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State of the Monsters Address : Injuries, PTOs, and a Road Trip! OH MY!

Photo Credit : John Saraya/Cleveland Monsters

The Cleveland Monsters headed out on a pre-Christmas roadtrip last weekend to take on the Milwaukee Admirals and Rockford IceHogs. With more injuries piling up between the Monsters and Columbus Blue Jackets, the Monsters had to turn to PTOs to fill their roster.

On December 16th, the Monsters signed defenseman Steve Johnson to a PTO. The Minnesota native spent this season playing for the Wheeling Nailers (ECHL). During his time in Wheeling, Johnson tallied one goal and 11 assists over 25 games.

Brady Shaw, son of Blue Jackets assistant coach Brad Shaw, was signed to a PTO on December 20th. The winger notched 32 points (11g, 21a) over the course of 25 games with the Fort Wayne Comets (ECHL) before signing with Cleveland.

Also, due to the short roster, three players on the Monsters had their chance to finally hit the ice. Maxime Fortier, Michael Prapavessis, and Brett Gallant all had a chance to show why they are on the Monsters roster for the 2019-20 season.

Friday night was a bit of a rough night for the Monsters. The new lines and pairing struggled to mesh together for most of the game. By the time they started to gel, it was too late. The Admirals were in control of every aspect of the game and were unwilling to give up the reins. In the end, they ended up falling to the Admirals, 4-0. After the Admirals game, the Monsters hit the open road for Rockford, Illinois.

The Monsters looked completely different on Saturday night. With the exception of allowing a goal in the first 30 seconds of the game, the Monsters played a pretty tight game. The second period was simply their best. They scored three goals and dominated on special teams. When the horn sounded, they topped the IceHogs 3-2.

First Line

Stefan Matteau - Nathan Gerbe - Trey Fix-Wolansky

The first line was flying both nights. There were still some questionable passes made between the three of them but by Saturday night they had worked out all the kinks.

Stefan Matteau was the highlight of the weekend for the Monsters. He spent the majority of his time on the ice pick pocketing the opposition and intercepting passes. His one goal and one assist led the team last weekend in points (2).

Nathan Gerbe added to his point total with a goal that had so much velocity no one realized it went into the goal at first. One of the best parts about the way Gerbe plays the game is his ability to read the ice and figure out possible outcomes. If he thinks a shot will be intercepted, Gerbe has zero problem setting up a play for his teammate.

After coming back from an injury, Trey Fix-Wolansky struggled to get back into the swing of things. However, we finally had a glimpse of the Fix-Wolansky who played at the beginning of the season. He is incredibly quick and knows how to place himself in the right place at the right time.

Second and Third Line

The second and third lines changed up between the two games this weekend. One person was even dropped to the fourth line.

Friday’s second line consisted of Paul Bittner, Derek Barach, and Marko Dano. While the third line consisted of Sam Vigneault, Justin Scott, and Kole Sherwood.

Saturday saw a bit of a line swap. Scott and Sherwood were bumped up to the second line to play alongside Dano. While, Bittner dropped to the third line, Barach dropped to the fourth line, and Maxime Fortier was bumped up from the fourth line to the third.

Dano, Scott, and Sherwood played very well together. The aggression Dano and Scott bring to the game allowed Sherwood to get his feet under him. Having come back from an injury, Sherwood played a rather cautious game. He didn’t lay many heavy hits and stayed out of the crease. Sherwood’s puck handling was still top notch.

Dano continued to do what he does best; screen the heck out of the goalie.

Scott is essentially another defenseman who can score. If he can start winning faceoffs again, Scott will be an even bigger asset to the team.

Maxime Fortier didn’t gel well with the fourth line on Friday. His passes rarely met the intended target and he was slower than normal. On Saturday, Fortier was all over the place, in a good way. He was setting up plays for his linemates and won many battles along the boards.

Fourth Line

Brett Gallant - Maxime Fortier/Derek Barach - Brady Shaw

Brett Gallant continues to impress me. Over the past few seasons, Gallant has tried to break out of the enforcer role and show everyone what he really brings to the table. This weekend he helped set many plays in motion, showed off his quickness, and scored a goal while screening the goaltender. Since he hasn’t played much this season, Gallant’s stamina is slightly lower than those who have been playing night in and night out. If they continue to play Gallant, it’s possible he’ll be able to stay on the ice longer which would allow him to make a great impact.

Brady Shaw was a welcome addition to the team for both games. The way he was able to communicate with Brett Gallant was incredible considering they never played together before Friday’s game.

Derek Barach seemed to struggle to catchup with his linemates on Friday. The next night was a different story. He seemed more comfortable with Gallant and Shaw. Barach has a few bright spots which make him valuable. One is the way he gets under the skin of other fourth liners when taking a faceoff. The second is his nimbleness. The guy knows how to skate around traffic without getting robbed of the puck.

First Pair

Anton Karlsson - Adam Clendeing

At first Anton Karlsson and Adam Clendening struggled to play with one another. Gabriel Carlsson and Anton Karlsson are two extremely different players who communicate differently with their teammates. By the time Saturday rolled around, they knew what each other’s roles were on the ice. This allowed them to stay out of each other’s way and get work done.

Karlsson continued to act as an extension of the goaltender. While Clendening, worked on the boards. This allowed a multitude of scoring chances to happen for the Monsters. Karlsson would block a shot and Clendening would rebound it to clear it out of the defensive zone.

When it came to the offensive zone, Karlsson would hang back in the neutral zone allowing Clendening to launch shots at the net from the point or from along the boards. It proved beneficial when a shot was blocked and the opposition tried to skate it into the neutral zone. No dice. Karlsson was there to strip the puck and give it right back to Clendening.

Second Pair

Steve Johnson - Dillon Simpson

The problem with watching games on television is you can’t always see what a player is doing when the camera is focused on one end of the ice. It seemed as though Steve Johnson spent a lot of time on the back half of the ice which allowed him to prevent the other team from leaving the neutral zone. I’m hoping he is still around on the 28th because I would like to see exactly what he is doing off camera.

Dillon Simpson no longer flies under the radar. Whether he is setting up plays or laying big hits, Simpson is making a commotion on the ice right now. One of the best parts about the way Simpson plays is the way he sacrifices his body to prevent a goal from coming to fruition. He does whatever it takes to keep the team in the game.

Third Pair

Michael Prapavessis - Doyle Somerby

Michael Prapavessis and Doyle Somerby are the perfect third pairing. While the top two lines and pairs are getting a breather, they come in and shut down the opponent. Prapavessis and Somerby had strong passes, set up plays, clogged shooting lanes, and laid some massive hits on the boards.

Goaltenders

Matiss Kivlenieks/Veini Vehvilainen

Matiss Kivlenieks struggled to make good decisions on Friday. Multiple times he went behind the net to retrieve a puck and just barely got back to the net in time to stop the Admirals from scoring. He stopped 27 of the 31 shots the Admirals launched at the net.

Veini Vehvilainen stopped 22 of the 24 shots he faced on Saturday night. The only member of the IceHogs he couldn’t stop was Joseph Cramarossa who managed to sneak two goals past Vehvilainen. One of the best parts of the way Vehvilainen plays is his ability to watch a play take shape. The moment the puck hits the neutral zone Vehvilainen watches every move the opponent takes and beings to calculate their possible moves. He even mirrored many of the IceHogs he played against in previous games.