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Going North: Monsters sit in a playoff spot at the moment, but depth is disappearing fast

Can the Monsters keep up the success with a depleted roster?

AHL: NOV 09 Grand Rapids at Cleveland Monsters Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Cleveland Monsters have been hanging tough in the North Division to start this year. Currently they sit in 3rd place, behind only Toronto and Rochester with a record of 7-5-0-0. They are presently riding a three-game winning streak, but the road is about to get much tougher, and the teams’ depth and leadership is going to be tested early starting tonight when they Monsters take on the Belleville Senators. Can first year coach, Trent Vogelhuber, keep his team going in the right direction?

The Monsters are lucky to have a strong offense, as they have scored 4 or more goals in each of their wins, requiring that many in most of them. Mark Letestu has the power play clicking around 27%, which is good for 4th in the league!

But, similar to their parent club, the Monsters have been having some issues keeping the puck out of their own net, giving up five goals in 4 of their 5 losses and 6 of their 12 games. If you take out Joonas Korpisalo’s one stellar performance in net, the three Cleveland goaltenders have a combined save percentage of just .872%. That undoubtedly needs to change now that roster in Cleveland is going to be thinned out pretty significantly going forward.

Similar to last season, the Monsters will be entering a stretch soon that will most likely determine the path their season will take. They’ve been a resilient team thus far, but tougher tests are on their way for Cleveland.

Shorthanded Monsters

Ah. The joys of being an AHL team.

Cleveland is already without their former leading scorer, Emil Bemstrom and top line center, Brendan Gaunce. It seems not like a matter of if, but when current point leader, Kirill Marchenko will earn his chance with the Blue Jackets. It remains to be seen if Trey Fix-Wolanksy, Carson Meyer, Tyler Angle and Justin Richards be able to continue carrying the offense and putting up the high goal totals they have required to win. They will also need more production from lineup regulars like Joshua Dunne and Roman Ahcan who have combined for just a single point in their twelve games played.

It’s not all doom and gloom however, as the Monsters will get at least one reinforcement to fill out the forward ranks, injecting some size and skill with the addition of offseason acquisition, Joona Luoto. Luoto played in Winnipeg’s system a few years back but never got any traction and went home to play in Finland where just last season he won MVP of the Liiga playoffs en route to a championship. His signing largely flew under the radar (understandably so), but it’s worth watching to see what he can bring and if he can revitalize his North American career.

The defensive situation is looking more bleak by the day for the Monsters. As of now, they are without top defenseman Jake Christiansen, Gavin Bayreuther, and Marcus Bjork. That list will most likely grow with the injury last night to Jake Bean. Don’t be surprised to see David Jiricek headed down I-71 at some point today. The team does have depth on defense, but that depth is quite young. Expect to see a healthy amount of minutes for rookies Samuel Knazko and Ole Bjorgvik-Holm. All in all, its not good news for a defense that has already been struggling to keep opponents off the board.

It will most likely be Jet Greaves’ net once more when Daniil Tarasov is called back up after the injury to Elvis Merzlikins last night. Pavel Cajan should be sitting by his phone expecting his call-up from Kalamazoo at any time now.

TFW Update

Remember those from last year? Well he is once again deserving of an update to keep Jackets’ fans aware of his progress. Once the deadline rolls around this year and the Jackets move on from some veteran talent, we should expect to see TFW back in Columbus to state his case as a full-time NHLer. He’s playing at over a point per game clip so far this year with 12 points (5G, 7A) in 11 games.

In Cleveland’s most recent win, Fix-Wolansky was absolutely dominant, putting up 4 points including the game winning goal in a huge overtime win against division rival Rochester. How many 5’7” guys can lean into a one-timer like that? What a laser!

That performance earned TFW the title of First Star of the Night in the AHL. Oh, the Monsters only dressed 16 skaters (11F. 5D) in that game due to all of the roster moves going on. Talk about willing the team to victory.

He’s the gritty, fast and skilled player the Blue Jackets need and even though small in stature, he’s built like a brick house and should be able to withstand a bottom six role.

Specialty Jerseys

In other news, the Monsters posted their specialty jerseys for the year including my personal favorite Lumberjacks throwbacks. Those Lumberjacks games (and jerseys) in the mid-90s were what ignited my passion for hockey are still a work of art in my opinion. With the way injuries have been going for the Jackets they may even need to bring Jock Callander out of retirement to suit up for those games.

The Monsters are also having their Hockey Fights Cancer Night the day after Thanksgiving, which should draw a great crowd for a great cause. I’m thinking of taking my two-year-old to her first ever hockey game that day. Hopefully we can last more than a period!