As the Cleveland Monsters head into the second round of the playoffs, they must prepare to take on the defending Calder Cup Champions. I sat down with Hardev Lad of Pension Plan Puppets to get a glimpse of what to expect from the opposition.
You can read PPP’s preview along with my Q&A with Hardev Lad here.
Elaine Shircliff: The Monsters ruined the Marlies banner raising. Do you think that memory will give the Marlies the extra drive to take down Cleveland?
Hardev Lad: If there is one thing that head coach Sheldon Keefe has trademarked as his own during his tine from the Marlies, it’s to look ahead and forget counting wins and losses beyond the scoresheet. I think the team has done a good job of putting last season behind them, especially after all the roster turnover during the past 12 months. With the veterans they have in the room and with the Maple Leafs brass at every game (particularly GM Kyle Dubas and HC Mike Babcock) they should be plenty motivated to provide a good impression and impact.
ES: After the Leafs were bumped from the playoffs they sent down Trevor Moore and Michael Hutchinson. What do they bring to the table and what should we expect of them?
HL: Trevor Moore is a fourth liner on the Leafs, but for the Marlies last season and this year he drove a lot of the play on the second line. He’s fast, tenacious, and is very good at moving the puck in the offensive zone to get chances. The Marlies didnt have an anchor like him on the second line for a while, so getting him back will be a large boost. Defensively, Moore is a big part of the team. He’s a primary penalty killer and one of the first options to put on the ice to protect a lead.
The Marlies were floundering until Michael Hutchinson joined the team from Florida. They weren’t getting saves and the young defense was struggling to find confidence as a result. One thing Hutch did was solidify that position and it provided positive feedback all the way up the lineup. His full-season save percentage isn’t great, but the Marlies are a team that consistently gives up very few shots against in games. If the goalie stops 18 of 20 in a 5-2 win, he doesnt look good on his HockeyDB page despite playing very well that night. Qualitatively, Hutchinson plays a calm and collected style. He doesn’t make massive movements and is very strong on rebounds. He’s also right-handed, which is fun.
One other player the Leafs gave the Marlies back after the season was over was Calle Rosen. He’s a top-5 defenseman in the AHL on offense and he’s been the team’s anchor as the 1LD on defense. Keefe plays him in every situation and against top competition. He’s big, strong, fast, and can make a very good first pass. His presence also created a ripple effect all down the lineup on defense. 18-year-old Rasmus Sandin and 19-year-old Timothy Liljegren were the Marlies top pair in the playoffs, playing about 30 minutes a night each. Sandin is now on the third pair with another high-scoring rookie from junior, Mac Hollowell, where the two can be leveraged in offensive situations.
ES: Jeremy Bracco and Chris Mueller had quite the regular season. While Adam Brooks is having a phenomenal post season with four goals. Who else is a threat to the Monsters? Are there any players flying under the radar Cleveland should worry about?
HL: You will hate Pierre Engvall by the end of this series. He’s the giraffe on the team (honestly, chrck out his neck) and has turned into the Swiss Army Knife on the team. He’s got good breakout speed and his puck protection along the boards is very good. He also has a wicked shot from distance. Over the course of his rookie season this year, he gained a bit of a nasty edge. He’ll crosscheck you in front of the net and is always in your face on the forecheck. Mason Marchment might do those same things, too, and to a higher degree. He has a tendency to take things too far, so sorry for that in advance.
ES: Who on the Monsters are you worried about facing?
HL: Mark Latestu, Zac Dalpe, and Nathan Gerbe always seem to score on us, which isn’t something we’re fond of. Nikita Korostelev used to be one of ours, so it’ll be interesting to see what he can do against his former organization. The Monsters are deep, which is why they’ve given the Marlies -- another deep team -- a lot of fits this season. It’ll be a good matchup.
ES: The Monsters special teams (pp=6.7% pk=71.4%) are not doing so hot in the playoffs compared to the Marlies (pp=25% pk = 88.9%). How can the Marlies use this to their advantage?
HL: The power play is where Jeremy Bracco gets most of his points, so covering him and not letting him get space to make passes to the frontnof the net will be key. Teams throughout the season haven’t been able to adjust to that and he’s been able to kill it on the scoresheet as a result.
In terms of the Marlies penalty kill, putting them on it as much as possible is the best thing to do. Even if the Monsters don’t score, they’ll be able to tax a shortened bench and get the team out of their 5v5 flow.
ES: What are the Marlies biggest flaws? What do they need to do to take the series?
HL: The Marlies are a young team. Half their defensemen are under 20 and while the Marlies have found places to hide their bad defensive forwards in the lineup, they will still make mistakes. Taking advantage of those mistakes early in the game and forcing the Marlies to chase for the rest of the night is probably the best way to beat them.
ES: Are their any storylines which excite you about the upcoming series?
5 of the 8 games between the two teams in the regular season went to overtime, so I’m pretty excited to see how much sleep this series can steal from us. The AHL record for longest playoff game went over 6 hours -- 86:48 of gameplay across 5 overtones -- last year, so it’ll be fun to see that get broken again.
In my totally biased opinion, I think the Marlies take it in 7. Their additions from the Leafs give them a pretty massive boost that Cleveland can’t get because Columbus is still in the playoffs. Lucky bastards.