackets to sign Justin Richards to a one-year, tw0-way deal for the remainder of the 2022-2023 season.
To follow up on last week’s Monster Mash, where I criticized the Blue Jackets for calling Tarasov up if they didn’t have intentions to give him at least one start – I was severely mistaken. Tarasov is set to start his third straight game for the Blue Jackets, where he posted a 2-5-1 record in nine games, recording a 3.27 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage. While those numbers may be below league average, Tarasov has been the Blue Jackets’ best goaltender this season, both statistically and through the eye test. Of course, Tarasov will likely come back down to the American Hockey League once Joonas Korpisalo is healthy; however, nothing is certain, as the alleged third-string goaltender is beating out the once-presumed starter, Elvis Merzlikins, in Columbus. Greaves and Pavel Čajan have been serviceable in net, but one can’t help but pose the question – how long will they have to be?
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