For the second straight season, if the Cleveland Monsters are going to make the playoffs, it's going to take a strong finish.
Considering all the ups and downs of the team's season -- including losing nearly half the squad to the NHL's Blue Jackets for a long stretch of December -- the team is actually in a solid position, though, to return to the AHL's postseason.
The Monsters have 46 points through 46 games, posting a 21-21-2-2 record that nonetheless places the team seventh in the eight-team North Division of the AHL. But Cleveland is just four points behind a playoff spot, as fourth-place Laval has 50 points, so another strong finish would likely put the team in the postseason.
It's something the Monsters were able to do a year ago, as the team was in seventh place in February a year ago before a 13-6-3 finish allowed Cleveland to make the playoffs on the season's final day. From there, the Monsters upset North Division-winning Syracuse before falling in the second round of the postseason.
Cleveland has won three of four amid a season-long nine-game homestand, including a split over the past weekend against Utica. The Monsters lost the opening game of the series on Friday night by a 3-0 score before earning a 3-2 victory on Saturday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
On Friday, the Monsters had a 27-16 edge in shots on goal but couldn't beat goalie Michael DiPietro, who posted a shutout in the Comets' 3-0 victory. Utica scored twice in the first period and added another in the third against Veini Vehvilainen.
Still, head coach Mike Eaves wasn't disappointed by the way his team played despite being blanked in front of 13,198 fans in Cleveland.
"By the stats, the numbers, we should have won the game," Eaves said. "Everybody was on the plus side in terms of scoring chances for, in terms of shots, hits, all those kinds of numbers. They marked out very well, and that's the crazy thing about stats. They don't end up being the end-all, be-all, and we know that as a coaching staff. We didn't get rewarded for playing very well."
A day later, Cleveland did have the answer in a much tighter game, scoring three straight goals to take a 3-1 lead and then finishing off a 3-2 victory against the Comets. Stefan Matteau had a goal and an assist, while Calvin Thurkauf tallied a shorthanded goal and Trey Fix-Wolansky got on the board off a perfect diagonal cross-ice feed from Marko Dano. Brad Thiessen went into the net and made 26 saves.
"It's huge," Matteau said of the win. "We found a way to find a win. It was just a hard-working win."
The Monsters remain home for the next four games. Cleveland hosts Rochester on Wednesday before Friday and Sunday home contests against Binghamton before completing the home stand next Tuesday against Grand Rapids.
AHL All-Star Adam Clendening leads the team with 31 points in his 39 games played, including six goals and 25 assists. Matteau is next with a 11-14-25 line, while Nathan Gerbe also has 25 points. Ryan MacInnis (6-16-22) and Calvin Thurkauf (6-14-20) next up.
Voronkov to play for Russia: After an impressive showing at this year's IIHF World Junior Championships for his native country, 19-year-old forward Dmitri Voronkov will get the chance to play for the full Russian national team at an event this week.
The 2019 fourth-round draft pick and current KHL player with Ak Bars Kazan will suit up for Team Russia at the Beijer Hockey Games tournament to be held from Thursday through Sunday. The Russian squad will take on Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic in the three-game round robin.
Voronkov has three goals, four assists and seven points in 26 games while playing with division-leading Kazan. He had a 3-4-7 line in seven games for the silver medal-winning Russian squad at this year's World Juniors.
Angle, Foudy score in meeting: It's always fun when London and Windsor meet each other these days in OHL play. Not only do Blue Jackets draft picks Liam Foudy (London; first-round pick in 2018) and Tyler Angle (Windsor; seventh-round pick in 2019) face off against one another, but draft eligible forward Jean-Luc Foudy, Liam's brother, is on the ice.
For CBJ fans, it's worth noting that both Liam Foudy and Angle got on the board Friday night when the teams met in London. Foudy was named the No. 3 star as his goal helped the home Knights earn a 7-4 win, while Angle also got on the board. Foudy added an assist and was plus-5 in the game. You can view highlights by clicking here.
So far this year, Foudy has a 18-21-39 line in 30 games with London while also earning a gold medal with Team Canada at the World Juniors this winter. Angle leads Windsor in scoring with a 23-26-49 line in 46 games.
Thome on fire: After not seeing the ice in the first half of the season for the University of North Dakota, 2016 sixth-round pick Peter Thome is now racking up impressive numbers for the Fighting Hawks.
With No. 1 goalie Adam Scheel hitting a bit of a rough stretch, Thome has been deputized into the net and has played in three straight games. He started both UND games over the weekend, earning his first shutout of the year and second of his college career Friday night in a 1-0 victory over Colorado College while also backstopping an 8-1 win on Saturday night.
On the year, Thome is now 4-0-1 with a 1.35 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in six appearances.