The Cleveland Monsters were slated to open their season on Friday February 5th and Saturday February 6th against the Rockford IceHogs. Unfortunately, on February 4th, the AHL announced the postponement of those games due to Covid Protocols.
Since the announcement, the postponed games have been rescheduled for February 22nd and 23rd. Which means opening weekend for the Monsters will now kick off this weekend at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse against the Rochester Americans and Grand Rapids Griffins.
The other five teams in the Central Division were able to play at least one game this past weekend. After watching all their games, a few things stuck out to me that Cleveland will need to master right off the bat to put them on the path towards a successful season.
Have a Solid Penalty Kill (or don’t take penalties)
Both the Rockford IceHogs and Texas Stars lead the league with three power play goals each. Mind you, the IceHogs have only played one game and had six power play opportunities. As of right now, due to their accuracy, the IceHogs are the biggest threat in the Central on the power play.
However, despite going two for nine on the power play, the Chicago Wolves and Iowa Wild are solid when they have the man advantage. Crisp passing, rebounds, properly timed unit changes, and good shot attempts make up the power play for the Wolves and Wild. They just couldn’t catch the opponent’s netminder off guard enough to score.
The Grand Rapids Griffins are the only one the Monsters might have an easy time against on the power play. They were still working out the kinks on Friday night. There were a few missed passes and the Wolves had them hemmed into their own zone multiple times.
Protect the goalie and don’t let anyone near the crease
The defense needs to come out strong at the start of the season. Teams like the Wolves, IceHogs, and Stars had an absolute field day in the crease and below the goal line this weekend. There were four separate instances when the puck landed behind the goaltender and the opponent was able to immediately brush it into the net.
A great example of this happened in the Wolves vs IceHogs game on Saturday. Every player on the IceHogs had their eyes glued to Jamieson Rees. What they didn’t pay attention to was Seth Jarvis gliding alongside all of them. It was until he made a move for the puck that anyone on the ice viewed him as a threat. By then, it was too late.
Play a full 60 minutes of hockey
This may sound like a cliché thing to say but it’s true. Not playing a full 60 minutes in a short season will dramatically hurt them. Especially against the Wolves who as a whole build their energy until the final horn sounds.
If the Monsters come out swinging, they need to be able to maintain that same level of energy and intensity for the entire game. The third period is where many of the teams in the Central thrive. Finishing strong will win games this season.