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Going North: Monsters’ season entering critical stretch

Checking in on the Columbus Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate

AHL: DEC 04 Milwaukee Admirals at Cleveland Monsters Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Thank goodness for the “loser point.” It has been the points earned in losses that has kept the Cleveland Monsters in the playoff hunt so far this season. Currently, their record stands at 10-8-2-3. Since the last roundup, the Monsters have gone 5-5-1-0 to hang around the middle of the North Division. Unfortunately, since the beginning of December, they have lost 5 out of 6, including most recently losing to the best (Utica) and worst (Lehigh Valley) teams in the AHL in a 24-hour period. The Monsters will have to hang right around the same spot they are in once the regular season comes to an end, and with the AHL revising the playoff format to include 23 of 31 teams this year, they are actually not in a bad place. There is no catching the leader of the division, considering the Utica Comets are currently at the top with an insane 17-1-2-0 record and 36 points. They are followed by the Rochester Americans and their 13-7-0-0 record and 26 points in 19 games. The Monsters are currently fourth in the division in terms of points percentage just behind the Toronto Marlies. The Monsters are still searching for consistency as the season marches on, but have done just enough to keep pace so far. They will need to start stringing some wins together and stop relying on the loser point. They are lucky to be in a division with multiple middling teams.

The Monsters begin a crucial homestand this week that can go a long way in determining their fortune this season. They welcome the league leading Utica Comets to town for a back-to-back starting on Thursday. It doesn’t get any easier from there, as the Western Conference leaders and owners of a nine-game winning streak, Chicago Wolves, come to the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse for another back-to-back the following Wednesday and Thursday. The Monsters could quickly find themselves falling down the standings if they don’t take care of business at home, especially since after this homestead, they will not play another home game for three weeks as the next eight games are on the road.

Players to watch

Adam Helewka - The Monsters last win was one to remember when they thumped the Syracuse Crunch by a final score of 8-3, largely in part from a career night from Helewka. The 26-year-old journeyman posted a 4 point night, including a hat trick. Helewka signed an AHL contract this offseason after spending the last two years in the KHL and SHL in Europe. He’s been a solid contributor and pleasant surprise putting up 15 points (5G, 10A) in 23 games. After a slow start to his season, he’s put up 10 points in his last 10 games. The Monsters will need his contributions to continue if they want to get back on track.

Trey Fix-Wolansky - I know I’ve mentioned him in all of the Monsters roundups so far, but it has been warranted. Since coming off his injury, TFW has done exactly what was expected from him: score. He’s got 8 points in his first 9 games this year and has just been a ball of energy out there, often looking like the best player on the ice. I’m glad to have him close to home in Cleveland, but I can’t wait for this kid to get his shot with the Jackets.

The guy just makes things happen:

And he can do this:

Not to mention looking good in the process:

Partnership Extended

Last week, the Monsters and Blue Jackets announced they have extended their affiliation that began in 2015. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, since any other team being the Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate wouldn’t make any sense. I always wondered what took the two teams so long to come together during the years the Monsters spent as the Avalanche affiliate. For whatever reason, it doesn’t appear that the length of the extension was announced, but regardless, I’d imagine it will remain this way for the foreseeable future. I do hope there is more effort put into marketing the Jackets in Cleveland. Considering how big of a sports market it is, there has been a missed opportunity to really make the Columbus Blue Jackets Ohio’s hockey team.