Monsters Hope to Solve Aeros Tonight

In two previous tries against tonight’s opponent, the Houston Aeros, the Lake Erie Monsters (21-22-2-1) have fallen short. The Monsters and Aeros haven’t met since a 2-1 Houston win at Quicken Loans Arena on November 30th. Adding importance to the game, a win tonight would vault the Monsters back up to the .500 mark.

The Monsters enter the game having won three of their last four games; they’re also 4-2-1-0 over their last seven games. Gerald Coleman made a Monsters season-high 41 saves in last night’s 3-1 win in San Antonio; a game in which Coleman just missed a shutout by about three seconds. The Monsters improved to 6-1-0-0 when Luke Walker finds the back of the net, with Greg Mauldin and Danny Richmond also scoring. Having a healthy Mauldin is imperative to the Monsters success down the stretch; he’s now two games into his return after missing 13 games. Richmond’s Monsters debut was eventful, as he scored a power play goal in the second to accompany his fighting major in the opening period.

Last night’s game was controlled by the Monsters from start to finish, and the same body of work will need to be put forth tonight. For the first two periods of Friday night’s game, San Antonio’s attack was kept largely in check. The Rampage carried a sense of urgency into the third period, but Coleman was up to the task in net. Coleman has a unique opportunity, having been summoned from the Alaska Aces of the ECHL within the last month, and now having a chance to help carry the Monsters closer to the playoff picture. He had alternated wins and losses entering last night’s game, and has now won back-to-back starts; no Monsters goalie has won three consecutive starts this season.

The focal point for the Monsters tonight- especially with the power play having scored on six of its last 29 attempts- will be the play with the man-advantage. Houston is, and has been, one of the strongest teams in the league this season. However, they’re seeing their roughest patch of the season- just 1-3-1-2 over their last seven games- and their penalty kill is ranked 25th in the 30-team American Hockey League. Houston plays a fundamentally sound hockey game with solid defense and goaltending, but they are most vulnerable with a man in the box. Conversely, Houston’s power play is ranked 12th in the league, and boasts a top unit that’s extremely dangerous.

The Monsters will need to keep an eye on Aeros forward Jon DiSalvatore, who not only leads the Aeros in points this season with 33 on 14 goals and 19 assists, but he has a goal and three points to lead Houston against the Monsters this season. He’ll be one of the key contributors on the Aeros power play.

Hugh Jessiman’s two-game suspension has been fully served, so he’s eligible to return to the Monsters lineup tonight. Slowly but surely, the Monsters are getting closer and closer to having their optimal lineup on the ice. Danny Richmond’s addition gives the Monsters a defenseman with a skill set they haven’t had since Stefan Elliott was promoted to Colorado, and he’ll remain a player to watch for the Monsters tonight. The combination of Richmond’s physical defensive play, and his ability to move the puck up the ice quickly in transition make him a complete, top-level AHL defenseman, and his professional and NHL experience will help the Monsters on their playoff push.

Speaking of the playoffs, the Monsters enter the day four points behind the Peoria Rivermen in the Western Conference standings; Peoria currently holds the eighth and final playoff spot. The Monsters are also just four points back of Rochester, the second place team in the North Division.

The Monsters and Aeros will faceoff at the Toyota Center tonight at 8:35 PM Eastern. Catch all the action live on AM 1220 WHKW.

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