There are six weeks to go in the American Hockey League season, and the All-Star break is now complete. With a little momentum, the Cleveland Monsters (21-18-2-3) are looking to make a push, much like they did last season around this time, to vault from their current fifth-place standing into a playoff spot.
While the defense and goaltending has been stout for Cleveland, it's consistent offense the team is looking for.
Going into Tuesday's game, Cleveland was tied for sixth in the AHL for goals against (118) but sits in last place for goals generated (106), and was shut out by division rival Iowa in two games over the weekend. There is opportunity looming, however, and the Monsters want to make sure they grab hold of it.
First, Markus Hannikainen (7-5-12), who has been spending time with the Blue Jackets, is back in town and forward Daniel Zaar (8-13-21) returned to the lineup Tuesday after a 12-game absence due to injury. Zaar has a "shoot often" mindset that fits with the "go to the net" mindset advocated by head coach John Madden.
Each player earned an assist in Tuesday's 4-1 victory over Milwaukee. Zaar's helper came on Bjorkstrand's power play goal, and Hannikainen fed the Danish forward for his second of the night. Sonny Milano also scored twice, with his first goal coming shorthanded.
Second, in addition to Tuesday's victory, the Monsters pulled out a statement win Jan. 28 at home against the Chicago Wolves.
In what ended in a nine-round shootout against the Wolves, the largest crowd of the season (14,527) saw captain Ryan Craig pot the tying goal with just 1:44 left in regulation before Paul Bittner scored the game winner in the skills competition.
In that game, Joonas Korpisalo, back with the Monsters while the NHL was on its All-Star break, soundly backstopped his team with 25 saves in regulation and five stops on nine shots in the shootout.
Overall, goaltending continues to be a position of strength. Anton Forsberg remains in the starter's net for the Monsters and stopped 30 shots against Chicago on Jan 27. Going into Tuesday's game, he has the third-best save percentage in the league (.925).
Brad Theissen has also risen to the challenge and stopped 27 in his lone start of the past two weeks against Iowa in the second half of the teams' back-to-back. In his five games in a Monsters sweater, Theissen is 1-3-1 with a .926 save percentage.
Other Monsters Notes:
- Before being hurt, Zaar was the team points leader, and remains the team's points per game leader (.65). Last season, Zaar led the Calder Cup champions in goals with 21.
- Along with Forsberg and Bjorkstrand, Monsters captain Ryan Craig participated in the 2017 All-Star Classic festivities in Allentown, Pa. They were part of the winning Central Division team, the second straight victory for the Division.
- Bjorkstrand leads the team in goals (14) and primary points (21). He and Hannikainen are tied for even strength points per game for the team (.47).