FRESNO MONSTERS (10-6-0-0, 30 pts)
A three-game sweep of the Valencia Flyers in the friendly confines of Selland Arena gave the Fresno Monsters seven wins in their last nine games and kept them within seven points of the first-place Long Beach Bombers at the top of the Western Division standings.
The Monsters stay at home for Thanksgiving this week, hosting the third-place San Diego Sabers in what should be a spirited three-game set beginning on Friday.
San Diego sits directly behind the Monsters and have been making noise in the division race. This series is an opportunity for Fresno to quiet the upstart Sabers.
While the Monsters have been solid at five-on-five, out-scoring the opposition 40-32, it has been Fresno’s special teams that have been the main driver of their success in the early part of the season. Both the power play and penalty kill have been outstanding, ranking in the top five in the league. The power play has been operating at 22.6% and the PK at 87.6%.
The Monsters have also done a great job drawing penalties. They have been on the power play more times than any other team in the league (115), giving that efficient power play plenty of opportunities.
Connor Hyden’s Monsters career was a relatively short one, but he made an impact in his time in the WSHL, scoring 18 goals in 26 games for Fresno during the 2014-15 season.
The 22-year-old Lakeville, MN native has taken his scoring touch to the Naval Academy’s ACHA team. After putting up 36 points (12-24-36) in 34 games as a freshman last season, Hyden has lit the lamp 14 times in the first 19 games this season and added 13 assists for 27 points.
SAN DIEGO SABERS (5-9-3-1, 22 pts)
The San Diego Sabers have to be the most impressive five-win team in the entire WSHL. Make that five regulation wins as the Sabers have picked up an additional three two-pointers with wins past regulation.
Despite having just five RWs through their first 18 games, 11 of those 18 games have been decided by two goals or fewer. Three went to overtime and a fourth went to a shootout. The Sabers have been clutch, winning their first three games to go past regulation before losing in OT to Long Beach last Friday.
San Diego has remained competitive despite significant struggles on special teams – especially a penalty kill that ranks 22 out of 23 WSHL teams at just 69.0%.
Long Beach victimized the Sabers over the weekend. They scored the game-tying and OT game-winning goals on the power play on Friday, then scored four of their five goals on the power play to beat the Sabers in another close game on Sunday.
The power play has been sup-par as well (15.9%), resulting in a special teams index (PP+PK) of just 84.9% for the Sabers – 21st in the league.
The Sabers are already light years ahead of where they were a year ago – when they only won five games all season – but if San Diego can clean up their special teams they should be able to reach an even higher level of play and compete for home ice in the playoffs.