Salvaging the Monsters’ Season

After the Monsters loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins on November 26th, I sat in the depths Quicken Loans Arena for hours trying to make sense of the madness on the ice.

There is no semblance of last year’s team with the exception of a few names. The magic is gone. Maybe they’ve put too much pressure on themselves. Maybe they are still feeling the dreaded cup celebration hangover.

Whatever it is, something has to change and fast for the Monsters to salvage the dream of returning to the Calder Cup Finals. Towards the end of the Nov. 26th game against the Griffins it was clear they have begun to unravel.

Communication and Team Chemistry

The Monsters need to keep missed passes and turnovers to a minimum. During home games, at least three of the goals scored against them were due to turnovers and missed passes. Most of those goals changed the momentum of the game in the opposing team’s favor leading the Monsters to lose the game.

Sometimes the team has great communication. Other times they don’t.

Aaron Palushaj (Cleveland Monsters) gets tangled up with Robbie Russo (Grand Rapids Griffins) photo credit : John Saraya
Aaron Palushaj (Cleveland Monsters) gets tangled up with Robbie Russo (Grand Rapids Griffins)
photo credit : John Saraya

What’s more mind-boggling is the amount of times a player is essentially invisible to his own teammates on the ice.

In the November homestand against the Milwaukee Admirals, Yevenko and Ramage just couldn’t connect. In fact, multiple times it appeared as though Ramage didn’t want to pass to his linemate. By the time the Griffins game on November 26th rolled around they were in sync. Never missing a beat. They didn’t even have to look at one another. They just knew where they were at all times. They were sympatico.

Unfortunately, in that specific Griffins game, Blake Siebenaler was a ghost to his teammates.

There were multiple times when calls for passes were ignored or his teammates had no clue where to find Siebenaler. He also had multiple near misses and full on collisions with his own teammates.

This could quite possibly be a Siebenaler issue.

Or the signs of something worse.

Maybe the team is frantic to get on a streak and have become narrow sighted. When your focus narrows the senses begin to dampen and you lose sight of the big picture.

Less Time on the Penalty Kill

I think we are averaging five and a half kills per game. You just can’t play in this league trying to kill five to six penalties a night. That’s been a big stress factor for us. We need discipline. If we have discipline we will be fine

  • Coach John Madden after the 11/11/16 win over the Chicago Wolves

Everything Coach Madden said is completely correct.

A team who constantly plays down a man is going to tire faster than a team who is constantly playing the man advantage.

The Monsters were lucky for a while. They were second in the league for successful penalty kills on home ice even after playing the Wolves who were ninth in the league on the powerplay.

Then, the Griffins strolled into Quicken Loans Arena and completely decimated the Monsters penalty kill scoring on two separate occasions. Discipline is key to any successful hockey team. Which brings me to my next point.

Fights that Matter

Fighting is a touchy subject among the hockey community but there is no doubt it can change the energy of the game on a dime.

In both games against the Wolves, the energy flipped in favor of the Monsters after two big fights.

In fact, these fights weren’t just “Hey, let’s change the momentum” fights. They were fights which started due to a teammate trying to protect another teammate. In one instance Captain Ryan Craig went into papa bear mode to show the Wolves he would no longer tolerate the cheap shots and over aggressiveness being displayed towards his team. These kinds of fights matter. They help define the game.

Brett Gallant battles hard along the boards to create a play. photo credit : John Saraya
Brett Gallant battles hard along the boards to create a play.
photo credit : John Saraya

The Monsters have spent the season using fights to define something that matters.

On November 26th, everything unraveled in the final 28.1 seconds of the game after Brett Gallant charged Eddie Pasquale and fought Dan Renouf.  Oleg Yevenko and Jordan Maletta were quick to join the battle taking place along the boards behind Pasquale.

By the end of the melee, two periods worth of penalties were handed out.

From a game standpoint, that fight meant nothing. Absolutely nothing.

When you’re down 6-2 with 28.1 seconds left there is no need to dramatically change the momentum of the game. I’m not saying it’s time to give up. Anything could happen in 28.1 seconds but four goals is highly unlikely.

I could see trying to display your dominance and show them who is in charge during back-to-back games. However, it will be three days until they see each other again, making the fight even more pointless.

There is no reason in possibly sacrificing your body and career if it means nothing.

Rebound and Continuously Attacking the Net

Rebounds don’t just apply to the offense. It was defenseman, Jamie Sifers, who scored the game-winning goal off a rebound in the November 11th win over the Wolves.

You know we had them hemmed in their zone a little bit and I knew time was running out in the third there. Tynes went to the middle there, I knew he was going to shoot it. I thought I may get lucky and maybe take a stab at the rebound. Sure enough it went in.

  • Jamie Sifers

It’s clear the coaching staff has been working on this for awhile with the guys and it’s now starting to click.

To see him get down in front of the net is what we have been preaching for awhile.

  • Coach John Madden on Sifers’ game-winning goal

Note, I said starting to click. It hasn’t quite clicked yet.

The lack of rebounding is what led to the Monsters demise in the November 25th loss to the Griffins.

Bjorkstrand thought he tied the game up in the third but the puck didn’t get the memo bouncing off the post. The Wolves rebounded the shot and lofted it into the empty net sealing the Monsters fate.

A rebound into the empty net. So easily avoided if the Monsters had just rebounded the shot.

Think Twice Before Pulling the Goalie

There have been seven empty-net goals in five different games during the first 19 games of the season.

Seven in five games. Which means there were two games where the opponent scored on an empty net twice in one game.

The sooner they fix the communication between defenders and the lack of rebounding from the offense, the sooner they can fix their empty net problem. Until then, the Monsters should think twice before pulling their goalie at the end of the game.

photo credit : John Saraya
photo credit : John Saraya

There is a lot to fix to salvage the 2016-17 season but there is still a light at the end of the tunnel.

In Cleveland, nothing is given and everything is earned. It looks like the Monsters are going about it the hard way to earn another summer with the Calder Cup.