March 30, 2012
Sean Monahan's dressing room nickname — Monny — might have to be altered to Money.
Friday night was a classic example of why the Ottawa 67's centre is at the top of next season's NHL draft class. Series tied 2-2 with the Belleville Bulls. Game tied 2-2 with fewer than 10 minutes to play. National television audience looking in. First the 17-year-old went hard to the net, getting his stick down to flick Brett Gustavsen's pass by fellow future first-round pick Malcolm Subban to untie the game. Three minutes later, Monahan carried into the Bulls zone and had his cross-ice pass deflected, but followed up by retrieving the puck along the end boards, wriggling free from defenceman Stephen Silas and slipping the puck out to an onrushing Tyler Toffoli for the dagger goal in the 5-2 Ottawa victory.
What's the saying? Big-time players make big-time plays on big-time days?
"I don't really look at the TV part, but when the series is tied 2-2 the next game is the biggest one," said Monahan, whose strong work in the faceoff dot also helped the 67's take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference series. "You want to be in the driver's seat and have the momentum and a chance to finish it off. You just have to give it everything I have.
"I think I'm playing well. My compete level is well. Things will hopefully keep going our way."
The game-winner gave Monahan four goals and five points in as many games during the series against the Bulls. The frequency of the two teams' meeting — Friday's meeting was their 15th of the season, counting exhibition — makes it is impossible to spring any surprises. So it stands out that Monahan is getting so many chances and is converting a few.
"We play Belleville so much throughout the season so they know our tendencies inside-out and it's a battle every game," he said. Usually you play against the same guys so it's kind of the same thing every game. [On the winning goal] I think I just snuck in there and Gussy [Gustavsen] made a good pass behind his legs and it came out to me and put everything I had into it and it went five-hole on Subban."
Up until Friday night, the seventh-place Bulls had probably been the more consistent team throughout the series' run. However, the frequent media timeouts that come with being on national TV allowed Ottawa coach-GM Chris Byrne to heavily play his frontline players such as Monahan, Toffoli, Ottawa Senators second-round pick Shane Prince (three goals) and defenceman Cody Ceci. Ceci logged at least 35 minutes.
The Bulls, who host Game 6 on Monday, haven't been able to match that. Eighteen-year-old centre Brendan Gaunce (1G-2A in the series) could be a top 10 or 15 pick in this summer's draft. Gaunce did have a nice assist on a third-period tying goal, but Monahan was the one who seized the day.
The easy cliché tonight was that Ottawa's best was better than Belleville's best. That was particularly evident while they were going 0-for-6 on the power play, to drop to 1-for-26 in series (with two short-handed goals against).
"I still think we need someone to take charge in the offensive situations, particularly on the power play," Bulls coach-GM George Burnett said. And we haven't seen that. It's cost us a lot of momentum. Even tonight, we were on a 5-on-3 and we panicked. We're shooting pucks into sticks and into [Petr Mrazek's] pads and losing faceoffs. And that's making the difference."
Meantime, while it could just be a random cluster, Monahan no longer seems snakebitten around the net. His all-around game was strong throughout the season. However, goals were sometimes fewer and farther between for him during from Jan. 1 through the end of the regular season. Despite the dry spells, he still had 33 goals and 78 points. Suffice to say, his breakthrough has been well-timed.
"The goals, they're not there every game," the Brampton, Ont., native said. "You got to capitalize in the playoffs. It was getting pretty frustrating there at the time. It's nice to get the monkey off your back, especially now that we're in playoffs."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.