Weekend watch list: Dec. 1-3

Photo: Christian Bonin/TSGphoto.com

Patrick Williams, TheAHL.com Features Writer

Only an injury and a brief NHL recall have been able to slow down Toronto Marlies forward Alex Steeves.

The third-year pro out of the University of Notre Dame owns the AHL’s longest point streak of the season at 11 games and counting. He also has five goals in his past four games, and he has generated three two-goal efforts already this season. In all, he has 18 points (11 goals, seven assists) through 14 games for the Marlies and found the scoresheet in all but two games this season.

But an upper-body injury forced the 23-year-old Steeves out of the lineup for Toronto’s home loss to Lehigh Valley on Nov. 21, and he missed a home-and-home series with Cleveland last weekend while on recall to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He looks to return to action as the Marlies open another home-and-home this weekend with a trip to Syracuse tonight. Toronto, attempting to stop a four-game winless streak (0-2-1-1), sits two points behind the second-place Crunch in the North Division standings. The teams’ rematch is set for a Saturday matinee at Coca-Cola Coliseum.

Last season Steeves ranked second in team scoring with 51 points (19 goals, 32 assists) in 65 games with the Marlies. He had a 23-goal season as a rookie in 2021-22.

While Steeves has returned, the Marlies have lost defensemen Simon Benoit and Max Lajoie as well as forward Bobby McMann to the parent club this week.

Who’s next for the first-place Cleveland Monsters?

Well, it happens to be the Utica Comets as the teams will stage a two-game set at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Saturday and Sunday. Fresh off last week’s home-and-home sweep of the Marlies, the Monsters have a three-point edge on Syracuse and Rochester for the North Division lead and will take a four-game winning streak into the weekend.

However, the Monsters will be without forward Kent Johnson, who returned to the parent Columbus Blue Jackets on recall Thursday. Johnson, the fifth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, churned out 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) in a 10-game stint with Cleveland.

But Cleveland does still have forward Emil Bemstrom, who was named the Howies Hockey Tape/AHL Player of the Week after collecting six goals and eight points in four games last week. Trey Fix-Wolansky (five goals, 15 assists) is among the AHL’s scoring leaders, and Jake Christiansen (three goals, 11 assists) is one of the league’s leading scorers among defensemen.

Utica is 13-1-1-1 against Cleveland over the previous two seasons, including an eight-game sweep of their season series in 2022-23, but the Comets will face a difficult test as they try to end a three-game losing streak in which they have been outscored 16-3.

Two Atlantic Division clubs will open their own home-and-home series as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins visit the Springfield Thunderbirds in the AHLTV Free Game of the Week tonight (7 ET/6 CT).

After meeting tonight at MassMutual Center, the teams will head to Pennsylvania for a rematch Saturday evening. Springfield begins the weekend with a one-point lead on Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for fourth place in the Atlantic Division.

The Thunderbirds have been off since a 7-0 home win last Saturday night against Utica in which Will Bitten had a pair of goals and an assist. The Penguins dropped a 7-5 decision at home to Hershey on Wednesday night but got a boost from newly acquired forward Peter Abbandonato, who had two assists in his first game after coming over as part of a trade with the Chicago Wolves on Monday.

An AHLTV account is required to watch the AHLTV Free Game of the Week, but no subscription is needed. Visit AHLTV.com for details.