CHARLOTTE – After getting swept by the Lehigh Valley Phantoms earlier in the week, the Cleveland Monsters were looking for a fresh start against the Charlotte Checkers this past weekend. They played six games leading up to Saturday’s game against the Checkers with 11 forwards and 7 defenders. Finally, the Monsters had a normal line-up for a game.
Unfortunately, Saturday was not the breath of fresh air Cleveland wanted to start their weekend. In fact, it was quite the opposite — nightmare fuel. Not only were the Monsters shut out for the first time during the 2022-23 season, they also gave up nine goals and allowed the Checkers to fire off 42 registered shots. The score was indicative of how the Monsters played; it definitely was not the best of times for Cleveland.
Before diving into what went wrong with the Monsters, let me start by saying the Checkers are a good team. They were able to consistently capitalize on the mistakes the Monsters made throughout the game, hence why they were able to score seven goals in the second period.
What Went Wrong Saturday
EVERYTHING! It was a full team loss.
For starters, the communication was off between players. This caused missed passes, lackadaisical line changes, and multiple screens on Cleveland goaltenders Daniil Tarasov and Jet Greaves. Even without being screened by their own teammates, Tarasov and Greaves were not having a good game themselves. They struggled to track the puck, causing late reactions to shots that eventually turned into goals. Their spatial awareness wasn’t great, either. Multiple times, the Monsters found themselves behind the net trying to pass the puck off to one of their teammates to bring up the ice while not realizing the Checkers forwards were within poke-checking distance.
Next on the list of bullets the Monsters used to shoot themselves in the foot on Saturday was lack of effort. From the first puck drop to the final horn, the bulk of Cleveland’s roster looked as though they had rolled out of bed before warm-ups and were still half asleep. They weren’t chasing down the Checkers, passes were soft, and they barely went into the corners to dig out pucks.
Lastly, there was no fire in Cleveland’s belly to mount a comeback against Charlotte. This team is notorious for clawing it out until the very end of the game. They are known for slamming bodies into the boards to send a point or drop the gloves to turn the tide. None of that happened. They let the game play them instead of playing the game themselves.
By the end of the afternoon, I was left wondering why the Monsters look better — not great, but better — while having a line-up consisting of 11 forwards and 7 defenders instead of the normal 12 forwards and 6 defenders.
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What Went Right Sunday
A good night’s rest was all Cleveland needed to get back on the right side of things come Sunday afternoon. The Monsters came out swinging — both literally and figuratively — beating the Checkers 5-2 and both teams amassing a combined 96 penalty minutes. Cleveland’s roster was back to their standard of 11 forwards and 7 defenders. Unlike Saturday, the Monsters communicated well with one another, which allowed them to create beautiful plays featuring drop back passes and takeaways that turned into goals.
One key thing I noticed throughout the game was the fact the Monsters rarely allowed the Checkers to rush the net head on. Instead, a few of the Monsters would sweep across the ice forcing the Checkers to move towards the boards. This movement forced Charlotte to revamp their style of play, opting for more plays on the perimeter instead of down low. Also, Cleveland did a good job of creating just enough noise to draw focus onto one player, leaving others available to receive passes and create high danger scoring chances without immediately being noticed by the Checkers.
It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was a solid game. However, Cleveland needs to figure out why they seemingly play better with a 11-7 and 10-5 line makeup over a 12-6. Short benches and odd combinations aren’t sustainable, especially when both the Columbus Blue Jackets and Monsters are getting healthier by the day. Figuring out how to have consistent success with a normal line-up will be the key to finishing the season strong.
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