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State of the Monsters Address : The Season Begins

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A weekly dive into how each Cleveland Monsters’ player is producing during the 2019-20 season.

Cleveland Monsters v Laval Rocket Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Towards the end of the 2018-19 season, “State of the Monsters Address” was launched as a way to give fans a more inside look at how players on the Cleveland Monsters are performing. Putting everything about a player into one game recap makes reading a bit tedious at times. We have found doing one article about how each individual player is performing provides fans from out of down a deeper look at what is in the system for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Since this is the beginning of the season, I’m not going to belabor the skills of the Monsters too much. Once we get past the first 10 games, you’ll see a deeper dive into how each person is playing. Plus, I had to watch these first two games on AHLTV. Some things get lost in translation while watching on television. Especially when it comes to special teams because not everyone will be on camera at the same time.

The lines stayed basically the same this weekend. So, this week’s “State of the Monsters Address” will be broken down by lines.

So, let’s get this party started!

The Cleveland Monsters started the 2019-20 season off with a weekend sweep of the Laval Rocket, 3-2 and 4-1. Fans were greeted with new lines, new energy, and a new goalie tandem. Fans have a lot to be excited about leading into the home opener on October 11th.

First Line

Nathan Gerbe - Kevin Stenlund - Markus Hannikainen

Nathan Gerbe spent much of Friday’s game flying under the radar and sneakily setting up plays for linemates, Kevin Stenlund and Markus Hannikainen. Saturday was a different story as Gerbe played a physically louder game. He broke up multiple plays by applying pressure on the Rocket until they coughed up the puck. When the Rocket began to turn up the aggression, Gerbe found different ways to draw penalties.

One of my biggest complaints about Kevin Stenlund last year was his lack of fire power. So, it was a nice surprise to see Stenlund spend the weekend constantly firing pucks at the net. His faceoff skills have become exponentially better as well. I did not see him hesitate once on the faceoff. In years past, this was not the case.

The highlight of Stenlund’s weekend was setting up Zac Dalpe’s first goal of Satuday’s game right off of the faceoff.

Markus Hannikainen is a smart playmaker who knows where to sit on the ice, the proper time to fire off a shot, and when to rush the net.

Second Line

Marko Dano - Zac Dalpe - Trey Fix-Wolansky

Marko Dano had a few rookie mistakes early on in Friday’s game. Also, he allowed the Rocket to rough him up a bit. By the time Saturday rolled around, Dano was over the Rocket’s shenanigans. He started pushing back with physicality and skill.

Zac Dalpe did Zac Dalpe things all weekend. The hunger for goals propelled him to a two goal game on Saturday.

Trey Fix-Wolansky is fast and unafraid to rush the net. He scored the game winning goal on Friday due to this fact.

Third Line

Eric Robinson - Justin Scott - Kole Sherwood

Eric Robinson started the weekend out quietly. There were moments on Friday where I forgot he was in the lineup. He made a lot of noise on Saturday scoring the first goal of the game and leveled some heavy hits to force turnovers.

Justin Scott looks to be coming into his own. His willingness to rush the net and make quick, smart plays led to him assisting two goals this weekend. Also, Scott did extremely well along the boards. Almost every time there was a battle along the boards Scott managed to leave with the puck.

Despite Kole Sherwood’s best efforts, he kept getting denied goals. The Rocket read him quite well this weekend. However, there were times when he and Scott put the fear of the Lord into both Charlie Lindgren and Cayden Primeau. They would rush the net at the same time but from different angles. Could you imagine what it would be like to have those two big guys barreling down the ice at you? Scary, right?

Fourth Line

Calvin Thurkauf - Ryan MacInnis - Paul Bittner/Derek Barach

Simply put, Calvin Thurkauf had a solid weekend. On Friday, his great positioning led to the Monsters’ first goal of the season and his aggressiveness on the faceoff led to shaping many key plays. Thurkauf also spent the weekend laying crisp, clean, and hard body checks on the Rocket.

I spent a lot of time last season and this summer ripping on Ryan MacInnins. So, you’ll be shocked to hear I have only nice things to say about him. MacInnis impressed me this weekend with his smart plays and rough hits. He applied so much pressure to the Rocket that you could see frustration written all over their faces. One of the things I liked the most was the way MacInnis sat slightly back from the action in the defensive zone. This allowed him to make a quick breakaway towards the net.

Friday was the only time this weekend Paul Bittner drew into the lineup. His aggressive play along the boards allowed the fourth line to get in and grab pucks off the wall.

Derek Barach had a quiet first game of the season on Saturday. However, he laid a few big hits during the final few minutes of play.

First Pair

Carlsson - Clendening

Gabriel Carlsson did a great job of grabbing pucks out of the air and putting himself in the right place at the right time. One of my favorite moments of the weekend was the way he rolled around the ice to break up a play.

Adam Clendening was inconsistent this weekend. He was either doing something good or he was doing something bad. For instance, Clendening set up one of Dalpe’s goals. Then, the very next period, he turned the puck over allowing Alex Belzile to score.

Second Pair

Dillon Simpson - Andrew Peeke

The word “regal” was the only note I had on Dillon Simpson this weekend. Describing a hockey player that way seems silly, right? Go with me here for a moment. Simpson played an incredibly dignified game fit for an alternate captain. Despite the Rocket’s best effort, Simpson never let them get under his skin. He built up his teammates when they failed and celebrated them when they succeeded.

Andrew Peeke does not like it when you get near his goalie. He had no problem manhandling and dropping opponents when they had the puck anywhere near the crease. The highlight of Peeke’s weekend was setting up Thurkauf’s goal on Friday. He could have easily shot the puck himself. However, Peeke knew scoring at that angle would be highly unlikely. So, he passed the puck off to Thurkauf who was wide open at the top of the crease.

Third Pair

Doyle Somerby - Ryan Collins

Due to Doyle Somerby’s good positioning, he was able poke check like a fiend and make meaningful blocks.

Ryan Collins spent the weekend sacrificing his body to break up plays and prevent goals.

Goaltenders

Matiss Kivlenieks/Veini Vehvilainen

The Monsters are lucky to have a goalie tandem as solid as Matiss Kivlenieks and Veini Vehvilainen. Both played with confidence this weekend.

Kivlenieks was scored on in the first 23 seconds of Friday’s game. He did not let those first 23 seconds define the rest of the game. Kivlenieks shook off the goal and continued to make incredibly saves all night long.

Vehvilainen didn’t bat an eye when the Rocket rushed the net. They tried their hardest to frazzle him. Yet, Vehvilainen stood tall for the duration of Saturday’s game. Watching him get peppered with shots and make saves without breaking a sweat was incredible.

Special Teams

Power Play

The first power play unit this weekend consisted of Dalpe, Stenlund, Gerbe, Hannikainen, and Clendening. They were able to ditch the “pass-pass-pass-pass-shoot” style of play because the unit read each other well. Although, they did have a breakdown in Saturday’s game when Clendening turned the puck which allowed Belzile to score a shorthanded goal.

The second unit consisted of Simpson, Dano, Fix-Wolansky, Peeke, and Bittner/Thurkauf. The unit seemed to work even better when Thurkauf was on the ice. He was able to consistently get the puck to Fix-Wolansky and Dano. Plus, Thurkauf is better on the faceoff.

Something of note, both nights Coach Eaves threw a regular line out on the ice as time wound down on the power play. This provided a virtually seamless transition when the man advantage ran out.

Penalty Kill

Coach Eaves constantly rolled the penalty kill unit. This allowed the Monsters to have fresh legs at the end of the kill. The energy the Monsters brought to the penalty kill constantly frustrated the Rocket’s power play unit.

Players who were on the pk this weekend : MacInnis, Thurkauf, Peeke, Simpson, Gerbe, Hannikainen, Somerby, Collins, Scott, Dano, Robinson, Dalpe, and Clendening.

Coverage of the Monsters vs Rocket weekend series

This season I’ve decided to compile links of game coverage from myself and other writers around the league. The AHL doesn’t get the coverage it deserves. So, I’ve decided to spread the love.

Cleveland Monsters ground the Laval Rocket in season opener

Veini Vehvilainen helps the Cleveland Monsters sweep weekend series against Laval Rocket

Late goals sink Laval in their home opener by Scott Matla

‘Deja Vu’ : New-look Rocket have a familiar ending in their season opener by Jared Book

Joel Bouchard needs Rocket players to get “their heads in it” by Julian McKenzie