Monsters Begin Tough Stretch with Bears

When the Lake Erie Monsters (26-24-2-2) and Hershey Bears (29-16-4-5) played over Thanksgiving weekend, fans at Hershey’s Giant Center really did see a little bit of everything. The Monsters overcame a 3-1 third period deficit, and won 5-4 on a Brad Malone goal with about 20 seconds remaining. That, of course, wasn’t before Hershey tied the game at 4-4 with about 53 seconds left on the clock. The game also yielded a combined 76 penalty minutes.

This weekend also begins a treacherous part of the schedule for the Monsters, who will be looking to generate momentum and points in the standings in any way possible. The club will play three-games-in-three-nights each of the next three weekends beginning tonight (7:00 PM, ESPN 850 WKNR and FOX Sports Ohio). After tonight’s home game against Hershey, it’ll be off to Grand Rapids (Friday, 7PM, ESPN 850 WKNR), followed by another date in Rochester on Saturday night (Saturday, 7:35PM, AM 1220 WHKW). All told, the Monsters are looking at 19-20 hours of travel time between the end of tonight’s game and when they get back to Cleveland in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

The Monsters are coming off a 4-1 loss in Toronto on Monday afternoon; a game that saw the Monsters take a 1-0 first-period lead on a power play goal, Peter MacArthur’s first tally as a Monster, before eventually giving up four unanswered over the duration of the game. Brad Malone and Cameron Gaunce each picked up assists in the game, giving them both helpers in back-to-back contests. The Monsters allowed eight power plays in the game; discipline will likely be a key point addressed as they prepare for tonight’s stiff test against Hershey.

In fact, the Monsters have surrendered 23 power play opportunities over their last three games, and with Hershey boasting the league’s top power play unit at 27.2%, it’s more than six-percent more proficient than Norfolk’s second-ranked power play, emphasis will be even greater on decreasing the amount of penalties taken. The league’s second-leading scorer and leading assist man Keith Aucoin (70 points, 59 assists in 43 games) is currently on NHL recall to the Washington Capitals, but the Bears still field a lineup that includes the league’s leading scorer Chris Bourque (24 goals, 73 points in 53 games) and two other point-per-game players in Jacob Micflikier (21 goals, 55 points in 54 games) and Ryan Potulny (19 goals, 40 points in 40 games).

Sticking to his season trend, Aucoin led the way for Hershey in their only other meeting with the Monsters this season; he registered four assists on November 26. However, Ryan Stoa had one of his biggest games of the season that night as well, earning three helpers. He will need to make an impact for the Monsters this evening. Stoa hasn’t scored a goal since the Monsters 2-1 win over Syracuse at Quicken Loans Arena on February 12, and getting back in the goal column tonight would be a great time to help generate momentum.

With 22 games remaining and just nine points separating fourth-place Chicago from 11th place Milwaukee in the Western Conference, the final 22 games for the Monsters are going to feel like a sprint to the finish. Lake Erie opens the day 10th in the Western Conference, three points back of eighth-place San Antonio, who the Monsters play one more time this season.

The Monsters and Bears faceoff at 7:00 PM tonight at Quicken Loans Arena. If you can’t make it, the game can be seen live on FOX Sports Ohio and heard live on ESPN 850 WKNR.

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